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Special report: Tragic consequences of cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a 21st century problem and it affects millions of students. Tina Meier is one person trying to do something about it. Meier created the Megan Meier Foundation to educate students about cyberbullying. It’s become her life’s work and it was born out of tragedy.

“It’s kind of nice to be able to be in here and then I can look and still see all the things that made Megan — Megan,” said Tina Meier.

A cabinet full of things is all Tina has left of her daughter. Megan killed herself of October 2006 after being bullied by a boy she met on Myspace. His name was Josh Evans.

“Josh told Megan she was beautiful and had beautiful eyes and a great smile. Megan thought he was a cute and this went for a little while,” said Meier.

But then Josh’s tone changed. He messaged Megan one day, writing “I don’t want to be friends with you anymore — You’re not a nice person.”

The next night, Josh wrote “No one likes you” and “No one wants to be friends with you.”

“I just has this feeling that ran through my entire body. I stopped in mid-sentence, took off running upstairs to her room, opened the door and I found Megan hanging in her closet,” said Meier.

Megan died the next day. She was just a few weeks away from her 14th birthday.

Within weeks of Megan’s suicide, Tina found out the truth behind the boy named “Josh.” Tina said just four houses down from hers, the mother of one of Megan’s friends, Lori Drew, was pretending to be a teenage boy and logging into MySpace with the intention of finding out if Megan was talking behind her daughter’s back.

“I don’t believe that this family knew five weeks prior when they created this account that Megan was going to take her own life. I think they thought it was funny. ‘Get her back, who does she think she is?’ But these are the tragedies that can happen,” said Meier.

Drew faced federal charges and 20 years in prison. A jury found her guilty of three misdemeanors, but ultimately, the judge issued an acquittal saying it would unconstitutional to convict her because sometimes people lie on social networking sites.

There is no specific federal cyberbullying law. Most states do have a law on the books, including Missouri, but that doesn’t mean students are immune.

“Name calling, to commenting on people’s weight, to what people are wearing, to how they choose to wear their hair, to who they’re dating, to who they’re not dating,” said Ann Baker, CPS outreach counselor.

Baker said students walk into her office everyday with phones in hand showing hurtful comments someone had made on social media.

One study shows the incidents of cyberbullying have almost doubled for middle and high school students since 2007 when just under 20 percent of students reported being victims. Flash forward to February of 2015 in which 34 percent reported being bullied online.

“In social media it is right there for everyone to see and so all those feeling of “everybody’s looking at me, everybody’s staring at me, everybody is thinking negatively of me” is actually verified in a very public way,” said Baker.

Educators said one of the most effective ways parents can help keep their children from becoming victims of cyberbullying is to limit the child’s exposure to technology and social media.

Tina Meier said the key is to teach children how to handle different interactions online, namely, how to deal with bullies.

Click on the link for more information about the Megan Meier Foundation.

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