But to help other victimized teens find the strength to make a different choice, we have to stay focused and study what went wrong. If you don't already know Megan's story, click here. We wrote to Megan's mother, Tina, asking for her permission to include the story of Megan's Imposter Profile in our Introduction to Cyberslammed. She wrote back, granting us permission, adding, "My hope is that through the continued awareness from people around the world that we will help children and their families."
So to honor Megan, we will use this space to talk strategically about what tactics were used and how to identify and avoid them.
On The Internet, no one is exactly who they appear to be. That is Lesson #1 when it comes to your kids. We're not just talking "stranger-danger"--we're talking about enemies who pose as friends. You have to train your kids to be wary at a young age when it comes to any online communication. That will be their first line of defense when someone tries to befriend them on the 'Net on MySpace, Facebook, Bebo or any other social networking website. Tina was actually monitoring Megan's profile, had all her passwords and knew that she was talking with a boy, "Josh Evans." In Megan's case, she immediately trusted that "Josh" who befriended her was real. After all: there was his photo, his bio, his preferences. And he had a line that was sure to melt the heart of a 13-year-old girl.
"when i was 7 my dad left me and my mom and my older brother and my newborn brother 3 boys god i know poor mom yeah she had such a hard time when we were younger finding work to pay for us after he left."
Yet, all of this was fiction, set up by Tina Meier's neighbor, Lori Drew. Yes, an adult had set up this Imposter Profile with the intent to deceive a 13-year-old girl because her daughter had had a falling out with Megan. As noted on the Megan Meier Foundation's website, Drew set up the Imposter Profile to find out what Megan might be saying about her daughter.
As the story goes, one day, "Megan received a puzzling and disturbing message from Josh. Tina recalls that it said: 'I don't know if I want to be friends with you anymore because I've heard that you are not very nice to your friends.' "
From there, the Imposter Profile morphed into multiple cyberbullying tactics, as they so often do. Next, "Josh" shared some of Megan's private messages with a larger group of bystanders. There is not a name for this tactic (yet), but sharing private messages with an unintended third party as a way to incriminate the target seems to be a preferred method of teens who may not even realize it is cyberbullying. According to a 2010 study done by authors Dr. Justin Patchin and Dr. Sameer Hinduja of the Cyberbullying Research Center, "When asked about specific types of cyberbullying in the previous 30 days, mean or hurtful comments (13.7%) and rumors spread (12.9%) online continue to be among the most commonly-cited.
Lesson #2 Teach your kids never to reveal any personal or sensitive information online. Do not gossip online or share someone else's private messages even with people they know and trust. Anything electronic is proof and can be misused very badly against the poster in a way he/she never envisioned.
Next, the bystander group whose MySpace accounts were linked to the fictitious "Josh" account began to attack Megan online. The cyberbullying tactics turned to a Digital Pile On. This is when a ringleader gets his or her minions to "pile on" the target with mean, hurtful comments. Within this tactic, there was yet another sub-tactic: the followers were posting bulletins about Megan through MySpace, which are considered "fun online surveys", but these survey topics were designed to be cruel and ranged from: "Megan Meier is a slut" (subtactic: "slut-shaming") to "Megan Meier is fat." This subtactic is very similar to a Rating Website, outlined in Cyberslammed as well.
As the Digital Pile On progressed, Megan tried to defend herself online using vulgar language, unwittingly opening herself up to more cyberbullying.
Lesson #3: Don't Want Another Attack? Don't Fire Back. Experts consistently say the worst thing a target can do is to react with anger online. It is exactly the reaction the ringleader and his/her minions are looking for and it opens the way for harsher attacks. The best thing one can do is immediately get offline and put together a strategy to address the situation with adults.
The day Megan died, her father found what he believed to be the final message Megan saw, but it couldn't be retrieved from her hard drive. To the best of his recollection it said, "Everybody in O'Fallon knows how you are. You are a bad person and everybody hates you. Have a shitty rest of your life. The world would be a better place without you."
To read more of this convoluted case, including its legal outcomes and how this case became the foundation for a new law, click here.
The last thing we will say about this: In the age of new technological tools and fads, it is increasingly difficult to shield our teens from harmful intent online. So we must prepare them to be vigilant about their own safety, cautious about what they choose to reveal and to whom, strategic in the way they (as well as the parents) choose to resolve the conflict and lastly, resilient in the face of electronic defamation and harassment.
Know what to do a group viciously gangs up on one person through Facebook, Twitter, Ask.fm, a group chat, comments or Instant Messaging.? Our new Parent's Guide To A Digital Pile On is now available on Kindle for $2.99.