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Bullying, From Both Sides: Former Perpetrator And Former Victim Reflect On Past

Editor’s Note: This segment discusses suicide, and contains audio that some listeners may find disturbing or offensive.

As we continue our look at a number of aspects of bullying this week, Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson speaks with a former victim of bullying, Francie Diep (@franciediep), who is now a staff writer at Pacific Standard, who decided to confront the person who bullied her for three years.

Also, we hear from Tyler Gregory, a former cyberbully who now works to protect young people from bullying as a project consultant for the Great American NO BULL Challenge.

Interview Highlights

Francie Diep

On the nature of the cyberbullying she faced

“I had a friend — she was probably my best friend in school at the time — and we had a sort of a falling out. I don’t really know or remember why, and I think she didn’t either. But after we had this falling out, I noticed some things happening in my email. So I would log into my Yahoo account and all my emails would have disappeared, and sometimes there would be one email left in there with a nasty note to me. And, the worst thing that happened was that whoever was doing this would leave reminders in my calendar for me to kill myself. I don’t remember exactly how it worked, but I do remember, you know, I would just be browsing on my computer and then I would get this sort of pop-up reminder often late at night.

“I never fully confirmed who it was that did this, but the girl who I had been friends with when I was 13, I knew she had my password. It was actually because, at some point we were playing on the computer together, and I typed out my password to log into my email account and I had accidentally had my cursor in the username box. So she saw it and it was an inside joke that was actually between the two of us. She knew what it meant. And at the time, in the late ’90s, there was no way to change your security questions. So I would change my password and then, because the security question was also inside joke between us, this girl was able to just change the password to whatever she wanted whenever she wanted to get in, just because no one else would have known the answers to these questions. She must have been at least involved in one of the break-ins. But it’s possible that she shared, it’s possible it wasn’t all her, but it had to have started with her.”

On how this affected her

“I was very unhappy. I think kids are always unhappy in junior high, anyway. But this didn’t help. As I talked about in my story, I did, at some point, want to die, which sounds very funny for, you know — I was a little girl from a loving family living in a beautiful town in Washington state. It seemed strange to say that I would have wanted that, but, you know, you don’t have a lot of great emotional regulation at 13, 14. So things seem really serious when things go bad. I would say I had trouble making friends and like trusting friends afterward, but I made it through. I got into a college out of state, which is something I really wanted, and went away to college and lived the rest of my life.”

On whether she told friends or parents at the time

“I did tell my friends. I did not tell my parents, which is horrifying when I think about, now, as an adult, I would — that is the scariest thing to imagine being a parent and having a little girl, 13, 14, 15, not tell you when something like this happens. That said, when I did confront my bully later, she also said she would have never told her parents. It’s hard to get back into that mindset — I guess it’s just a strange one, you know, being a 14-year-old girl. But, at the time, it seemed inconceivable. I thought that adults would make it worse somehow.”

On confronting her cyberbully

“She was on Facebook. The wonderful thing about social media is that you can never get away from these old people. She was on Facebook, we had a lot of mutual friends. You know, we’d gone to junior high and high school together. I can’t remember exactly now how I convinced her, but it took a long time, I remember that, sort of messaging her on Facebook back and forth before she would talk to me. I tried to get her on the phone, but she never did want to talk on the phone.

“She said at first she didn’t remember anything, and then when I sort of told her more details, she sort of admitted to remembering more. She did admit to breaking into my email. She said she didn’t remember setting the calendar reminders. Sometimes people ask me if I believe her. It’s hard to know. It seems incredible that she would not remember, but it’s also possible.

“I do feel a lot better. That’s actually not an affect I expected. I was like, ‘OK, I got to do this for the story.’ So I did. But, in the end, it was amazing.”

Tyler Gregory

On his former cyberbullying

“It was my junior year of high school, so it was about seven years ago. I grew up in a very small town, very rural community, a graduating class of 63 students, and I had my core group of friends. There was about five of us. And one of the other friends in this group, his name was Scott, he started hanging out with another girl from a different school, and that didn’t really sit well with the rest of the group of friends. We’re like, you know, ‘Why isn’t he wanting to hang out with us? Why would he rather hang out with her?’ And so, you know, the four of us, we kind of went on social media and took out our frustration toward this girl whom we had never met. And, looking back, I’m like, ‘How in the world would I have been able to have said some of those things?’ You know, talked about her weight. We talked about her appearance, and really just to make her feel bad. I think it really stems from, you know, cyberbullying … you’re not face-to-face with the person you’re bullying. It makes it a lot easier. You’re not seeing the reaction, if there is a reaction. You’re not you know giving them an opportunity to necessarily retaliate unless they message you back or comment on something like that.”

On how the cyberbulling ended

“It all came to an end once we were at a fundraising event, and one of the other friends in the group got on the phone and told this girl that, you know, ‘The world would be a better place without you. Why don’t you just kill yourself?’ And that really struck a chord with me, because I was like, ‘I never really thought about that. I never thought that the things that we were saying could actually lead to her harming herself.’ And that’s really when the bullying stopped after that point. And Scott, the friend who was hanging out with her, got involved and was like, you know, ‘You guys, just everybody stop,’ basically. And that’s when things stopped.”

Reflecting on why he was involved

“It was a small school. So it really was about fitting in. And it was about, you know, just getting some laughs out of my friends, as messed up as that sounds. It’s very common among schools all over the country now.”

On apologizing

“A year later, it was Labor Day weekend. Scott and I had actually started an anti-bullying campaign and we were at this fair of sorts. And she happened to be at the festival, and we saw her and we took the opportunity to apologize. And I’m really glad that we did, because at that time, we were getting a little bit of local media attention for the anti-bullying efforts that we were doing. She was seeing this on social media and on the news and stuff and it was like, ‘This is not the person I know.’ And so it was nice to have the opportunity to apologize. And she said she was glad that we were doing good work.”

On advice for bullies

“My advice for a bully would be to really just take a step back and think about what you’re doing. We don’t know what everybody is going through, whether it’s our co-workers, our neighbors, the students who we sat next to in class everyday. We don’t know what happens at home. Even maybe some of your close friends, you might not even realize some of the things that they’re going through. And so we basically have the power to control how people think about us. You know, when I look back on high school, I remember the people who weren’t necessarily so nice, and I remember the people who were extremely nice. If you have that option to control how people view you, why not choose the positive way?”

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