Interview by Heidi Legg
Emily is a high school student in Boston who founded @AntiBullyCorps to help counteract the alarming trend of bullying that is occurring in this country. We sat down with her to hear about what kids are saying and how she is helping. We decided to keep her anonymous given her age and let her wisdom, beyond her years, shine through.Why did you start your Twitter handle @AntiBullyCorps?
One thing that's really surprising to people when they hear about this is that I was actually never bullied. I did have a friend, though, who was bullied very badly; it wasn’t anything physical, she was just isolated and ridiculed behind her back. I really don't know why, because she's a lovely person, and I felt badly for her so I stood up for her. I told some of the boys who were bothering her to stop it, and they did. By simply doing what I felt was right, I had made my friend’s life so much better so easily, and that inspired me. I started thinking -- when I probably should have been studying for exams -- about how horrible and unfair bullying is and how the isolation and loneliness must be so much worse for kids in less liberal areas than Cambridge, who have no one to stick up for them. I decided I wanted to try and help them too.
What is the first thing you did?
I started talking to my dad about bullying, and how I wanted to find a way to make a difference. He suggested social media, and so then it just kind of began.
When did you begin the Anti-bullying Twitter feed?
A little over a year ago, in early winter 2012.
Define for me what you were trying to do.
I saw that being a friend to the girl I knew who was being bullied was really helpful to her. So, I wanted to give that sort of friendship to others who are getting bullied and provide that backbone of support that they might not be getting otherwise.
How did you get 1200 followers?
Well with the first tweet nobody was looking. When you start you have no followers, nobody's listening. You have to develop a base, and so I directed my tweets to certain groups. I would target people who followed certain musical artists who I knew were sympathetic to the cause, and I'd tweet them, and then that's kind of how word spread. For example, I tweeted Kristin Chenoweth and she re-tweeted, and that's how I got a lot of followers.
What did you tweet?
I guess the basic tweet back then was 'Hi, I’m sixteen and in high school and I have started this anti-bullying movement and I'd love to have your support.’
Did Lady Gaga respond?
It is a big cause to her. But, no, she did not. She's a very busy lady.
Did classmates follow you?
It's been completely anonymous. I don't talk about it at all actually and nobody knows that I’m doing it. Even my best friends don't know. Nobody knows but my family, and a few others like you.
Are you serious? Are you worried about us doing this interview?
No. It'll be okay. I was wondering if I wanted to do this interview or not, but my dad said that it would be fine. I just kind of like the whole anonymity thing because it brings more attention to the cause rather than to me. I feel that kids would be more likely to open up to me if I remained anonymous. But maybe this article could help the cause grow.
Would you like people to join you in your effort after this interview?
More people aware of a cause like this always helps. I only started at Cambridge Rindge and Latin this year and one thing I’ve noticed about this school is that it's really, really good in terms of bullying. It’s such a big school with so many different people - but the motto of the school is Opportunity, Diversity and Respect. I do think that the kids at this school are very aware of bullying, which is very good.
How are people who follow you on Twitter responding?
I get a lot of positive feedback. I get a lot of 'God bless you's.’ I also get a lot of 'Hang in there’s’ because people think that maybe I'm being bullied as well. And then I get kids who are being bullied and just want a friend.
I followed some of your Twitter public conversations. You say: 'You are never alone. If you ever need to talk, I'm always here for you. #StayStrong.' Are there further private conversations than these?
Oh yes, I have private conversations with some people through Twitter via direct messaging so nobody can see them except for me and the other person. It's pretty much like a virtual friendship.
How many private Twitter friendships do you have?
Do you ever want to call their schools with concerns for them?
No. I don't feel that I should intervene in that way, because it’s not my place. I find that just offering a safe forum for them to express their concerns is a real service. If I feel that they're in any physical danger I always say, 'Talk to your parents.' I really can't do much besides be a friend. It might even be legally tricky for me to be doing anything other than just talk to them, but I do try to give advice.
How old are they? Girls or boys?
Mostly they are girls and younger than I am. It’s like the older sister kind of relationship which is cool because I don't have any younger siblings. They’ll ask about boys and things and they'll tell me about the troubles that they're having with their family or classmates. I find that just being available to them helps. Over time, things have actually been going really well for them. Their schoolwork has improved, and their friend groups have been getting better. Initially many of them had no friends - so, I suggested that they try going to clubs and playing sports and things like that and that improved their situations.
One Twitter follower asked you to use your “hacker powers.” What were they hoping you could do?
A couple of times somebody has tweeted me saying that somebody else was bullying them on Twitter and so I asked all my followers to report that person or to block them and then Twitter kind of shuts that account down. I've done that a couple of times. Somebody will tweet me and I will ask for proof bullying is really happening. Then I'll read through the Twitter feed and if I think that it's bad enough then I will try to get the person off of Twitter. I am by no means a hacker.
What is the range of bullying that you've learned about?
I suppose the lightest forms of bullying will be like teasing – but things that one person might think are harmless may make another person feel quite lonely or upset. The worst cases would be physical abuse, of course – but even mental abuse, such as purposefully isolating an individual, might result in extreme trauma for the victim, which might lead to depression and anxiety, possible self-abuse like cutting, even suicide.
Do you feel equipped to talk to these kids?
I feel that if they're talking about bullying on the Internet, then they already are aware that it’s an issue. They just need someone to talk to, and I’m doing them a service just by being there for them and offering my words of solace. But if they chose not to listen, then there's really not much more that I can do. I'm obviously by no means an expert and it would be wrong for me to try to be.
Have you ever tried to elevate the situation to a professional?
One of my people who Twitters directly to me was telling me how sometimes she kind of felt suicidal and so I urged her to talk to her parents about it and she did. She got the help she needed. I also regularly tweet out the phone number for Suicide Hotline, so kids can help themselves and know that there is help out there.
We heard about you from the City of Cambridge and their youth initiative. How did you get involved with them?
I heard about the Youth Involvement Sub-Committee (YIS) through the school during our community meetings and thought they might be able to help. Everyone involved is a Cambridge student and this year we're all from CRLS and we're basically a subcommittee of the kid's council, which works on different issues facing youth in Cambridge. This year their topic is family engagement. We are meant to be the youth perspective on that and see what project we could do to help further that. We’re working this year on easing the transition from middle school to high school.
How much time you spend on your @AntiBullyCorps?
Less time than I should. I started out doing it more often especially when I was trying to get it off the ground in the first couple of weeks. I was on it constantly whenever I had a moment free and then over the summer. When I started at my new school this year, I had to go through a lot of adjustment because I wanted to get back on top of academics and sports, and so free time has been slightly limited. There is an emotional quality to Twitter and your tweets tend to develop a kind of fluency. And so when you stop and then you start again, it's a little bit hard to get back into it. I do make an effort to post bully stories in the news to my followers.
If more students are involved, could you make a bigger difference?
It’s definitely something that I've been thinking about. How do I harness all of these people and followers? One thing that I did figure out was getting everyone to block or a certain user who is bullying but as far as other things go, it's really about awareness. A larger band of students will bring greater awareness.
I also plan to start an anti-bullying campaign club at Cambridge Rindge and Latin, and take the idea to other schools in the Boston area.
Is this defining what you'll do with your studies?
I'm really not sure what I'm going to do with my life. I've always been interested in something in the medical field. I'm doing a lot of good but right now my plan is to have more of a basic career path rather than a social media one, unless a very clear opportunity shows itself to me.
Is social media defining your generation?
Yes. Social media is a very big part of this generation. Even snow days for school are announced on Facebook and Twitter. We’re a lot more interconnected than we ever used to be. It’s omnipresent, which is both good and bad. I've chosen to opt out of that. Other than this handle, I’m not on Twitter. No Facebook. I'm not on any social media. I am good enough at wasting my time without it.
Yet it’s your medium of choice for anti-bullying?
Right. But I'm using it for strictly non-recreational purposes. I'm using it as a tool, rather than as a toy.
Who are your favorite Alumni from Cambridge Rindge?
There's Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, of course. I just saw Goodwill Hunting for the first time, I think like two weeks ago, and it blew my mind. It was so good. Everyone was telling me that I should really watch that movie and so I finally did. I was really impressed, because they were so young when they made that movie. I'm not really sure if a story like that is super relevant because it's a little unbelievable, but it's very enjoyable. It's still funny and moving and it's just very good.
Where is your favorite place to hang out?
I guess the Cambridgeside Galleria. It’s fun to walk through the shops and the food court with my friends.
Where is your favorite place to shop?
I really like thrift shops. And I like Free People a lot.
Where is your favorite place to eat?
Cardullos. They have a really good pear Gorgonzola sandwich. I think that's my favorite.