Lessons on Cyberbullying: Is Rebecca Black a Victim? Experts Weigh In

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It may be Friday, but it’s doubtful that 13-year-old Internet sensation Rebecca Black is excitedly singing about wanting to party in her car right now.

Ever since the music video for her song “Friday” hit YouTube, Black — as well as her questionable vocal abilities and songwriting chops (even though she didn’t write the song) — has been the subject of much online vitriol. (Mashable‘s Todd Wasserman breaks down the series of events that led to this video going viral) (More on Time.com: The Tricky Politics of Tween Bullying)

Unfortunately, Black inadvertently added fuel to the media flame on Thursday when she likened her recent experiences to those of victims of cyberbullying. The Daily Beast‘s Chris Lee reports [bold mine]:

And Black, 13, certainly never anticipated the social media uproar, mainstream media hellfire, parodies and remixes that greeted “Friday” as the video became nearly ubiquitous across Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter. Time.com called the song – which provides a primer on the days of the week, innocently celebrates partying, and ponders the merits of “kickin’ it” in a car’s front versus the back seat from a wholesome teen girl P.O.V. — “a whole new level of bad” and “a train wreck.” Slate proclaimed “Friday” “disastrous” while Yahoo asked straight up, “Is YouTube sensation Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’ the worst song ever?”

“Those hurtful comments really shocked me,” Black said yesterday in her first interview since the song came to dominate a certain quadrant of popular culture and crack the iTunes Top 100 singles chart this week, besting the likes of Bruno Mars and Justin Bieber. “At times, it feels like I’m being cyberbullied.”

Which raises the question: Is Rebecca Black being cyberbullied? The answer, it turns out, has a lot to do with semantics.

“The term cyberbullying is thrown around and has many different definitions,” said Karen Slovak, an Ohio University professor who has done research on this phenomenon. “Cyberbullying is a term meant to imply something that happens repeatedly over time by the same person or group of persons. Youth can be subjected to one-time incidents of disrespectful posts from multiple people [that] I like to call electronic cruelty.” (More on Time.com: Cyberbullying? Homophobia? Tyler Clementi’s Death Highlights Online Lawlessness)

Elizabeth Englander, author of Understanding Violence, agreed with this basic definition and conclusion. “Digital abuse is really about repeated cruel attacks upon a less-powerful individual, with the intent of hurting them,” she said. “Of course, this doesn’t excuse inappropriate, rude, or cruel remarks. But a remark can be cruel without being bullying per se.”

If one were to define cyberbullying more broadly, however, as “the use of electronic medium to cause harm,” then a different verdict arises. “According to this definition, Rebecca Black is experiencing cyberbullying,” said Temple University social-work researcher Jonathan Singer, adding, “harm can include intimidation, suicide, and a variety of emotional consequences such as increased anxiety, depression, and social isolation.”

That said, no matter the definition of cyberbullying, these experts agree that its time to lay off Rebecca Black. As Slovak so eloquently puts it, “Words can hurt!”

More on Time.com:

A Glimmer of Hope in a Bad-News Survey About Bullying

‘It Gets Better’: Wisdom From Grown-Up Gays and Lesbians to Bullied Kids

Babies Versus Bullies: Why Little Ones Can Help