On Feb. 3, 14-year-old Adriana Kuch ended her life two days after she was assaulted at a New Jersey high school and the attack was recorded and shared on social media. One clip shows her classmates kicking, punching and dragging Kuch by the hair in the school hallway. Not only did she endure physical harm, she also experienced humiliation, her father says, and was mocked and harassed afterward.
“They just kept at it, after they jumped her,” Michael Kuch told CBS on Feb. 10. “They would keep sending her videos. Then they would get screen shots of the videos because the videos kept getting taken down, and then they would write nasty comments on it.”
The students involved, who are juveniles, have since been charged, and a school district superintendent resigned.The video, which has now circulated all over TikTok and Twitter, is prompting national outrage. But experts caution against engaging with this type of content, even if your intention in viewing the footage is not malicious.
“When it’s circulated in uncontrolled and unregulated environments like social media, it opens up the victims, families, teachers and communities to more forms of cyberbullying,” saysTristin Engels, a licensed forensic psychologist.
“Her family, friends, and anyone connected to this tragedy are forced to see this video and that’s traumatizing.”
It’s hard to watch. But can it be necessary for change?
The one-minute video is a hard watch. Kuch’s father knows that.
In a since-deleted Facebook post, he said he shared screenshots from the video in order to bring justice for his daughter.
“I feel like I have to do everyone’s job,” he wrote at the time. “These platforms do not allow the videos to be publicly posted (which I feel is correct)…If you watch the videos I have, they are laughing while talking about what they are going to do at the start of the video.”
As awareness about the tragedy has spread online (#justiceforadrianakuch has over 6 million views on TikTok), Engels says video evidence like this can be a successful wake-up call to ignite action. In this instance, the school district has since come under scrutiny regarding how violence and bullying is handled on its campuses, according to NBC News.
“On one hand… it can be helpful in creating a learning experience for our youth and their families, and seeing the consequences that the abusers face may instill hope for victims of bullying.” But on the flip side, circulating graphic, violent content of someone’s assault can be result in re-traumatization for her loved ones.
People have “online disinhibition,” Engels says, which means they can “say cruel and harmful things on social media with a degree of anonymity which, sadly, was something Adriana was already being subjected to both in school and online.
“It may continue on with this video.”
Why would teens post this type of content on social media?
Experts say platforms like Twitter, Instagram and TikTok are especially attractive to adolescents, who look to their peers for cues about what’s cool, crave positive reinforcement from their friends and are more prone to risk-taking behaviors, particularly when they know they’re being observed by those whose approval they covet.
“Most adults understand the concept of a digital footprint. Like what goes online stays online,” says Gwenn O’Keeffe, a pediatrician and expert on digital media and internet safety. However, younger teens are often less skilled than adults at weighing risk: When their peers are lauded, through likes and comments, for engaging in risk-taking behavior, it can be disinhibiting.
“They may see something and think, ‘Oh, I’ll just videotape it’ without thinking of the consequences,” she says.
Bullying poses real, even fatal, consequences, as shown by the latest tragedy. Teens who are bullied may feel isolated or unsafe, both physically and emotionally, as well as helpless and hopeless.
That’s why experts say more anti-bullying intervention is needed – from both parents and schools. It should start earlier, advocate for unplugging from social media, and emphasize how even online comments can pose real harm.
“Schools need to do a better job,” O’Keeffe says. “They need to talk to students about just being a good person, being kind to one another and the difference between conflict and bullying or assault.”
If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call or text the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 any time day or night, or chat online at 988lifeline.org.
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