Alexis Pilkington was a popular 17-year-old and a well-liked athlete who had already landed a soccer scholarship to college. But none of that stopped Alexis from becoming the target of online girl on girl bullying. Alexis began to receive hundreds of nasty online comments via the latest social networking site to crop up online called Formspring. In March 2010, Alexis committed suicide and although all agree that the online harassment was not the sole factor that led to Alexis’ death, everyone does agree that it was a contributory factor.
Unfortunately Alexis’ story is not unique. A 2010 study conducted for the Cyberbullying Research Center, (Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2010). Bullying, Cyberbullying, and Suicide), showed that “Without question, the nature of adolescent peer aggression has evolved due to the proliferation of information and communications technology. There have been several high profile cases involving teenagers taking their own lives in part because of being harassed and mistreated over the Internet. Cyberbullying victims were almost twice as likely to have attempted suicide compared to youth who had not experienced cyberbullying. Girls are 57% more likely to be victims of aggressive cyberbullying and 92% more likely to be the perpetrators.”
Suicide is obviously the extreme and no one can minimize the tragedy of it. However there are other damages that occur as a result of aggressive bullying. It can damage self-esteem and lead to feelings of worthlessness, also increasing social isolation and leading victims to become withdrawn and depressed, anxious, and insecure. So what causes girls to be mean towards each other?
A term known as relational aggression may best describe the cause of girl on girl bullying. It starts with a clique usually led by a girl with a high level of social status and popularity. In order retain her position, she will use manipulation to control girls within the clique and take vicious actions if she feels threatened. Looking into the dynamics of a clique it is easily assessed that one girl is the pack leader and the others will follow her actions or directives in order to retain their social standing within the clique. At the leader’s directive the girls within the clique will, without question, instigate the spreading of rumors and lies, taunts, and use the silent treatment to harass other girls. The bullying starts at school but will quickly go to cyberbullying due to anonymity and lack of retribution. Girls that would otherwise not call another girl a whore or slut or refer to her as ugly will easily do so in the anonymity of the Internet. Ultimately the cause boils down to the insecurity and jealousy of one girl and the twisted loyalty of members within her clique. Underneath the confident exterior of a female bully lie desperate insecurities.
Understanding the dynamics of cliques may help us to understand why girls are so mean to each other. But we then must ask what can be done to protect the victims and also what can be done to change the harmful behaviors of the female bully?