It's been almost three years since my brother, Abraham Biggs, took his life in a story that made national headlines. Somehow at that time, I thought his death was a tragedy that just hit our family. Now I see that unfortunately, Abraham is one of many young people -- Jamey Rodemeyer, Hope Witsell, Tyler Clementi and Phoebe Prince, to name a few -- who took their lives while dealing with an onslaught of online harassment and bullying.
I grew up with a loving, charismatic and caring brother. My children adored him, and he cracked jokes whenever he could just to make us all smile. When I was going through a rough time in my life, my brother would randomly show up on my doorstep, hop on the computer and surf the web until he found the most hilarious videos to cheer me up. Abraham was an amazing man, but he was also complicated.
The day my life changed forever started like any other. My husband and I picked my daughter up from school and drove to the park for some time on the playground. Just as we parked the car, my phone began to ring. As my father spoke, the words came across heavy and strained, "Listen, I need you to come over." My whole body sank. I could feel in the pit of my stomach that something was very, very wrong.
We arrived to police cars. My father was on the sidewalk in front of the home, head in his hands. That's when he told me that Abraham was gone. I felt like the whole world just closed in on me, and I broke down crying. I had so many questions, but the one I repeated again and again was "why?" Many of those moments are now a blur. The day ended and the night began, and I still sat on the cold pavement, trying to make sense of something that will never make sense.
A range of emotions have passed through me since that day, and they change minute to minute. Anger, sadness, anxiety. But mostly, anger. And, three years later it's not easier. Abraham, who had bi-polar disorder, chose to take his life that night. Over a thousand people chose to watch him do it online. Many encouraged him to do it, and posted comments like "attention whore" and other statements that I won't say out loud, much less write. During the nearly 12 hours that this took place, next to no one reached out for help -- and it appeared as if those who did want to help didn't know what to do.
Jamey Rodemeyer, Hope Witsell, Tyler Clementi, Phoebe Prince and my brother, Abraham Biggs were teens who were loved, who went through their ups and downs, who dealt with intense emotional struggles, and who faced hurtful and unnecessary online bullying. I can't imagine what any of their families have gone through. As I struggle to come to terms with my own reality, I can barely put myself in my own shoes, much less someone else's. However, what I do know is that things have to change.
Young people today are connected 24/7. Sixteen year olds are attached to their cell phones, thirteen year olds are on Facebook, and seven-year old children are using the Internet in school. Technology connects us, it gives us knowledge, it makes us laugh, and it can cheer us up. It can also tear us apart, and break us down. We've hidden behind the idea that "bullies will be bullies" or "they're just kids" for too long. Just because abuse takes place online does not mean that it's any less real, less harmful, or less fatal.
Schools alone can't be responsible for teaching our children how to act responsibly online, how to protect themselves, or even the basics on how to treat other people. This has to come from home as well -- parents must talk to their kids about digital responsibility. While there's no clear road map for how to act in the digital world, we need to think about how we're treating people online. A casual laugh at someone else's expense may not seem like a big deal, but you can't see the person on the other side of the screen. When they shut down their computer, you don't know if those comments are accumulating into something that's truly hurting that person.
Tonight, during National Bullying Prevention Month, a film inspired by my brother's story will air on MTV. I am still processing it. Although it's hard for me to watch, I hope that his story will spark an important, real discussion on technology and how we treat each other. I hope that this movie serves as a wake-up call for anyone who doesn't realize the power of their words. The loss of my brother is not something I'll ever get over. It doesn't go away with time, and it doesn't get easier. When I see my oldest daughter watching a funny video online, it takes me back to those moments with Abraham that I try to hold on to. My children will never know a world where they aren't constantly connected, but I hope that one day they know a world where we stand up for each other online just as we do in real life.
About the Movie:
As part of MTV's "A THIN LINE" campaign, the network will premiere its newest original TV movie, (dis)connected, on Monday, October 10 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. (Dis)connected tells the story of four young people whose lives unexpectedly collide online and illustrates how growing up digital can complicate life and love. Although the characters have never met in-person before, they have an extraordinary impact on one another, culminating in one night none of them could have imagined. To view a trailer for the film, click here. Immediately following the film at 11 p.m. ET/PT, MTV will broadcast a half-hour MTV News special hosted by SuChin Pak and Vinny Guadagnino of Jersey Shore, with panelists including Dan Savage talking with in-studio and online audiences about the key themes in the film, such as sexuality, relationships, trust and over-sharing in a digital world.
MTV's "A THIN LINE" campaign empowers America's youth to identify, respond to, and stop the spread of digital abuse, which includes all forms of digital bullying, dating abuse and discrimination. Launched in late 2009, the campaign has already inspired more than 1 million young people to take action to stop digital abuse. As part of the campaign, MTV is addressing these issues through thought-provoking PSAs, integration into MTV's top-rated shows, innovative online and mobile tools, and curricula.