Is Rachel Canning Being Cyberbullied on Facebook?

“Intimidation, threats and hate have exploded online toward Rachel Canning”, was the tease intro this morning heading into a story on News 12 New Jersey.

rachel-canning-facebookIs Rachel Canning being cyberbullied?

Rachel Canning is the New Jersey teen who left her parents’ home two days before her 18th birthday, and is now suing her parents for her private high school tuition, support and future college costs. Although there are claims that she was kicked out, all indications are that she left the family home voluntarily.

The story has taken and unfortunate but predictable turn for the worse since Rachel started a Facebook Page, Education for Rachel, in an attempt to rally support for her cause. We think that doing so was a mistake, and wrote about it recently.

Is the feedback Rachel is receiving on her Facebook page cyberbullying? No doubt, a lot of it is vitriolic, and almost none of it is positive other than the 1,300+ Likes, and a lot of those are probably sarcastic trolling.

Cyberbullying expert Jill Brown of Generation Text was on the segment to discuss the story, and seemed to think that Rachel is indeed being cyberbullied. That aside for the moment, she made two points that we agree with in spades:

  • It’s not only the kids. Adults too are capable of cyberbullying
  • This is an issue that families need to be talking about

Again, on the question of whether the response Rachel is getting is cyberbullying, let’s take a look at an excerpt from the definition used at my kids’ school district:

“Cyber-Bullying” is the use of electronic information and communication devices [in a way that] deliberately threatens, harasses, intimidates an individual or group of individuals; or places an individual in reasonable fear of harm to the individual or damage to the individual’s property”

By that definition, is this cyberbullying? We don’t think so. We urge parents, when discussing cyberbullying with their families, to talk about the difference between peer conflict and bullying. While only 18, Rachel is reaching out to Facebook’s largely adult community looking for support. That she is being met with large-scale disagreement looks like peer conflict to us.

The comments are no doubt mean-spirited, including calling Rachel white trash, a punk and worse. I didn’t read every comment but I did not see any reference to anyone wanting to harm Rachel, insult her just for the sake of being mean or even remotely put her in danger. I wouldn’t call it harassment either, since she willingly posted the page looking for feedback.

Yes, some people feel they have the right to say anything they want online, but this issue should be resolved at a family level – not in court and certainly not on Facebook.

We have mixed feelings about writing this post because we loathe “victim-blaming” and if you believe this is cyberbullying, then Rachel is a victim. We don’t, and it is not too late for Rachel to delete this page and try to move on.


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