In April 2009, what started as a series of vicious phone calls, text messages, and Myspace messages turned physical when Rachel Wade stabbed and killed Sarah Ludemann. These two teens had been fighting over a boy, Joshua Camacho.
While Rachel was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 27 years, she hopes her story can serve as a warning to teens everywhere.
Anonymity is part of the problem
While the horrendous violence in the Rachel/Ludemann case is unique, their war of words exchanged over the Internet is not. Cyberbullying and cyber threats happen all the time.
“You can hide behind technology,” Wade says, “You can be a whole other person.” What Wade is referring to is a well known phenomenon known as the online disinhibition effect. Dr. John Suler, a psychologist from Rider University, explains:
Everyday users of the Internet have noted how people say and do things in cyberspace that they wouldn’t ordinarily say and do in the face-to-face world. They loosen up, feel less restrained, and express themselves more openly.
We see this disinhibition effect play out all the time online, from the amount of time we spend online to the things we look at on our computer screens, from the people we speak with to the words we use.
Internet use is largely an anonymous activity. No one has to know where we go or what we do on the Internet. Additionally, when we interact with one another online, we often lose the benefit of looking others in the face and seeing how our actions impact them.
Accountability is part of the solution
For ourselves and our children, one of the best ways to reverse this trend is by providing an atmosphere of accountability around Internet use. When you are voluntarily accountable to others about how you use the Internet, it makes you more aware that what you do online matters. You are less likely to do or say things that are against your personal values.