When Social Media Bullying Turns Uglier

cyberbullying word cloud

When I was in elementary school, I was frightened terribly by a boy named Winfred. Winfred was a huge (I thought) fifth-grade bully. Somehow I had crossed him and as a result, he had threatened several times to beat me up. I worked hard to take different routes home from school (hiding a lot along the way) so Winfred wouldn’t find me. And fortunately, he never did—though I had some close calls.

That was how bullying worked when I was young. I’m just glad Winfred didn’t have social media.

Today, as we know, bullying has gone high tech…and become a lot more anonymous. Late last year, a 13-year-old girl from Southern California hanged herself, leaving a note saying she just couldn’t take any more of the hate from her classmates. About 2.5 million people have viewed the interview with her parents on YouTube, an account that states—almost unbelievably—that the social media bullying continued even after her death.

And then there’s the mixed-bag story of Jeremiah Thomas, a 16-year-old Christian athlete dying from cancer. I’ve watched a couple of Thomas’ videos on YouTube, including one in which Jeremiah shares how excited he was about a girl who came to Christ when she came to visit him in his hospital room.

But for some reason I just can’t begin to understand, Jeremiah has been pelted with hateful messages from people who say they’re glad that he’s dying. Why would anyone do that? As it turns out, Jeremiah Thomas boldly decided to use his remaining days to stand up for the life of the preborn and speak and write about it, too. According to The Daily Signal, that led to responses such as these:

 “Cancer is giving your mom a late term abortion. Lmao [laughing my a– off],” one message said.

“Jeremiah … You aren’t dead yet? God do your job!” taunted another.

“Good Riddance,” another posted to Jeremiah’s prayer group page on Facebook, following with a one-star review.

Jeremiah’s mother, Kendra Thomas, quoted one person as saying Jeremiah has “a racist, homophobic, misogynistic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic [sic], hateful” agenda, and another as saying “He’s garbage and is suffering as he deserves.”

These comments are beyond vile…and so sad! What’s more, I’m sure that Jeremiah was stung by them. Who wouldn’t be?

But you sure wouldn’t be able to tell when watching him share his faith and concern for the unborn on video. He rises above the hate, finding great joy in leaving a “legacy wish” to make abortion illegal in the state of Texas. And interestingly, he has an ally in the state’s governor. You can check out his conversation from his hospital bed with Gov. Gregg Abbott here.

Without question, bullying and its modern iterations on social media are wrong, wrong, wrong. But it’s nice to see a young man turn the other cheek, ignore his hate-filled critics and focus on the right things. I hope none of us have to deal with such vitriol and contempt, but if we do, we have a great example in Jeremiah Thomas on what it looks like to handle our enemies.

Jeremiah, may the Lord have mercy and heal you. But if not, see you on the other side, my friend.

Who wrote this?

Bob Waliszewski is the director of the Plugged In department. His syndicated "Plugged In Movie Review" feature is heard by approximately 9 million people each week on more than 1,500 radio stations and other outlets and has been nominated for a National Religious Broadcaster's award. Waliszewski is the author of the book Plugged-In Parenting: How to Raise Media-Savvy Kids With Love, Not War. You can follow him on Twitter @PluggedInBob.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Chuck Anziulewicz More than 1 year ago
The advent of the internet, social media, and the ability to hide behind a computer screen and the anonymity of a screen name have allowed people to say things to one another that they would never dare say to someone's face. But now people have gotten so used to it, and live a great part of their lives vicariously through their smart phones, that they ARE getting nastier.

charitysplace More than 1 year ago
The anonymity of the internet makes people far more willing to be hateful than in real life, where they might face violent repercussions for their hate speech. I admire Jeremiah for standing up for his beliefs, but he'd have a much more peaceful time of it if he deleted all his social media accounts and focused on the people who matter -- his family and friends.
E Hayes More than 1 year ago
I see your point, but it also encourages me to hear that Jeremiah is publicly supporting what he believes, especially when he is having a very difficult time fighting cancer.  
I feel like the internet has always been it's own subculture, but I think it is getting worse.  I also think people are becoming ruder in everyday life.  I live in a more Christian part of the country but people swear much more in public than they used to about 7-8 years ago.
charitysplace More than 1 year ago
Yes, our culture is worsening -- not only in its content (a lot more filth on television than there was a decade ago) but in daily life. Spend five minutes in any tumblr tag and you'll encounter a bevy of f-words... from kids/teens/young adults. I used to never hear the f-word in public. I think I heard it ONCE in the first 18 years of my life, and that was overheard when a girl went bananas on a parking attendant. Now, I hear it casually. Ugh.
B Evans More than 1 year ago
The lack of civility and willingness to dialogue within the pro-choice movement is part of the reason I began to question my own pro - choice philosophy. I'm glad I sought out atheist, agnostic, and Secular pro-life groups and learned the science of life - otherwise, the conservative/religious pro-life movement would have turned me away for very similar reasons.