The world sees what is said
In another publicized case, 13-year-old Megan Meier killed herself in 2006 after receiving devastating messages from someone masquerading as a teen boy who had developed an online relationship with her. Authorities prosecuted an adult, Lori Drew, 59, of Dardenne Prairie, Mo., on charges that she was behind the hoax. Drew pleaded not guilty last month in Los Angeles federal court.
"Cyberbullying is getting much worse, and it's affecting a lot of kids," says Bill Bond, a former principal who tours the country speaking to principals about school violence on behalf of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
"Cyberbullying can be even more destructive" than face-to-face bullying "because you get a sense that the whole world is being exposed to what is being said to you."
That's just how Ricky feels.
"When they put it on the Internet, it's like they took everything and multiplied it by an astronomical number," he says. "It's one thing if it's a mean thing that somebody put in my school paper because that's contained within a small area. Only a certain number of people will see that. But when you put it on the Internet, you are opening it up to everyone in the world."
Ricky called his mother the spring day he discovered the profile and had her pick him up from school. He didn't have many friends to begin with. But soon he found himself more alone than ever.
"I had thought about suicide," he says. "It looked very welcoming at certain times." But he says his family is helping him cope.
His mother, Peggy Alatorre, 44, tells her son he just has to make it through two more years of high school. But she's worried. "Does it hurt him forever? You bet. Ricky has been crushed."
In the past few months, Alatorre has done everything she could think of to remedy the situation. She talked to school officials. She contacted the police, the FBI, local politicians. "I even e-mailed (President) Bush."
MySpace eventually removed the profile — only after several weeks of pestering the site, she says. Other than that, "everybody is passing the buck."
Mike Chelap, assistant vice principal of Lowell High School, where Ricky attends, says he can't discuss personal matters about students, but the school began an anti-bullying program and will implement it in the fall.
Some are fighting back
Barbara Paris, now principal of Canyon Vista Middle School in Austin, became an activist against cyberbullying after a girl at another school where she worked had become suicidal after she was the victim of racial and sexual taunts online. "When … I had a child who was suicidal because of people like me not doing anything about it, I had a paradigm shift right there."
Politicians are starting to take note. Thirty-six states have anti-bullying laws, according to Paris' watchdog group, Bully Police. And several are specifically starting to address cyberbullying. On June 30, Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt signed an anti-Internet harassment law in the wake of Megan Meier's death.
Also last month, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act. The tough anti-cyberbullying law came after the 2005 suicide of 15-year-old Jeffrey, who his mother says had endured three years of torturous harassment over the Internet.
To those who say bullying is just part of childhood, Jeffrey's mother, Debbie Johnston of Cape Coral, Fla., says that's "like saying rape is part of marriage."