Miscellaneous / News

Amanda Cummings: Bullying in the social media age

Staten Island teen Amanda Cummings, 15, whose relatives say she was relentlessly bullied, died after she jumped in front of an oncoming city bus.

By: Shannon Clarke

Feature image via New York Daily News.

Another year, another heartbreaking story of a teen bullied so badly, she thought her only option was death.

Fifteen-year-old Amanda Diane Cummings jumped in front of a city bus in Staten Island two days after Christmas – a suicide note in her pocket and an ominous post on her Facebook page. She had told her mother she was going to a friend’s house but when she didn’t come home, her family left frantic messages on her Facebook page and texted her cellphone, according to a report in the New York Daily News.

Early the next morning on Dec. 28, her mother received a phone call that her daughter was in critical condition at Staten Island Hospital.

She succumbed to her injuries on Jan. 2, six days after being struck by the oncoming bus.

Cummings was bullied relentlessly by a group of female classmates at New Dorp High School. According to relatives, the bullying started years ago, but got worse when she began dating a 19-year-old boy whom another girl, the “ringleader” of Cummings’ tormentors, had a crush on.

“They made fun of her heels, her hair, her make-up – everything,” Ashley Gilman, Cummings’ cousin, told the News.

“My cousin passed away because she was picked on,” she said. “My cousin passed away because kids are cruel.”

The week before Christmas, the bully threatened Amanda. Still, the fear of retaliation stopped the teen from reporting the abuse to the school.

Cummings told her family about it a day before she would jump in front of a bus, showing her mother a thread of vicious text messages between her and the other girl and her and the older boy.

It didn’t seem to matter because the bullying continued the next day. A threatening text message from another girl was the final straw.

And even after her death, the cruelty continues.

Memorial pages set up by family and friends were hijacked by hateful messages, mocking the way in which Cummings’ chose to end her life. Several more pages were created it seems for the sole purpose of trashing the beautiful, young girl.

Friends, classmates and perfect strangers who heard about the continued online attacks have tried (some argue in vain) to drown out the hate, posting condolences and fond memories of Cummings instead.

Her funeral was held on Jan. 6.

Cummings’ story is one of a disturbing trend of teen suicides in the United States and Canada. The role of social media in these cases points to a stark difference between the “normal” schoolyard-aggression our parents endured and the kind of bullying faced by Cummings and others like her.

One New York City lawmaker introduced a bill on Jan. 9 following Cummings’ death. The bill would create stricter penalties for cyberbullying, equating it to third-degree stalking. Electronic communication (such as Facebook postings) would be added as a way to commit aggravated harassment. Both are misdemeanors, punishable by up to one year in jail. It can also be raised to felony status if they violate hate crime statutes.

According to an 2011 Ipsos report, the majority of social network users are between the ages of 18 and 34 and TIME magazine reported last year at least 7.5 million users on Facebook are underage (13 and under).

Cyberbullying is still a fairly recent phenomenon in schools. A new generation of teens and pre-teens can expect a sometimes-unbearable school environment to follow them home. In a 2011 survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre, 88 per cent of teens said they witnessed people being “mean or cruel” on Facebook and Twitter, and one in five admitted to joining in. These online confrontations often lead to face-to-face altercations.

Ontario proposed new legislation in November that would allow schools to expel bullies and anyone who participates in hate-motivated crime. The bill, the Accepting Schools Act, also forces schools to permit gay-straight alliance clubs. Premier Dalton McGuinty introduced the legislation following the suicide of Ottawa teen Jamie Hubley, 15 – bullied because he was gay.

Quebec teen Marjorie Raymond, also 15, killed herself in November after years of bullying by classmates. When her mother, Chantal Larose, complained to the school on her daughter’s behalf, the bullies were suspended for a few days. But, Larose said, the school did not take the incidents seriously enough, reportedly saying, “it was common place for girls that age to quarrel.” She is calling for tougher anti-bullying laws in the province.

The hope is that in 2012, school administrators offer more support for bullied teens and that those kids feel speaking up will make a difference.

Because being bullied to death is not a normal part of growing up.

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