Sunday, November 18, 2007

Where do you draw the line?

I've been accused of being a mean girl before. I mean, I throw out snark on a regular basis here and I've been known to be sarcastic, and even occasionally catty, in real life. Suppose someone takes it the wrong way? Or, to be more specific, suppose they can't take it the wrong way?

Suppose they get all upset and run off and throw a necktie party for one?

In school every day, kids hear insults that would make our sensitive adult toes curl, delivered with the casual cruelty of which only children and hyenas are really capable. Suppose someone pretends to befriend Bobby or Suzy in real life, only to turn on them and torment them; suppose Bobby or Suzy then opens a vein at home. Is the tormentor charged with anything? Why does adding a computer to the equation change everything?

I'm honestly interested in exploring this; please discuss amongst yourselves.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

The problem is (as a parent of a young child) that we coddle our kids more then we were as kids. Stuff that when I was a kid was considered routine life are now media events involving the school and the police.

Ok maybe a bit of an exaggeration there, but seriously I have been involved in what I considered petty taunts against our child and her friends that violated school code. You would not believe how the system reacts.

So, does the computer matter? No, the issue is with the computer you can track it to a very specific group and individual while without it, it is more general hearsay.

Thus the problem, it is the "smoking gun" mentality.

My take is the kids were idiots to use the computer. Practically everything done online is tracked and recorded if you try hard enough.

Zendo Deb said...

The whole culture is looking to blame someone else. In this case I am sure that the parents are hoping to blame someone else that they failed to notice their child was suicidal.

It isn't that she never heard "sticks and stones..." or that she wasn't told everyday that she was loved and encouraged to find supportive friends and activities that would let her develop self-esteem. (Instead of just being told she was wonderful with no accomplishments.) Etc.

Or dare I say it? That she would have been raised with a bit of religion to help see her through the bad spots? Or maybe some philosophy aside from worshiping popularity.

Myron said...

Just curious here. If this had happened several years ago via USPS, would they be hoping their mailman would be prosecuted?

And if the feds can't control the crap coming from their own email servers, just how is a little hamlet going to do anything?

Don Gwinn said...

This is why kids have to be taught to consider the source. Your kids need to understand that a lot of people are going to say terrible things to them, but about 99.9999% of humanity is useless in the first place, so it's not really worth worrying about.

(The percentage of useless people on the internet is significantly higher, not to mention that up to 10% may actually be dogs.)

Don Gwinn said...

Rambling on . . .

The first thing I ask a kid, whether at home or school, when he complains about someone calling him fat, or stupid, or gay, or whatever, is simple:
"Well, are you?"

You'd think, from watching television and reading newspapers, that most kids would blubber "Y-y-y-yesssss! I hate myself!" and squirt tears, but most don't. Most just think it over for a minute and say, "No."

Then the spell is broken and we talk about why they don't have time to listen to people who talk like that.

Regarding the kid in the story, it sounds like she was deeply depressed and suicidal. This kid's taunting was the last straw, but it could have been a dozen things once she was that far gone. Her mom doesn't want to think about whether she could have done more, or whether there was nothing more to be done, so she's going to blame the internets.

The kid who did it really IS a heartless little bastard, but most kids are. The research on this has been done. They think the whole world revolves around them because, biologically speaking, IT DOES.

Don Gwinn said...

OK, last one, I swear. I was sure this was done by another kid, but I see that I was wrong.

The woman who created the fake profile has not been charged with a crime. She allegedly told the St. Charles County Sheriff's Department she created Josh's profile because she wanted to gain Megan's confidence to know what Megan was saying about her own child online.

The mother from down the street told police that she, her daughter and another person all typed and monitored the communication between the fictitious boy and Megan.


However, I note that my "useless idiots" theory is holding up nicely so far. WTF?

Divemedic said...

Since this was an adult doing this to a child, I have to say that the act was despicable. This is like an adult who gains pleasure in telling children there is no Santa.

Illegal? I don't know if it should be, but I despair over the fact that we cannot have a civil society.

In my job, it saddens me every day, the inhumanity that man shows to his fellow man.

JPG said...

I agree with most of what you wrote, Sis, but differ as to the conclusion.

Oh, HELL yes, kids are cruel and prolly have been since time began. And kids must learn to deal with it. But, think of putting a raw beginner Golden Gloves kid in the boxing ring to fight Muhammed Ali at his prime.

It has now been revealed that this poor girl was attacked, not only by the classmate down the street, but by the parents, with all the evil experience of decades of infighting with other adults. Somehow I can picture them hanging over the antagonist's shoulder saying, "YEAH! And now write that she . . . " You get the idea.

Kids will be narsty, in person, by notes passed in class, or over the computer. But I really think the adults involver should face sanctions.

Best,
JPG

Joseph said...

Hard to give a full answer, since I doubt we are getting the full story, but here goes my .02...
Would the girl have hung herself if the specific incident with "Josh" had not taken place? I think likely not...and this strikes me at the very least as a libel case. The fact that an adult was involved indicated a fair degree of maliciousness. However, it does sound as if there were problems at home, and the girl seems to have been emotionally vulnerable. The computer is only a medium. Frankly, the whole group of people (including the girl's family) should all be bitch-slapped repeatedly.

The Old Man said...

Seems to me that the parental units of the Josh-creators bear more than a little responsibility here. Sure, the little savages have been doin' nasty things to each other for millenia, but in our litigious-minded society, they are fair game for the money-suckers. Add to that the fact that the PC squad is banning everything from trans-fats to "ho-ho-ho" by Santa, there will be a price to be paid. What it should be, I know not.

comatus said...

myron, for the longest time USPS and it's predecessor had their own detective agency, and when someone did this kind of stuff with a stamp on it, they got into some deep shit. I won't judge whether that was a Good Thing, but the precedent is there. You're right though, they didn't (on a good day) blame the mailman.

Anon's right about the coddling; it's the typical My G-Generation response to how bad this was in the 60's. I'm continually surprised at how chummy my old high school appears now. It won't last, of course. I have faith in hyenas.

Dive: "Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man; socialism is just the opposite."

What set this case apart was the enthusiastic participation of adults, and that's not new either. Parents, teachers, 'youth leaders' and clergy are not above it.

Xavier said...

"But when adults are involved and continue to screw with a 13-year-old, with or without mental problems, it is absolutely vile."

I think Tina Mier's words just about say it all. Adults are expected to behave like adults, especially when dealing with children. As snarky as you can be Tam, you are not using a false personae totake advantage of the emotions of the unstable and vulnerable. That is the real issue here. Adults knowingly and willingly created a fake personae to take advantage of and maliciously hurt a vulnerable child. That goes beyond cruel. that enters the realm of monstrous and obscene.

Tam, you are snarky, snide, sarcastic, and even catty, but you are not knowingly cruel to the vulnerable and weak. That is the difference.

We can fault Megan's parents all we want, but I'm sure they are doing that enough without our assistance. May Tina, Ron and Megan all find peace.

More on Megan's story

BobG said...

My feelings are the same as Xavier's; it was not a teenage spat, but some vicious bullying by adults on a teen who already had some problems. They should have the maturity and experience to be above this sort of thing. What they did was not illegal, but it was despicable.

Oleg said...

Tam, if you can talk out political enemies into killing themselves out of shame or despondence, more power to you.

LabRat said...

It wasn't just that these were adults- they were TRUSTED adults, parents of a girl she'd been friends with, adults Megan had gone on trips with who knew goddamn well she had problems and what they were. This wasn't even "just" taunting of a child by an adult, it was taunting by an adult who knew exactly where to hit to make her break. A healthy adult would be hard-pressed to cope with that level of malice, let alone a severely depressed thirteen-year-old.

I have no idea what sort of law there could or should be to cover this kind of shit. It's kind of like how some states and countries have run into weird legal cases because they didn't have laws against cannibalism- it never occurred to anyone they might be needed until someone sick enough came along.

The woman who masterminded this qualifies. She's already on record as saying she doesn't feel too guilty because the girl had "tried to commit suicide before".

In another day and age they'd have tossed her out of the village into the snow for the wolves to find.

Gewehr98 said...

Well, she does have a "Help feed my Snark" thing on the sidebar there...

Ben said...

This is an unfortunate story to be sure. I was not there, I am not aquainted with the participants, and all I can offer is speculation.
My gut feeling is that there is more to this story than has been reported thus far.

I am sorry that Megan chose to end her life. It is a sad day when any young person with so much life yet to live commits suicide. I feel for her family.

I will add some speculation now. My personal feeling here, and remember this is just a feeling, is that Megan's on again off again friendship with the girl down the street went sour because Megan was using the internet to post her own vile rumors, gossip, and insults about her first. Like many others out there in the relative anonimity of cyberspace, I think Megan got confidence and felt power in posting such things from the safety of a keyboard, things she never would have had the heart to say face to face.

My feeling is that the other girl's parents got involved when their daughter was hurt by this and went to them for help or else mentioned it as the reason she and Megan were no longer friends. I'd even speculate a real boy might have been at the heart of the mudslinging. Maybe one that was interested in Megan's friend but who Megan liked herself. Enter the fun of slamming another online. I recall Megan's mother remarking some of the things her daughter wrote online were shocking.

So, the other girl's folks went for the eye for an eye approach. I can understand wanting to support your child. Was that the right thing to do? Pitting adults with years of experience in the arena of mind games up against a child with emotional problems? No, of course not. Maybe there were other issues between not only the girls but the families as well. Maybe they were fighting a proxy war between the girls rather than a direct attack on the other family.

I think many in this tale should be ashamed of themselves.

OA said...

"More lawyers" is about as effective as "more government".

The only real way to deal with things of this nature as well as so many others is to reverse the coarsening of society, as well as strengthen the family unit...and neither will happen until the next economic depression.

LabRat said...

Now that I'm not frothing...

I think there's a huge, huge difference between merely not being nice (wherein "nice" is defined as making an effort to be inoffensive), and being a "mean girl"- which I would define as being cruel for social-maneuvering reasons.

I'm not nice either, but I never say anything I don't mean (or if I do, I do my best to apologize), and I never spare a nanosecond's thought to how my social rank relates to anyone else's. It's entirely possible, even easy, to avoid the sharp side of my tongue by avoiding me- whereas teen tormentors tend to go out of their way to pick on designated targets to enforce the social structure. There isn't a way to avoid them except to drop out of school because they go looking for you, and their abuse is rarely based on anything you've actually done so much as what they think will hurt.

comatus said...

bob, that's a thoughtful analysis (to go with a couple already here); here's some real cynicism: a lot of folks of a Certain Persuasion are casting about frantically for sufficient reasons to put heavy government control on web content. This may be only another battle in that media war. Sorry to bring that up.

oa, what do think was the last depression (and did Prozac cure it?) If you're thinking the 1930's, I sure would not agree that the family unit or the general state of society improved one whit, despite a lot of folksy agitprop that goes around. We still live in the shadow of the great abrogation of society and family in favor of government that was given leverage by that setback.

OA said...

Indeed society didn't improve during the Great Depression. The family unit itself, however, did. Society itself improved once "we" came out of the Great Depression, and that improvement was a direct result of a strengthened family unit. Of course, parents then set about to give their children everything they never had and forgot to give them what they did, and the same old slide began again...

"We still live in the shadow of the great abrogation of society and family in favor of government that was given leverage by that setback."

Agreed.

Turk Turon said...

Famous last line from "Peter Pan": 'As long as children are young, innocent and heartless'.

timmeeee said...

In other news, 2300 die in Bangladesh due to a cyclone.

OA said...

The only thing that's news about it is that more didn't die.

Jenny said...

Since you ask -

1. There is a world of difference between being snarky and deliberately setting up a mind game to mentally torture an unstable adolescent. Apples and oranges.

2. You're on completely defensible ground interpersonally. In fact, I can't think of another person I've ever met who displayed a more tenacious hold on her own ethics, even to the point of self-harm. You practically drip with honor.

3. Now all that said, I confess to being at times concerned about the effects of your dark snarky humor on you. Not that I've ever seen you be unethical with it, just that the effects of habitually placing one's heart in that stance of mockery has I think the effect of closing off the heart and isolating the spirit.

If that's something you're truly comfortable with, having done some honest soul searching, well, more power to you. You're darn good at it, and it's not my place to tell you how to use that incredible wit of yours.

Or I guess the short version... "want a cookie?" :)

conw said...

Adding a computer in changes things because those involved were adults posing as an adolescent who was sexually interested in a young girl.

That's a crime in and of itself.

conw said...

Or actually I should say, I PRESUME it is a crime based on my limited knowledge of what transpired. Namely the allegations on various sites that the adults involved didn't stop the conversations when they became sexual in nature.

Also, I think that this constitutes harassment regardless. To use your standards, if a computer were not involved and the Drews pursued contact remotely like this with Megan Meier, she could at the very least have gotten a restraining order.

Or do you take the stance that it is routine in the U.S. for parents to harass their children's former friends?

phyphor[thr] said...

Personally, I think the woman that created that persona just to harm Megan should be punished somehow.

After all, she allegedly knew Megan had emotional problems (she'd apparently tried to kill herself before,) so doing something calculated to do great emotional harm is practically child abuse/endangerment.

I mean, getting involved in what started out as a teenage spat? And then acting blase after the girl kills herself?

I'm sure if the shoe were on the other foot (some other adult had caused her child to kill herself) she'd be acting quite different.

Lanius said...

Even if they can't make a case for any laws being broken, this looks like fine fodder for a wrongful death suit.

Diamondback said...

Wow, timely post. Friday morning we received word that one of our co-workers had been found dead in his hotel room while on a business trip. I found out today he had hung himself. Things have been kinda surreal for the last few days. He was 33.