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This week, a Toronto model reached out to CityNews to speak out about cyberbullying after she became a target.
“I was called trash, fake model, sausage face and a whole list of other horrible things,” said Laura Makaltses.
Her social media feed was bombarded with comments like these shortly after she had advanced to the semi-finals in an online contest for Toronto models.
“The idea behind it was to celebrate all of the beautiful people in Toronto. It was a really positive thing to start with and got very negative pretty quickly,” Makaltses said. “On social media when one person does something hateful, it can spread and that’s what happened here.”
Makaltses is one of the latest and will certainly not be the last victim of cyberbullying. While there has yet to be any concrete evidence, experts believe the pandemic has made the problem worse.
“Research is still being done, but I think the evidence seems to be that it has become a bigger problem during this pandemic,” said Professor Faye Mishna of Factor-Interwash Faculty School of Social Work at the University of Toronto.
So what makes a bully and why has the problem become so prevalent?
“I still think we really don’t know the answer,” Mishna said. “Initially, there was this assumption that people who bullied have low self-esteem, but then researchers have shown that’s not always the case. As we know, some of them are very successful and do really well. I think it’s a combination. But I think there’s something about the power of being able to hurt.”
“It can affect people physically, emotionally, psychologically,” Mishna Said.
Makaltses said she spent days dealing with depression but turned that into action starting a new Instagram campaign called #FakeModel, sharing it with her more than 30,000 followers.
“Fake model is something I was referred to a lot in the message,” She said. “I basically read all the comments and found key words that were used a lot and trash was a big one. So I decided to dress up in a trash bag; I literally wrote the word trash on my leg. I had a photo sent to me with an X through my eyes so I used that as makeup inspiration and did a photo shoot.”
She got a lot of positive feedback and is now ordering t-shirts and tote bags with the #FakeModel logo.
“I plan to sell these and donate all proceeds to a charity that helps tackle cyberbullying,” said Makaltses.
It was a start to combating a growing and seemingly never ending issue.
Professor Mishna says others — especially adults — can also change the tone.
“We look at what adults do to each other, we can’t then say to kids, don’t do it. So I think that’s really important.”
And if you see someone being targeted online? Offer your support!
“Just sending them a direct message goes a long way. It’s not enough. It’s not the end of it, but it is something,” Mishna said.
Makaltses is now hoping others think before they comment.
“These really beautiful things have come from social media. It is the greatest and worst invention in human history in my opinion and I would like to see it pivot and be used solely for positivity.”
If you would like to know more about Makaltses’ campaign click here.
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