David Molak was in high school when he died by suicide after being cyberbullied.
In 2016, David was 16 years old, an Eagle Scout and a football fan who loved hunting and fishing with his father, said his mother, Maurine Molak.
“He was really just a regular kid,” Molak said. “It just goes to show you that it can happen to anybody.”
After David’s death, the Molak family took the cyberbullying issue into their own hands and helped pass “David’s Law” last year, which allows educational, civil and criminal codes to interact in order to ensure teens are being protected in school, at home and in public spaces.
“There was a lot of relief that we had some legislation that would be able to help kids that were the target of this kind of abuse,” Molak said. “We even had parents tell us that David’s Law saved their child’s life.”
According to a Pew Research Center survey released at the end of September, 59 percent of teenagers said they have experienced some form of cyberbullying, the most common being name-calling.
Anikka Furnace, theatre and dance freshman, said she was cyberbullied about a picture she posted on Facebook when she was about 12 years old and has witnessed other people being bullied online.
“I got slammed hard by so many people just for having cleavage, which is stupid, but it made me feel really bad about myself,” Furnace said. “Which sucks when you’re an impressionable teenager.”
Andrew Dillon, an information and psychology professor whose expertise is on the psychology of Internet use, said social media is a common platform for cyberbullying because of the ability for cyberbullies to remain anonymous.
“It is undoubtedly devastating and hurtful for those on the receiving end,” Dillon said in an email. “There is evidence of teen suicides resulting from cyberbullying, so the seriousness cannot be underestimated."
The solution, Dillon said, is to treat online behavior the same way as you would in real life.
“We need to be preemptive and get out in front of it rather than waiting to deal with it only when an instance occurs,” Dillon said. “Norms of online behavior and communication need to be articulated, shared and learned, just like in the physical world.”
Over several months, David’s bullies used social media and text messages to make fun of his looks and threaten to physically hurt him.
“We didn’t know about it until it had gotten out of hand,” Molak said. “It was the night of an Instagram post when David finally came down and told us. He was just devastated, I mean, he was just sobbing.”
Despite the Pew research findings, Molak remains optimistic and said they reflect an increasing awareness on the issue.
“I think it’s an indication that people are reporting it more and are more willing to admit to it, admit to seeing it, admit to being a victim of it or actually a perpetrator of it, because there is so much more conversation about it now,” Molak said.