What used to happen sometimes in the schoolyard at recess, is now happening all the time, on the Internet. It's called "cyber-bullying," and it's been around since the introduction of on line communication.
Here locally, Internet users are as active as ever...and in some cases, the Internet has become a forum for harassment, intimidation and cruelty.
One well-known case of cyber-bullying involves a 13-year-old Missouri teenager named Megan Meier. She hanged herself in October of 2006, after the mother of one of her former classmates created a fake My Space profile to communicate with her.
The mother pretended to be a 16-year-old boy who had a crush on her...but later, ended the relationship. Shortly after, Megan committed suicide.
On Thursday, the mother, named Lori Drew, was indicted by a federal grand jury. She's charged with three counts of accessing protected computers, and one count of conspiracy
Megan Meier's story is an extreme example of what's happening everyday here in the Truckee Meadows.
Recently, KOLO 8 did a story about a Gardnerville man who crashed a stolen motorcycle during a police pursuit. When the story appeared on You Tube, viewers were less than kind. Many wrote comments saying the man "deserved to die." The victim's family expressed hurt and anger after reading the comments.
UNR Sociology professor, Markus Kemmelmeir says what happened on You Tube is a classic example of cyber-bullying. The Internet allows people to express themselves and exchange information, all of it, in a completely anonymous forum.
"People just want to say what they think and feel, and the Internet provides a great medium for that," said Kemmelmeier.
He says on line, you can say what you want...but you don't necessarily have to take credit for it. It's an outlet for faceless communication that can sometimes be very damaging.
Take the murder case of 19-year-old Brianna Denison. She had only been missing a few days when the online criticism started flying. Brianna's aunt, Lauren says in the beginning, she read the posts, hoping to make sense of the murder...but she says the posts were heartbreaking.
"There were negative things about Brianna, that she was just out drunk, and even if that was the case, which it wasn't, she still doesn't deserve to lose her life," said Denison.
Sociologists say the Denison case is the perfect target for a cyber-bully. Her murder was highly-publicized, mysterious, and so far, unsolved.
He says some people feel the need to blog about Brianna--often negatively--because it gives them control. They point the finger at Brianna, to blame her for her own death, and question her moral character.
"I don't think they would say that to her family and that's exactly where the Internet comes in. It offers an opportunity to express these things. I am sure that before people may have thought that, except now they can express it without being identified," said Kemmelmeier.
He says cyber-bullies can be anyone...a mother, a businessman, a student. The person you see each day on the street, may be the same person who turns into a heartless bully when they get on line...and there's no way to track it.
"You know, people say, 'oh on the Internet there are all these posts.' Well, all these posts might be from the same person. So you don't know how widespread it is," said Kemmelmeier.
He says no matter how harmless it may seem, cyber-bullying is no different than bullying on the streets, in the office, or in the schoolyard. Lauren Denison says she's learned to push the nasty comments aside, but it still hurts. She says she'd like to confront the cyber-bullies face-to-face.
"Really think about how it would make you feel if it was done to you. Why? What are you proving?" said Denison.
Sociologists say the Internet is a vast place...and even though cyber-bullying can be hurtful, it's most likely here to stay. These days, you can go on line to fall in love, find a roommate, adopt a baby...or even become a bully.
Sociologists say many cases of cyber-bullying are out there, but you can find the highest content of it on social networks like My Space and Facebook. Recently, Facebook added about forty new features that protect its users, things like reviewing user profiles and removing groups that bully on line.
The best statistics show that the most cyber-bullying takes place in middle and high schools, such as in the case of Megan Meier. Also, women are more likely to be targets, but men and women are equally as often found to be the bullies.
For more information on cyber-bullying and how you can get involved, go to www.stopcyberbullying.org