Cyberbullying. We know it happens. Nobody is immune from potentially being targeted by someone’s cyberbullying behavior. Nearly half the population of young people have been cyberbullied, but young and older adults have also felt the devastating effects of being cyberbullied. With so many people being cyberbullied, there are just as many people who are doing the cyberbullying. But why do they do it? Is it because of the ability to stay hidden behind a computer or cell phone screen? Is it because they feel powerful by hurting others in such a public way? Or, is there an underlying reason that provokes them to participate in cyberbullying? Below, Jodi tells us of her experience with cyberbullying others.
I was 17-years-old when I started cyberbullying. It was about six months before my high school graduation, and my life was good. I wasn’t the most popular girl in school, but I had a lot of friends and an amazing boyfriend, Cody. That’s right – we were Jodi and Cody, and we had been together for almost two years. We did everything together, and I thought we’d be the all-American story of high school sweethearts getting married, having kids, and living happily ever after. In one moment, though, all that dreaming of mine was crushed to nothingness.
One day, Cody was at my house, and while he was playing football with my brothers, his phone got a text notification. I knew he had been expecting a call or text from his mother regarding a sick relative, so before I interrupted his game, I decided to check out the text first. The text was from a mutual friend of ours, Amber, and what she wrote would haunt my dreams for months to come. Her text said, “Good news, Baby!! I got outta babysitting so I can see U. Let’s meet at the usual time and place and I’ll let U do all those fun things U like to do to me. If U R stuck at Jodi’s place, text me. I’ll get U out of there just like last time. Can’t wait for UR kisses!!”
Now you might question, what right did I have to even look at his phone? Well, this wasn’t anything new. Cody and I were used to looking at each other’s phones, as we didn’t have anything to hide…until now. The wave of anger I felt was nothing I had ever felt before. It was raw, red hot anger that nearly made me vomit. Then I got an idea, and suddenly, I was a different person.
I acted like everything was fine, just kept on going as usual with Cody, and I was downright sickly nice to Amber. In the “real” world, I kept up appearances that I was as happy as ever with my life, but in the “online” world, I became a viciously evil person, a person who was filled with anger and hatred, and I was on a mission to destroy both Cody and Amber. For all the evil I was doing, I was so grateful for the wall between me and those I targeted – that amazing wall was called a cell phone.
I created fake social network accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, just to name a few. I devoted all my extra time to the fake accounts because, after all, I had to make them look real. I hid behind the safety of my phone while I tormented Cody and Amber. I spread horrible rumors about them to all of our friends, and I even found ways to spread rumors to people in their families who weren’t part of our social networks. I did this every single day and night, and I would get a small “high” when Cody or Amber would confide in me about all the terrible things being said to and about them online. One time while Amber was crying to me about how bad the bullying was getting, I was on my phone sending her threatening messages. Yes, she was sitting right in front of me while I was sending those awful messages. At the time, I felt numbingly satisfied.
The more I cyberbullied, the more powerful and in control of my life I felt. I’m not really sure why I felt more in control of my life, as I was certainly not in control of my behavior. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but yet I couldn’t stop. I usually felt this strong pull to keep going and to keep posting even once the pain of learning about their relationship had passed. Several months after I began the bullying, I was sitting in my room doing absolutely nothing, and although I didn’t feel the usual desire to bully them, I did anyways just because I was bored. My bullying had become an addiction to pass my time.
My cyberbullying didn’t just affect Cody and Amber negatively; it affected me very badly. The last six months of high school, my grades dropped significantly. I had been working a few hours every week at a beauty salon, but because I was always on my phone cyberbullying, I was fired; then I felt bad when I lied to my parents and told them that I was “let go” due to the salon going through a downslide in clients. My work wasn’t the only thing affected, though. So was my talent for art. After graduation, there was a local art program at the junior college that I wanted to attend over the summer. But to get in, I had to submit a portfolio of my drawings. I had planned on an entire series of drawings focused on the idea of life after death as my submission, but every time I picked up a pencil, I drew very dark images that had one focus: destroying Cody and Amber. I didn’t get into the art program.
I cyberbullied Cody and Amber for over a year. I even began to cyberbully people who were defending them. I had a serious problem that I just wasn’t ready to acknowledge yet.
Cody and I eventually broke up, but it looked like to everyone that we broke up because he moved to another state to attend college, but really we broke up because we couldn’t stand to be with each other anymore. Amber also moved out of town for college. And me? Well, I stayed living with my parents working a job at a retail store I hated, and I began to wallow in self-loathing.
Did I ever stop cyberbullying? Yes, thankfully, I did, and it happened when I found an answer to a very specific question. My older brother noticed how miserable I was, and he asked me what I thought the meaning of life was. He said if I found that answer, my life could turn around. Well, geez! Isn’t that a big question that many people search for an answer to? How on earth was I going to figure it out? I knew I wasn’t going to find the answer sitting around waiting for it drop in my lap out of thin air, so I started reading books on the topic. And then, one night, I found the answer. It was just one line in some random book that I’ve long forgotten the title to, but that one line literally changed my life.
“Perhaps the meaning of life is to help others so our soul can evolve into one of pure compassion and love; that’s where we will find true joy in this life and any life we may have after.”
To this day, I have no idea why that one line hit me so hard. I have no idea why it was the catalyst for changing my life. But it did, and I’m no longer that mean girl hiding behind a phone throwing wrath at others. The next question you might ask is, did I confess my cyberbullying to Cody and Amber? I wish I could say yes, but I can’t, at least not yet. I’m not that brave, and I’m fearful of hurting them all over again and even worse than before, and I don’t want to hurt them anymore. But I am truly sorry and remorseful for my actions. Maybe one day I can express that to them.
I truly believe that my cyberbullying was an addiction. It didn’t just hurt others; it hurt me. It didn’t give me power or control over my life. Instead, it gave me an aggressive, dark heartache that seeped into many aspects of my life destroying who I really am and all that I really cherish. I can’t change the past, but I can change my future, and I plan on doing right by others, helping them, supporting them, being a joy to them – that’s what I want to do, and it’s what I’m meant to do.
Others like Jodi have bravely shared their stories in the hopes that their story can make an impact on others struggling with a similar experience. We invite you to hear more and share yours.