Rebecca Sedwick Suicide Part of 'Cool to Be Cruel' Cyber Culture

Experts say social media rewards and encourages cruelty.

October 16, 2013, 12:27 PM

Oct. 16, 2013 — -- The "incredibly callous" apparent Facebook activity of a teen who allegedly played a role in bullying Rebecca Sedwick to suicide is an example of a "cool to be cruel" digital environment that facilitates cyberbullying, experts say.

"What happens in digital environments is people's self-focus increases dramatically," Elizabeth Englander, Bridgewater State College professor of psychology and director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center, told

"They begin to focus a lot more on themselves and how they appear to others and focus a lot less on how what they're doing is impacting other people," she said.

She said that for tweens and teens, this often means projecting a "cool indifference that teenagers tend to admire and tend to like in other people."

A 14-year-old and a 12-year-old girl have been accused of leading the digital torment against 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick, who jumped from a concrete silo tower to her death Sept. 9 in Florida. The two girls were arrested and charged Monday night with felony aggravated stalking.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at a Tuesday news conference he brought both girls into custody because he saw a lack of remorse.

He pointed to a Facebook post allegedly written this weekend by the 14-year-old suspect that said, "'Yes, I know I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself but I don't give a f---."

Judd said, "You can add the last word yourself."

The police's image of the Facebook post had more than 30 likes, more than 30 shares and over 200 comments.

Englander said Facebook support "absolutely" reinforces a bully's behavior and can push them to go further.

"This really seems to be a phenomena born of digital technology where you can really project this kind of callousness without consideration of how it might impact others and without thinking about how broadly it's going to be seen," she said.

"Kids, and, frankly, adults too, have a really pervasive sense that whatever they're putting online is never going to be seen except by a few friends who they're really aiming it at," Englander said.

Harvard Medical School clinical psychologist and school consultant Catherine Steiner-Adair said that sometimes online values that young people pick up are the exact opposite of values kids need to be taught at that age.

"In some online sites and in certain communities, one of the thrulines, or values, is that it's cool to be cruel," Steiner-Adair told "There is an inflated experience of power when you are mean and arrogant and, unfortunately, part of the online culture is you get more likes the crueler and crasser and more imperious you are."

She noted that in a culture where teens and tweens often hack into each other's accounts for sport it is still unknown for certain who wrote and posted the comment

Before social media, leaving school and going home provided kids with a reprieve from school drama or issues with peers, but now the online world provides a 24/7 extension of that with a "viral cheering squad, in most scenarios, really fanning it," Steiner-Adair said.

Both experts emphasized the importance of education and Englander said that even if the child were kept at home without a device, it's nearly impossible for parents today to completely control what their child does on the Internet."

She also said that it's possible that the 14-year-old could soon be changing her attitude now that she is in custody and faced with the reality of the situation.

"I don't think anybody is suggesting based on the incredibly callous remarks that this girl is truly a psychopath who doesn't care," Englander said. "At some point or another, this is going to hit her, what's really going on here and at that point she's likely to rescind the whole thing and say, 'I didn't mean it. I wasn't thinking.'"

"It's totally possible that that's true and that she really didn't think of it," she said, noting how very young the girls involved are.

"Kids are not famous for being good at stopping and saying to themselves, 'What will the consequences of this be? Or what could the consequences be?" Englander said. "That's one of the reasons why they were so quick to adopt sort of the cool and callous attitude. It's total immaturity, but it's very disturbing."

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