Unfortunately, we are all familiar with the typical dynamics of a bully-bullyee relationship. Those of us who don’t have stories to tell of their own can at least recite stories they have witnessed. We’ve all grown up watching it happen at school, in summer camps, in the movies, on a comical show on the small screen in the living room; it’s everywhere. We have normalized it, we have accepted it, and as it moved with us to the digital age, we didn’t attempt to stop it. Cyberbully 2015 is a very interesting TV drama that successfully sheds the light on many topics we’d otherwise rather turn a blind eye to. Here’s how!
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This review is full to capacity with spoilers; you’ve been warned!
Cyberbully stars the talented Maisie Williams (also Arya from Game of Thrones), who completely captivates your attention for the whole 60 minutes of the film. I will not recap the storyline here, so go give the one-hour movie a watch, and come back so we can discuss the details!
There are many lessons one can infer from Cyberbully; here are the ones we found most significant.
Privacy Is an Illusion
Okay, I won’t play the preacher here. We’ve all been there. We think we are safe and comfortable in our own rooms, on our personal password-protected devices. We really aren’t. We only realize how bad and dangerous the outside world can be when we fall victims to those who leverage on our carelessness. We are not a secret government program; we think taking extra precautions is not a priority because we are not that significant. Who would want to hurt us?
In Cyberbully, Casey (Maisie Williams), like most of us, didn’t give the concept of privacy a serious thought. Her school friend hacks other friends of hers and it’s portrayed as fun and games. When she’s given the opportunity to breach her ex-boyfriend’s privacy to execute revenge, she hardly hesitates. When she reads an aggressive tweet her ex (Nathan) has posted about her use of antidepressants, she doesn’t once wonder if he was really the one to post it. Casey only feels how awful it is to have your privacy invaded and abused when the mysterious hacker blackmails her with her topless pictures. But that’s another point we will get to later.
The Internet’s greatest merit (and also vice) is anonymity. You can be anyone and you can say anything. The fact that your face is hidden behind the screen allows you freedom you wouldn’t otherwise have on any other medium. Anonymity has helped individuals with troubles to open up, seek help, and make friends. It lessens anxiety and it gives you a blank new page where you can be a much better person, or, well, where you can be the villain of your dreams.
Casey has an online persona with the name “Chronic Youth,” where she posts sarcastic videos making fun of other online video-makers. In her initial online chat with the mysterious hacker, the contrast is drawn: Casey chose anonymity; the hacker chose anonymity. They both did it because it’s easier this way. “We can say what w want,” “Without anyone judging us.”
The hacker’s anonymity frustrated Casey. She had no idea if he was a man or a woman, an old enemy or a friend. And that ignorance contributed to her fear. Only when she had managed to deduct that the hacker was probably “steerpiker_84” did she gather her strength and decide to fight back.
Divide and Conquer
Hacking and cyberbullying have a technique in common: intimidation. Scaring the victim into submission and making them feel like they have no one to go to or seek help from is the first step to getting into their head. Often times we watch bullying incidents so severe we end up wondering, why didn’t they ask for help? How could they live with all the fear and the misery all on their own? It’s because they didn’t think help was a valid option; they didn’t know it existed.
In Cyberbully, early on in his conversation with Casey, the mysterious hacker mentioned that her best friend (Madison) no longer adds Instagram pictures with her. Did he mean to alienate her from her best friend so he can later turn them on each other? The same trick was used on Casey’s father. The hacker didn’t allow her to leave the room or let her father in. He went so far as to throw sinister remarks on the kind of websites her father visits after his divorce.
Emotionally abusing the victim into feeling alone and helpless is the goal of any cyberbully. They want you to think that you have no friends or family that love you, they want to shake the images of the people you value most. So next time a cyberbully tells you something hurtful about one of your parents or close friends, remember that it’s not true. It’s part of their scheme.
Now we all have it: the kind of content you wouldn’t want anyone else to see. It could be a chat log, text messages with a significant other, videos, pictures, or even a personal journal. We treat our computer/phone like we do our lockers. It’s a personal space where you can keep your most intimate information away from peeking eyes. But unfortunately, it isn’t.
The keys to our virtual lockers (computers) are so fragile that anyone with a little experience can break into them. That brings us to a controversial topic: sexting. The pictures you send to a romantic partner, given the good intention of this partner, are still at risk of spreading. How? Why? It’s simple. A file on your computer or phone is easily accessible once the hacker finds the way. If this file falls in the wrong hands, it might end up getting viral or used against you.
Casey took a little naughty pictures for her now ex-boyfriend. An evil person with the know-how managed to put his hands on them. Now the scenario is typical. Casey is blackmailed into abiding to the hacker’s demands or else the pictures go online and “ruin” he life. Let us first make sure you know this: yes, having indecent pictures of you spreading online is awful, but no, it doesn’t mean your life is ruined! Casey was so scared of slut shaming she was almost ready to die rather than to live with the shame. That is irrational and wrong. There are various ways to deal with the situation. A strong woman would overcome this obstacle and take her life back and prove to those who think her body is a cheap commodity that they were wrong, that she’s more than her slip, more than her nakedness.
I suppose the lesson here is to be extra careful with sensitive content. But also to know very well that your life and your worth are much more valuable than what society has to say of your person. If you’re ever faced with the difficult choice between your life and a cruel judgmental society, always choose your life!
What Is Cyberbullying?
This question occurs frequently in Cyberbully. Somehow every character in the movie was on one side of the cyberbullying spectrum once or twice. Casey is cyberbullied, almost to death, but she also cyberbullied many others. The definition is blurry, especially since the mysterious vigilante, who fights for victims of cyberbullying, is the biggest cyberbully there is.
Early in the conversation, the mysterious hacker tells Casey that he helps victims of cyberbullying. She automatically thinks he means her, that she is the victim. It doesn’t occur to her that she’s a cyberbully because nothing she did registered in her head as bullying: it is nasty, but we all do it. When Casey was faced with her cyberbullying of the shopping girls, she hurried to defend herself saying it’s just “sarcasm.” When the mysterious hacker mentioned Jennifer Li, Casey then told him she is bullied because she “asks for it.” We seem to always make justifications for ourselves, hardly ever considering how our own actions affect others.
What constitutes cyberbullying should be crystal clear to everyone. Anyone that causes harm, humiliation, embarrassment, or distress to someone else online is a cyberbully, even if it’s for fun, even if you don’t really have the evil intentions of causing them depression, anxiety, or suicidal tendencies.
Casey is taken on a long emotionally exhausting journey to see the results of her first act of trolling. She sees how the abuse gave Jennifer Li depression, how she started cutting herself, and then how she killed herself. Most of us live our whole lives without ever knowing the consequences of the words we throw around so lightly.
The Final Moments
By the end of the movie, it is obvious the hacker wants Casey dead, he wants her to overdose on her antidepressants. We don’t get to know why. Is this revenge or is he just another trolling psychopath? In a sense, it doesn’t matter.
Casey swallows one pill after another because, in her head, dying was a better outcome than having her pictures spread online. When the hacker posts two compromising pictures of Madison, her best friend, from her own Twitter account, Casey gets a phone call that changes everything. Despite how she was deprived of any communication with the outside world, Casey’s father gives her Madison’s message. Her best friend called her crying to say, “Whatever is going on, I know this isn’t you.”
Why would a sentence that simple give Casey the power to stand up to the cyberbully? My own conclusion is that the faith her best friend showed in her reminded her that she’s not alone, that her life wouldn’t really be over. It reminded her of her value to those who love her and it reminded her that the worst case scenario was definitely, definitely, not worse than death. When the hacker threatens again, telling her her life is over. She asks him, “Is it?” She reminds him that he can’t “hack” her family or her best friend, that he can’t get to her if she won’t let him. The mysterious hacker then, desperate, offers to tell her who he really is. And this is when Casey utters the single most important sentence in the movie: “It doesn’t matter. What are you when I stop talking to you? Nothing.” And she slams the laptop shut.
The intense one-hour drama ends with Casey calling for her father as she collapses on the floor crying. She hears his steps rushing to reach her. She smiles with relief.
Read also: Bully-Proofing Your Middle-School Son.
About the Author:
Sahar Medhat is an aspiring Egyptian writer with a degree in English and a passion for saving the world. She loves psychology, philosophy, intriguing cosmic mysteries, and putting long thoughts into pretty words. You can find her on her personal blog here; she’d love a message!