Cyberbullying on Watch: Boston Takes Action With Hot Line

Like most high school seniors, Jamila Hussein and Jonathan Delgado are almost always online but lately, they've wanted to disconnect, after finding themselves the targets of cyberbullying.

Both teens recently logged on to Facebook to find their pictures along with anonymous postings, calling them names so ugly, neither wanted to repeat what had been written.

"I cried. I really cried. I screamed," 18-year-old Hussein told ABC News. "It was my face, and that's what made me angry. They took my picture without my permission, and they wrote some things about me that were hurtful and disrespectful."


"They really try to hit you from everywhere and you know, hurt you whenever and however they can," Delgado said. "It's just something that's so cruel, like, why would you do this?"

He and Hussein agree that the anonymity of the Internet combined with the public forum that sites like Facebook provide make the harassment even worse. Many of the attacks against girls accuse them of being promiscuous. Those against boys question and often attack their sexual orientation. Hussein says the hateful online posts are so common, students at Charlestown High School in Boston check the site regularly.

"Everyone, the first thing they do when they do when they go home, is look on the Facebook page, try to find out who's on it next. Who's their next victim?" Hussein said.

School officials say cyberbullying has exploded at the high school. One in 10 has been targeted online.

Unrelenting bullying -- online and off -- drove South Hadley High School freshman Phoebe Prince to hang herself in January. Hussein says she and other students can relate to Prince.

"I know a friend who didn't even come to school the next day [after being harassed online] because she didn't want to deal with it. She felt too hurt to get out of bed. Let's just say she didn't ever want to get out of bed. What happens next? Suicide?" Hussein said.

Now, 90 miles from South Hadley, Boston is trying to prevent a similar tragedy. The city became so concerned about bullying in its own schools that it set up an anti-bullying hot line.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino Resolves to Combat Cyberbullying

The hot line, along with a public service campaign and cyberbullying mentors -- older students who help younger ones cope -- are all part of Boston's new comprehensive approach to this 21st-century problem.

"I saw some of the comments they made [online]. They were outrageous. And so we just went into action," Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said. "We have to try to be helpful, have the resources to get these young people out of these predicaments."

The methods may be relatively new, but the mayor says he can relate to the emotional damage bullying can bring. He too was bullied growing up.

"That happened maybe 50 years ago," he said. "I can remember the instance. I can tell you where it happened. It leaves an indelible mark, you'll never forget."

The anti-cyberbullying hot line director Steven Belec says they receive a large number of calls from parents who do not understand the technology and feel overwhelmed. He said there has been a steady stream of calls since they opened the hot line last month, noting that the age range varies from elementary through high school students.

Hussein made one of those calls. She initially went to a teacher, whom she says told her there was nothing the school could do. But she found plenty of help at the hot line, which contacted police and eventually got the offending Facebook page removed from the site.

Belec says the city is doing all it can and that social networking sites need step up their efforts as well.

"These companies need to come up with a way to say, here's what we can censor for the safety of our participants and of our consumers, and here's what we need do in the future to make sure these things don't happen," Belec said.

In a statement to ABC News, Facebook said, "There is no place on Facebook for bullying, and we will continue to work aggressively to remove people who attempt to misuse our service to abuse others. We encourage those who notice bullying to immediately report it to us, and to discuss it with parents, teachers, and others in the community who can help."

Still, that is little comfort to students like Delgado and Hussein. After she got the hateful page taken down, Hussein says another went up.

"Feelings aren't something to play with. Just like real punches, real physical things? Feelings are even worse," she said. "When your feelings are broken, that's something really hard to put together."

Please call Boston Mayor Thomas Menino's help line during the week and ask for the cyberbullying call center, 617-534-5050