This story was submitted by the Guilty Squid.
Kallie, a pretty 16 year old girl, with a smile that beams mischief and laughter. Kallie, a cheerleader and a part time teacher at a local dance/cheer studio. Kallie, with a love of her yellow mustang and Droid phone. Kallie, who wrote on one of her social media profiles that her sisters were what kept her life from “sucking”. Kallie, from a high school that has had 8 students die in the past three years.
Last Wednesday, shortly after six in the morning, Kallie shot herself in the stomach. Her parents were just down the hall. While the emergency medical professionals fought hard to save her, she died later that morning at the hospital.
Kallie was a bright and funny young woman. She loved to dance and her parents supported this passion of hers from a young age. They spent countless hours taking her to and from dance lessons and spent untold dollars paying for the lessons and the costumes that she needed for her recitals. She had loving, involved parents. Parents who disciplined their daughter when she was wrong and worked hard when to give her a future of her own choosing. Kallie had, at one time, dreamed of being a hair and makeup stylist.
Because the family has not spoken publicly about what they believe (or may know to be) the reasons behind Kallie’s suicide, I won’t write about it here, but I will say that no matter what is going on in any child’s life? Any teenager, any young person who feels so unable to cope that they take their own life is a tragedy of immeasurable proportions. When a young girl who appears to “have it all” feels so overwhelmed, so depressed, so unable to face another day that she would kill herself it shakes all of those around. When two parents, two very loving, very involved, really good parents lose their child in such a manner, in their own home, it shakes the foundation of what we all believe is “enough” for our own children. When Kallie took that gun into her hands and decided to end her life last Wednesday morning, it shook an entire community.
Her community is small, less than a thousand students in the entire school district, and these kids have been through a lot of tragedy. They’ve suffered. They’ve learned that life is precious and way too short. When they learned that their beautiful friend Kallie had taken her own life, they created a memorial page on Facebook as a way of sharing memories and supporting each other. Less than 24 hours after it’s creation, Kallie’s memorial page had over 1,000 “likes”.
This was their way of reaching out to each other. To try to make sense of the senseless and try to heal.
This was when these teenagers learned that even death doesn’t stop bullies from doing what they do best. Hurting others. Because they can.
Saturday, during Kallie’s wake/visitation, a group of people created fake profiles and started posting hateful, horrible things to the memorial wall. One person even went so far as to steal Kallie’s profile picture and create a fake profile using Kallie’s name to post on the memorial page as if Kallie herself was writing the messages. They wrote things like, “What a dumb bitch. She couldn’t even kill herself correctly.” Or, as Kallie, “OMG! I’ve got soooo much homework that I think I’m going to kill myself! lol!” Those were two of the better comments, and I just don’t have it in me to give you the more graphic and horrible messages. These people took Kallie’s pictures and photoshopped her in scenes of hell and there was one who had a picture of bloody pieces shooting out of the back of her. And those were the least offensive. These online bullies thought this was funny. While Kallie’s parents, sisters, grandparents and classmates were comforting each other and preparing to say goodbye, these people attacked that memorial page for fun. For laughs. Because they could.
It went on for hours. And hours. Despite multiple people creating multiple reports to Facebook, the page was finally removed (I was told) by the original creators.
Once again, the bullies won.
Which brings me to my thoughts on social media and bullying. Facebook (and other social media sites) have a long standing history of not getting involved unless the messages are threatening. They often don’t intervene because they don’t have to intervene. Because they don’t want to be the ones who are policing what teenagers are doing on their sites.
To me, that is akin to my saying that I will let my teenager invite 50 other teenagers into my home, but I’m going to let them do whatever they want without getting involved. If I can’t do that in real life, then I believe that those responsible for hosting these kids on their websites should carry the weight of some responsibility in making sure they are safe.
I said some responsibility, because I believe that the first line of defense for keeping our children safe online rests on the shoulders of the parents. In our home, the rule is that when you are old enough (I go by the age limit on the site’s TOS) you may create the account, but the password is not private. When my children turn 18 they can change their passwords to everything and they never have to share them again. But until that time? I reserve the right to see what’s happening on those accounts.
I will continue to put some responsibility on the shoulders of the social media sites because a child doesn’t even have to be a member to be bullied with the site. Just last spring it was discovered that a 13 year old girl in the area (who didn’t even have an account) was the victim of a “hate” page on Facebook. It took over a week, and phone calls from local law enforcement, to get Facebook to finally remove the page. A page that was public. That could be found by Google. It was so bad for this young girl that her parents moved.
I don’t believe that it was necessary for it to get to that extreme before Facebook agreed (and it was very begrudgingly) to remove that page.
We can’t protect our children from every bad thing that is out in the world. We cannot stop jerks from being jerks and sometimes saying things that hurt. But we need to, we have to, find ways to help our children cope when it does happen.
But when Kallie’s family and friends cannot grieve without being subjected to the ire of bullying on the internet? When teenagers who are trying to find ways to cope with a loss are forced instead to just stop using the forum to do so? It’s not okay.
When social media sites, in this case Facebook, are made aware of the bullying using their site and they choose to do nothing? Because they can?
Then they too are bullies.