Hope Witsell Cyberbully Suicide: Did She Have a Chance? (PICTURES)
(CBS) Gone are the days when you could avoid a group of bullies by taking an alternative route home from school.
For this newest generation, who have never known life without a cell, who learned how to text before they learned pre-algebra, electronic media like smart phones, Facebook, and Twitter mean everything.
"Texting is their main form of communication," says Rachel Klein, professor of child and adolescent studies at New York University's Child Studies Center. "They don't talk on the phone anymore. It's a key part of their lives."
That's important, because while conversations are one-on-one, text messages can be broadcast to thousands of people in an instant. And for teens, already prone to impulsiveness, the results can be tragic.
Take 13-year-old Hope Witsell. Last year, the Ruskin, Fla., middle schooler sent a photo of her breasts to a boy she liked. Another student got hold of it and it went viral.
From then on, classmates bullied, intimidated and tormented her - even creating MySpace pages to humiliate her.
"Kids view themselves through the eyes of their peers," says Klein. "And now it's really easy for a group of kids to collude through the Internet."
Electronic media quickens the pace and broadens the effects, she says.
In Hope's case, it worked with devastating effect. On Sept. 12, 2009, she took her own life. Her mother told CNN she never knew how deeply her daughter was hurting.
Hope's death is part of a disturbing trend - teens who commit suicide in the face of merciless bullying, often online.
Sometimes the bullying is more silent, but just as deadly. Tyler Clementi, 18, a promising violinist from Ridgewood, N.J., leaped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after, police say, he learned that his roommate had secretly streamed video of him in a romantic encounter with another man.
It may be tempting to imagine that kids don't intend to hurt each other, and that technology is solely at fault, but Klein doesn't let bullies off the hook that easy.
"[Bullies] intend to be cruel. They are cruel and cowardly," she says. "What they may not always appreciate is the consequences."
Hope Witsell: Cyberbully Suicide
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