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This is why cyberbullying should be taken seriously

There is no excuse to taunt, tease or bully another person in any manner, whether in person or virtually. That's not something Brandy Vela's attackers understood, though.

The 18-year-old had endured cyberbullying for much of her life about her weight, but in April, the insults escalated. Students created fake Facebook accounts pretending to be her, and then constantly messaged her terrible insults even after she wouldn’t respond. Understandably, Brandy didn't deal with all of this. After months of intense taunts, she committed suicide two weeks ago in her family’s Texas home right in front of her parents and grandparents. The police are now investigating Brandy's suicide as a cyberbullying-crime.

This horrific story should open our eyes to just how harmful cyberbullying can be. It's not always as extreme as creating fake Facebook accounts. It includes mean text messages, rumors sent through Facebook messenger or embarrassing photos on Snapchat. No matter what form, it's a big deal. Between sixth and twelfth grade, 7 percent of students have experienced cyberbullying, and 15 percent of high school students were cyberbullied in 2013. But the problem with these statistics is our own rapidly changing technology. Our generation is so quick to jump between different apps or websites that it is difficult to track the full extent of cyberbullying. 

But there are ways to prevent it and to deal with it. If you or someone you know is a victim of cyberbullying, don’t keep it to yourself. Instead:

1. Do not respond to anything , but screenshot it all. Messages received should be documented if possible, but that's it. Don’t respond to the sender and don’t forward them to other people.

2. Block the user. There is no need to continue receiving these messages, so block the account and/or number that is sending them (after you have screenshotted for proof).

3. Report it to the service providers. It's nice to know that cyberbullying is not tolerated by the websites and apps that we love: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and more. Though this does not mean that the bullying is not happening in these spaces (as in Brandy's case), it makes it easier to be taken seriously when you report the abuse (with your evidence) to the appropriate party.

4. Inform your school. This can be difficult, especially if you don't want anyone to know that you “tattled.” But, just like your favorite apps, your school also has a zero-tolerance policy on bullying. Your safety and your mental health are much more important than the person who is taunting you. Your school will deal with the problem so you don’t have to.

5. Go to the police. If there is a threat of violence, the police need to be informed. Cyberbullying is not a joke, and going to law enforcement is not an overreaction. If you or someone you know feels unsafe, they need to know.

Bottom line, there is no reason to make another person feel badly about themselves. We are all human beings, and we should be building each other up, never tearing each other down. Think of Brandy today, and spread as much love as you can.

Have you or a friend ever had to deal with cyberbullying? What did you do? Let us know in the comments!

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by Amy Garcia | 12/12/2016
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