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Rebecca Black: Cruel remarks or cyberbullying?

By Sarah Klein

By now, you’ve probably heard Rebecca Black’s song Friday. In fact, you’ve probably heard it so many times you could sing it – and maybe even better than Rebecca Black herself.

The 13-year-old Internet sensation has been the subject of many harsh critiques. Time.com called the heavily auto-tuned song “a train wreck,” Slate said it was “disastrous,” and one Yahoo headline asked if Friday was the “worst song ever.” The YouTube video, which has been viewed over 60 million times, has amassed over 1 million “dislikes”, and has spawned numerous unkind parodies.

Black told The Daily Beast that the negative attention the song is receiving shocked and hurt her, saying: “At times, it feels like I’m being cyberbullied.”

She appeared on The Tonight Show and reiterated the idea, saying she cried when she first read the negative comments on her video. “Being a teenager you care about what other people think about you,” she told Jay Leno.

In her public appearances she comes off as a perfectly normal 13-year-old. But along with generating some sympathy – and a lot more publicity – her remarks have also ignited a debate over the true meaning of the term “cyberbullying.”

“Cyberbullying is thrown around and has many different definitions,” Karen Slovak, an Ohio University professor who has done research on bullying, told Time.com. “[It’s] meant to imply something that happens repeatedly over time by the same person or group of persons.”

Under this definition, one-off disparaging Internet posts – even if there are hundreds of thousands of them – don’t amount to cyberbullying but are more a form of “electronic cruelty” as Slovak puts it.  Others agree, suggesting that remarks can be cruel without rising to the level of bullying.

There is also the question of Black deliberately putting herself in the public eye. Once she takes on the role of public entertainer, she is subject to rights of free expression that pay little regard to whether the comments expressed are cruel or not.

As one blogger for The Stir points out, being mean and being a bully are two different things. Referring to mean remarks about a not-very-good pop video as “cyberbullying” does a disservice to the many real victims of one of the most serious problems of the Internet age.

Can mean YouTube comments be a form of cyberbullying? Is there a difference between being mean and bullying when it comes to the Internet? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!

Comment by Jean Parks of theshoppinqueen.com, posted 3/29/2011, 8:37 AM:

First off the song might not be terrific but the girl is adorable & she will doubtless continue to receive many positive opportunities as result of this video. I think there's a world of difference between offering one's self up as an entertainer & in being a private citizen singled out for harassment & cruel bullying behaviors calculated to destroy you socially. Next time, somebody should teach her how to disable comments on Youtube but IMHO this wasn't bullying.
Comment by Robyn Wright of RobynsOnlineWorld.com, posted 3/28/2011, 3:32 PM:

While it may not be nice what people are saying about her and her song, it is not cyberbullying. Just like the thousands of other celebrities that are out there - we critique them all regularly. Even though I am not a celebrity as a mom blogger, I have to accept the same. If I am putting myself out there and sharing I have to realize there are going to be people who do not like me or what I have to say.
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