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Today's 'mean girls,' tomorrow's cyberbullies

May 24, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
We've all heard about cyberbullies, but this war of words isn't limited to teenagers. From sites like Facebook to e-mail and chat rooms, some women, who might have been labeled 'mean girls' in high school, have grown up to be just as mean, online.Remember slam books? If you don't, slam books were notebooks passed around in high school with a person's name written on each page. Kids would write comments by each name but sometimes those comments were downright mean and nasty.

Well, high school may be over, but for some, the Web is the new slam book.

Gina Moore Sanders loves to visit chat rooms and social networking sites.

"I get to meet a lot of different people with diverse opinions and I like to have conversations with them," said Gina.

But recently, Gina posted a story she'd written, and soon, cyberbullies began taking swings.

"They said expletives, profanity that I was stupid and I was crazy," Gina described.

From snide comments to personal attacks to just plain mean words, anytime you are harassed, humiliated or threatened online, it's 'cyberbullying.'

These days, experts say it's even more common among adult women. Many of those so-called 'mean girls' in high school are now grown up 'mean women.'

"I hear about adult women retaliating a lot more and retaliating in really vicious ways to the point where sites get shut down. People drop off of sites," said Dr. Cheryl Dellasega, the author of "Mean Girls Grown Up."

It can be one rude comment or a string of them. It can take place through e-mail, sites like MySpace or Facebook and even instant messages.

"The topics that women are cyberbullied about are really endless. It could be a romance. It could be your parenting practices," explained Dellasega.

Eyewitness News asked viewers whether or not they'd been cyberbullied.

One woman said that her fiance's ex-wife sent hateful e-mails about her looks and even harassed her about her not having kids of her own.

Another viewer said she saw some friends making snide comments about her divorce on Facebook.

Romi Lassally started truuconfessions.com. It's a sort of anonymous online confession booth for women.

"We probably see cyberbullying maybe one in 10 confessions, maybe two in 10 comments. We don't want to post it. We want to offer a judgment-free, safe place for women," said Lassally.

Dellasega says part of the reason women bare their claws is insecurity and anonymity.

"It's like being behind a mask. It offers that sort of anonymous screen for a woman to say some things that she wouldn't normally say," explained Dellasega.

Gina says that even though she's all grown up, the words cut just as deep.

"It made me feel offended and it hurt a lot," Gina said.

Experts say your best defense is really no defense.

"The best thing to do is to turn off the computer and walk away," advised Dellasega.

If it happens on Facebook, "de-friend" them, change your privacy settings and block them.

It's natural to want to respond, but sometimes comments are made simply to provoke. That's why Gina doesn't engage when words turn nasty.

"That's when I decide to just not have a discussion anymore," she said.


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