TW: This article contains a general description of sexual assault.
On Monday, the world took to social media to observe “World Day of Bullying Prevention,” as a way for students, schools, and communities around the globe to stand together and put a stop to bullying and cyberbullying. But for one family, it was the 4-year anniversary of the death of their son, who tragically took his own life after being cyberbullied. He was 16-years-old.
In memory of David Molak, Texas enacted David’s Law, which requires school districts in Texas to include cyberbullying in their district’s bullying policies as well as notify parents of suspected cases. Maurine Molak, the voice and mother to David, created the David Molak Foundation to honor his legacy, which led to the creation of David’s Law.
In a recent interview with a San Antonio news outlet, Ms. Molak emphasized that the laws haven’t changed, even if a student is being bullied and affected in virtual learning–no thanks to COVID-19, of course.
“We know that 39% of students experience cyberbullying,” Molak says. “Okay, so that means somebody’s a victim, somebody’s an aggressor. And there are many bystanders that are watching it happen. And what we want parents to know is what happened to us–and I’ve had parents who have said to me is that David could have been my child. What we want people to understand is that this is a community issue and it takes all of us working together to make an impact.”
And right she is, which led us to millennial internet attorney, law professor, and anti-bullying activist, Andrew Rossow.
Andrew Rossow | Credit: Amaris Mendoza Photography
Rossow, the founder of #CYBERBYTE®, a globally trademarked anti-cyberbullying movement that has captivated Hollywood, with notable individuals such as Brian Cuban (Dallas lawyer, author, and brother to Mark Cuban,) Skye Marshall of CW’s Black Lightning and Netflix’s Sabrina, the Sopranos’ Jamie Lynn Sigler, EDM DJ Gareth Emery, Catch a Predator’s Chris Hansen, Chad Michael Murray, Smallville’s Michael Rosenbaum, and a chunk of the CW’s Supernatural cast, including, but not limited to Mark Pellegrino, Misha Collins, Samantha Smith, and Alaina Huffman. The list goes on.
Where Rossow’s story comes in, stems from his own childhood trauma, which he recently shared with Thrive Global and AboveTheLaw, which set him down a path to help other victims of online harassment, bullying, and sexual assault in efforts of providing comfort, support, or other additional resources.
Here we are in 2020, still facing the COVID-19 pandemic, where virtual learning and social distancing have become our reality. Yet, the plague of cyberbullying has still found its way into the conversations on live-streaming platforms, chat rooms, social media channels, among others. The list goes on. The problem, however, is that some still don’t believe “cyberbullying” to be “real.” But mothers like Ms. Molak, Christine McComas (mother and voice to Grace McComas), Jane Clementi (mother and voice to Tyler Clementi), and countless others would beg to differ.
“Cyberbullying is very real and anyone who continues to deny its existence is no better than the aggressors themselves,” Rossow told us in a Zoom interview. “This behavior has been going on since the beginning of our digital age. The first documented case of online bullying was none other than Monica Lewinsky, who learned firsthand the power of the media and the rate and speed by which information travels online, before the next day’s paper could break a story.”
So what exactly is “cyberbullying?” We asked the internet attorney himself.
“You have to break it down into the standard definitions of ‘bullying’ and ‘cyber,’ which together, open an individual up to a boundless world of terror. Cyberbullying is the specific targeting of another person, repeatedly, through the use of an electronic device, including smartphones, smart tablets, and other electronic mediums by which a signal can be transmitted to and from. What’s important here is that the victim must know that he/she/they are being targeted, and are unable to leave the encounter, due to the prevalence of our digital age.”
Rossow is no stranger to the world of bullying, in-person and online, which led him down the path of becoming a lawyer and a voice for those who feel isolated and alone.
In our interview with Rossow, we discuss three key topics that we believe to be vital in today’s digital age, especially as we approach what will be a post-COVID-19 year ahead.
1. Online Bullying Has Surged, Thanks to COVID-19
At the beginning of the year, as kids and students were pulled from the classroom and mandated to social distancing, they were forced to continue their education and interactions through digital devices and online streaming–more than they ever thought they would.
Ironically, global accessibility opened the gates to vulnerability, on a massive scale, which even found its ways into Zoom calls and social platforms like TikTok.
“Today’s newest digital weapon is social media,” Rossow explains, adding that “it’s no longer become a place for interacting and keeping up with those nearest you, but a place full of judgment, criticism, and delusional self-entitlement. How can this not take a toll on one’s mental health?”
As we are now at the start of election season, people only express their public disdain more frequently. The problem, according to Rossow, is one of accountability. “These individuals need to be held accountable and responsible for the harm they cause. The laws need to be strengthened and our tech giants like Facebook/Instagram and Twitter need to re-position themselves as leaders and actually demonstrate that they care about the mental health of its users. At some point, it needs to take responsibility for this and get rid of this ridiculous ‘Report a User’ algorithm that does nothing but infuriate and exacerbate the bullying itself.”
And he has a point, no? The power to “block” only does so much. “You see, they can always come back as someone else or under the guise of a new username,” Rossow agreed, emphasizing the need to “implement a system where a user is deplatformed and placed on a list that only these platforms and perhaps, our lawmakers would have access to.”
So, what is a person to do with the current infrastructure we choose to participate in online?
2. What You Can Do If It Happens to You
Take any content you’ve posted to your social media channel, and look for an instance where that post has sparked outrage or otherwise aggressive response. You would think engagement and conversation can be had, but that depends on how you choose to respond to the individuals taking the time to respond to your post.
Rossow’s advice on how to handle a scenario where you feel cornered, trapped, attacked, comes down to two decisions, both with their own consequences.
First, acknowledge what the individual is saying. Let them know that you recognize and understand their point of view, but ask them to elaborate or expand on why they feel the way they feel. The consequence? You provide visibility to the community as to why this individual is responding the way they are, but also it’s a mechanism for you to realize whether or not you want to engage that conversation further.
Or, you can respond in an equally aggressive way–eye for an eye, and get into a “Facebook war” or “Twitter war” for no reason other than proving to a complete stranger you are right.
“You have nothing to prove to anyone other than yourself. Sometimes, you just have to accept that you can’t change a person’s way of thinking, even if they’re your own blood.”
Trolls are like starfishes on steroids. You cut one, it becomes two. You cut two, it becomes four. You fight it in a negative way, it doubles.
If you are expressing your views on the internet, be ready to take your ground when people start disagreeing with you. Look to contribute in a positive way, or soon you will become the very thing you swore to destroy, as Obi-Wan Kenobi once screamed at his former apprentice, Anakin Skywalker.
“Argue with a purpose, but be prepared to defend your argument with facts, not feelings,” Rossow says. For these reasons, it’s easier to move on with your life, and learn how to take care of the only thing that matters–your own mental health. Because the truth of the matter is, nobody else will.
But even then, what happens if you make the decision to strategically engage, as Rossow encourages, or to step away from the keyboard, and the war continues? How do you stop the ongoing abuse that follows you home, in your pocket, into your private zen?
Welcome to ‘The Guardian Project,’ the brainchild of ‘13 Reasons Why’ star, Mark Pellegrino and Rossow.
3. We Can All Be ‘Guardians’ in Newly Announced ‘Guardian Project’
Source: Daily Dead News (Photo Credit: Mark Pellegrino and Amaris Mendoza Photography)
Back in September, Rossow announced that he in partnership with Netflix’s ‘13 Reasons Why’ and Supernatural star, Mark Pellegrino, are co-launching “The Guardian Project,” a multi-tiered attack on the epidemic problems of public bullying and the spreading of libelous narratives on social media.
Pellegrino is known for his role as Deputy Bill Standall on ‘13 Reasons Why,’ in addition to his role as ‘Lucifer’ on Supernatural, Jacob on the former hit series, ‘Lost’, and Paul Bennett on ‘Dexter.’
Currently, Pellegrino and Rossow are working to launch their Kickstarter which will go to the development and production of a TV series that, according to Pellegrino, “enables victims to confront victimizers and obtain some form of justice. Whether that justice is restitution in the form of material payback for the harm caused by spreading false narratives, or the reform of the victimizers, we seek to empower victims of social media slander, libel, and bullying by letting the victimizers know that anonymity will not protect them from the consequences of their actions.”
Simultaneously, they are working on a platform, The Raw Nerve, that will serve as a home to those victims of online bullying to connect, interact, and share their experiences with one another, while having access to resources that will also provide them with the peace of mind they are searching for.
We asked Pellegrino and Rossow what we can do to support their endeavors, to which Pellegrino responded, “Put The Guardian symbol on your social media profile page: 😈The Guardian😇.”
This tells people that you stand for justice, truth, civility. And then act on it. Put your money where your mouth is and engage those who seek to harm others on line. Refuse to participate in groups that pile on people. Be the voice of reason in the crowd. Secondly, donate to our kickstarter when it goes up. Help us move forward to make the world a better place for open discourse.”
For more information on what Pellegrino and Rossow are building, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have you ever been cyberbullied? Share your experiences below.