Sydney Wilhelm speaking at Versace's Born This Way Foundation event, 2016. Source: Getty Images.
When I had my first encounter with online harassment, I didn’t know what to do. At the time (2009) people didn’t talk about online harassment like they do now. Although there were cases such as Megan Meier, it wasn’t a common subject to be brought up. People at the time and still now don’t realize that online harassment is the same as physical harassment, maybe even worse. With online harassment, there is no escaping the bullies. When you think of bullying you think of physical harassment or harassment that is happening in person where the victim can escape their bullies. With online harassment, that’s not possible. With technology being involved in everything people do, it’s hard to totally disconnect but it’s also common that the victims should remove themselves from social media in order to get away from the harassment. Why should the victims have to be the ones that need to log off social media in order to escape this nightmare?
Since online harassment was not talked about when I first experienced it, I was embarrassed and thought it was my fault. Because of this, I tried to hide what was going on. It wasn’t until somebody else brought it to the attention to my parents that I started to receive help. Once my parents knew, it was better for me. I had the support from them to help me get through it.
The online harassment continued for so long because I didn’t say anything to anybody, I just took it. When my parents were involved, I learned that I should capture everything the bullies said or did towards me so I could take it to my middle school. Although my middle school didn’t think that there was anything they could do about it because it wasn’t happening at school, they were going against their own policy by that. My school had a policy on online harassment but they wouldn’t do anything about it even after having a folder, multiple inches thick of things they were saying to or about me and countless of meetings later; They wouldn’t do anything. That’s when the police had to get involved. But yet again, because this was happening online, they wouldn’t do anything about it. They just told me I needed to log off my social media and get a new phone number. But again, why should I have to suffer even more?
With my parents involved, I finally got the help I needed. That didn’t mean my depression, anxiety and social thoughts went away, it just meant that it wasn’t me against the bullied. I was building an army and we were ready to fight this war. I no longer had to fight alone.
What I’ve learned is that you need to tell someone what is happening. Whether it’s a parent, family member, friend, or someone you trust, anyone is better than no one. You also need to be capturing everything and anything they say or do towards you. That is all evidence that can help you receive proper help. If your school doesn’t do anything like mine didn’t, you can take that information to the police. If they don’t do anything, don’t stop presenting your case to people. Somebody will help you.
If you know someone who is experiencing online harassment or you witness it yourself, you have a few options. The first being that you can step in and say something to the bully. You can try and intervene but that doesn’t mean you can bully the bully. Your other option is that you can take a screenshot of what they said and take it to your school. Being a bystander is NOT one of your options. You may think it’s better to stay out of it, but you really should do one of the two options above.
Without the help of some amazing organizations, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I was able to find solace in Tina Meier, founder of the Megan Meier Foundation. She was able to help guide me through the bullying because she lost her daughter, Megan, to cyberbullying. With her help, I could work with the Junior League of St. Louis and testify multiple times in front of the Missouri State Senate and the Missouri State House of Representatives for an anti-bullying bill that schools in Missouri would have to implement. That bill finally passed in the spring of 2016. Also with the help of the Megan Meier Foundation, I was lead to apply for a camp with the Born This Way Foundation. Once accepted, I didn’t realize how much the camp would change my life. After camp, I kept in contact with the foundation doing little things here and there. In February of 2016, I had the opportunity to speak at Hack Harassment and work with social media platforms, including the ones that my cyberbullying took place on. At Hack Harassment, we were able to work together as a team to try and come up with ideas on how those platforms can stop cyberbullying from their side of things. In November of 2016, I had the amazing opportunity to share my story at the Versace event where they partnered with the Born This Way Foundation to donate proceeds of their sales to the foundation. Without my parents reaching out to Tina Meier, her help, the small talks I gave that seemed so little lead me to these opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. My advice is, if you are going through cyberbullying, you do need to report it and you do need to seek help. Without the help I received, I may not be here today.
By Sydney Wilhelm