Film / Cyberbully

Words can hurt.

— Taylor (Emily Osment)
[Delete] Digital Drama note 

Cyberbully is a 2011 Made-for-TV Movie starring Emily Osment. Made by Freeform, Muse Entertainment and Seventeen magazine, it is a Ripped from the Headlines story about a girl named Taylor who is bullied online after offending a classmate.

Prior to the airing of the film, ABC Family, now freeform, and Seventeen began a campaign against cyberbullying and released online "badges" reading "[delete] digital drama" that can be added to profiles on sites like Facebook.

Not to be confused with the 2015 Channel 4 movie starring Maisie Williams which, while accusable of a predictable plot and being more than a little heavy-handed in its Aesop regarding the damage cyberbullying can do, is generally agreed to be great.

The 2011 film contains examples of:

  • Alpha Bitch: Lindsay.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Eric, to Taylor.
    • Probably a Deconstruction, as he goes from annoying to irresponsible to the point it might endanger his sister's well-being...because she refused to lend him her computer.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: The solution to cyberbullying is apparently to monitor every single computer and make trolling illegal.
    • As mentioned in Critical Research Failure, it would not only be extremely expensive and time consuming, it would also be infringing on various privacy laws as well. So it's pretty probable that they wouldn't even bother with it.
    • Mitigated by the fact the politician says he will try to pass a legislation making verbal harassment on the internet illegal. Which basically means that reporting insults made somewhere on the internet to the police office like the mother tries to would be constructive. It would just cause prosecution for repeated, willingly insulting comments about a minor, given they are reported, and their existence is proved, and the case would most probably be brushed away by the judge as a stupid feud between teenage girls unless one of them's sexual orientation or her ethnic origin are invoked.
  • Artistic License Law: The legislation that they pass at the end, and the legislation they say they will try to pass after the movie's over, besides being impracticable, is actually infringing on many other privacy laws that already exist, including the Constitution itself, so the law will eventually be overturned by a court.
  • Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: At least Eric towards Taylor, he is visibly upset at the thought of his sister actually killing herself.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Samantha, who pretends to be a boy online to lure her best friend Taylor in, and then spreads rumors about her. She regrets it later on after realizing the damage she's caused.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Lindsay's bitchiness to Taylor is retaliation for a comment Taylor made in Health Class that Lindsay assumed was directed at her. It wasn't.
  • Driven to Suicide: Taylor tries to kill herself by overdosing on aspirin, but is stopped when she's unable to get the childproof cap off.
  • Easily Forgiven: Samantha. Seriously, after setting up a fake student account, flirting with Taylor, and breaking her heart, it's a little hard to imagine that Taylor would just take her back like that.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: Despite her bullying ways, Lindsay's group of friends includes a Latino, black and Asian which is more diverse than the protagonist's close circle.
  • Freudian Excuse: It's implied that the reason why Lindsay (and, by extension, her father) is so hostile toward Taylor is because her mother passed away a few years before the events of the film. We learn about this as soon as we meet her father.
  • Hypocrite: Played Straight with Lindsay, who lashes out because of the anger caused by a misdirected comment from Taylor, but then bullies her and all the people who have nothing to do with this story, but of whom she can easily make fun, despite the fact that, for some of them, they had common enemies and she had no reason to hate them, but she goes along remorselessly because that's the trend, nicely proving both how self-centered and shallow she is.
  • Get Out: Samantha has this reaction towards Taylor when she makes a snide remark at one point. While driving, too.
  • If You Taunt Him, You Will Be Just Like Him: Arguably a secondary message of the film. Discussed during the support group.
  • Jerk Ass: The Alpha Bitch and her father are rather laughable examples due to their portrayal.
    • Although it is realistic in that they never get a real comeuppance and Taylor's speech involves five people and a ten-second long applauding before Lindsay tells them to go and regains her status, still being followed by her friends, and getting some gossip as there probably were before exchanged about her. Also, it is revealed that they may have a Freudian Excuse, and the father reacts as most parents would, except for the way he says what he says. Plus take Evil + Teenage Girl + Popularity + Internet, and you've got Lindsay in Real Life.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Lindsay's father says this his daughter has the right to insult people online, due to the First Amendment to the Constitution. He may be an asshole, but the First Amendment is there to protect unpopular speech, including hate speech, and other people have an equal right to fight back against hateful speech with more speech. But that's not good enough, according to this film, and anybody who does anything slightly resembling cyberbullying should be severely punished to the full extent of the law, which could potentially ruin their lives.
  • Lifetime Movie of the Week: It's an Freeform movie, but it fits the formula.
  • Moral Dissonance: The apparent happy ending is to monitor every computer at all times so that even good-natured ribbing of others is considered illegal. Does this remind you of anything?
  • My God, What Have I Done?: After Taylor attempted to commit suicide, Samantha realizes that she had gone too far with her account.
  • New Media Are Evil: Probably the reason why there's so much Critical Research Failure.
  • Plot-Induced Stupidity: Apparently, Cliquesters doesn't have a feature that allows users to report cyberbullies, nor does it have a policy on bullying. Not even after Taylor's attempted suicide makes headlines.
    • During the suicide attempt scene, Taylor pretty much waited until her mother and Samantha came along to stop her from killing herself.
    • Despite constantly being bullied on the site, Taylor is so reluctant to delete her Cliquesters account that she completely ignores her mother about taking down her profile. But if she actually did delete her Cliquesters profile, this movie would be short.
      • Next to each post on the site, there are these little X's which are supposed to mean you can either block the person, or ignore the post. So, for some reason, she NEVER notices them, which is why she asked about blocking people during her counciling.
  • Recycled Premise: The film shares a few too many similarities to the 2010 film Easy A. Notably it stars a previously-invisible everygirl who becomes well known to her school primarily for being a supposed slut (who's actually a virgin) based on rumors started by a local Alpha Bitch and an old friend, who ends up falling out with her because of this Slut-Shaming; she has a gay friend who gets similar bullying because of his homosexuality that's been going on far longer than her bullying but she doesn't really sympathize with him until she sees how badly the homophobia hurts him, she's got a crush on an attractive nice guy who doesn't believe the things people say about her and, in the end, stays by her side, but before that she meets a seemingly nice guy who's really two-faced and makes the situation worse (and in Cyberbully's case, isn't really a guy). And, in both films, the protagonist makes a video that the school watches after having an emotional breakdown of sorts. While the details of the tropes and such are different, the film's got more than a fair share of similarities.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The film was inspired by the many stories of young people committing suicide after they are bullied online.
  • Single Girl Seeks Most Popular Guy: Taylor wants to date a football player.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Tries to do this with the bullies, that they will blindly and savagely switch targets in the blink of an eye (shown as the gossip and lies stop featuring Taylor and start featuring Sam, after they find out what the latter had done).
  • Teens Are Short: All the main characters are about One Head Shorter than the adults.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Inverted. Among other things, Taylor is too dumb to open a childproof cap without struggling, making this a strange case of Too Dumb To Die. Made funnier when the cap pops off while Taylor and Samantha struggle over control of the bottle.
  • Totally Radical: The teenagers in the movie use a lot of slang that teens in real life stopped using LONG before the movie was made. Among these slang terms used are "bling" and "the clap".
    • At the end, when the word is getting around via texts that Taylor and her friends told Lindsay off, one of the responses that can be seen is "That's fab!"
  • Victim Blaming: Cheyenne blames Taylor for getting bullied, stating that it's because she talked to James whom, by the way, Cheyenne encouraged her to talk to.

The 2015 film contains examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: Played with. Casey's dad can be heard outside her room trying to help her, but (under threat from the hacker,) she pushes him away until the end when she calls for him and he comes rushing to her. Still, the fact that he doesn't actually come into the (unlocked) room when she's obviously distraught and known to be on antidepressants could certainly be held against him.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Communication comes through a computer, but the menace of this trope is very much in play for most of the film. Realizing that actually this trope is not in play and the hacker doesn't actually have any power when she stops talking to him breaks his hold over her.
  • Ambiguous Gender: The hacker uses a male computer-generated voice for most of the conversation with Casey (briefly switching to a female one precisely to confuse the issue,) but Casey seems to think it more likely that he's a man.
  • An Aesop: Cyberbullies have no power if you stop talking to them, or as Casey herself put it "rule number one; don't feed the troll".
  • Attention Whore: The hacker. His Villainous Breakdown starts the second Casey starts ignoring him.
  • Battle of Wits: Though she spends a lot of the time scared and on the back foot, when an opportunity comes for Casey to use her brain she fully exploits it.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Casey is accused of being this as she tries to work out who the hacker is. When she thinks it might be Jennifer Li or one of her loved ones, Casey makes suitably remorseful-sounding apologies, but when the hacker says he doesn't believe her sincerity Casey immediately snaps out a vicious retort. Casey's sorrow over Jennifer Li's suicide is clearly totally genuine, however.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Casey allows the hacker to expose said pictures, but they aren't going to control the emotional reactions of her family and loved ones and promptly cuts him/her off, knowing that without her talking to them, they are nothing. Even though Casey wins in the end, it's obvious she's going to need way more therapy and deal with the real life harassment because of her ordeal.
  • Bottle Episode: Enforced Trope. The film takes place entirely in Casey's bedroom, because the hacker is fully aware that the second Casey leaves the room or someone else joins her, his power will be broken. Consequently, he repeatedly ensures this doesn't happen.
  • Cliffhanger: We have no idea what happens after Casey calls out for her dad. We have no idea if the hacker is tracked down and arrested for what he's done, we have no idea if he's pushed other people to suicide.
  • Computer Voice: The hacker talks to her with a computer generated voice that he describes as sounding like "a constipated Stephen Hawking". The fact it speaks what he types later gives Casey a clue to his identity.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Casey being targeted by the hacker and the suspense over whether she will actually survive the night is only possible because she was Jennifer Li's first troll, she has a bottle of antidepressants on hand, and her father (despite obviously knowing something's wrong,) does not actually force his way into the unlocked room.
    • Somewhat justified; given the hacker's abilities to take over her computer and watch her through the cam it's implied s/he could have been spying on her a long time before selecting her as the next victim. Casey also manages to keep her father out of the room at one point by holding the door shut and claiming she's getting changed.
  • Darker and Edgier: most definitely compared to the 2011 version, intensified by a more suspenseful tone (with a one-room setting ala a 12-angry men)
  • Driven to Suicide: Jennifer Li was eventually pushed into suicide by the relentless trolling and hate she received. The hacker accuses Casey of being the cause of it since she was Jennifer's first troll, while Casey retorts that while she started it, she stopped long before Jennifer's suicide.
    • While Casey's dangerous overdose of antidepressants is done under blackmail and is thus not this trope, the hacker plays on her terror of her life being not worth living to push her further.
  • Foreshadowing: Casey contemptuously says Jennifer shouldn't have responded to her trolling because everybody knows "rule number one; don't feed the troll". Applying this to herself is the way she eventually wins.
  • For the Lulz: Presumably the reason why the hacker was going after Casey. The hacker isn't related to Jennifer Li in any way and they have also trolled Jennifer.
  • Hollywood Hacking: Averted. The hacker does nothing that a skilled real-life hacker couldn't do, and is all the more paranoia-inducing because of it.
  • Hostage Situation: Casey is basically being forced to stay online with the hacker, not leave the room, and not communicate with anyone through any means if she wants to keep her loved ones and herself from being exposed on the Web. By the end, she chooses to let her pictures be posted online and walks out of the room.
  • Insult of Endearment: Casey and Megan both use "bitch" as a term of affection. A mutual friend comments on this, with Casey being surprised that he doesn't realise it's not meant as an insult. Though, this is because someone was posing as him.
  • I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: The hacker also posts topless pictures of Megan when Casey refuses to take additional pills. The fact that Casey lets him post the pictures of Megan, but complies when the threat relates to pictures of herself, does not go unremarked by the hacker.
  • Jump Scare: Casey realizes she's not dealing with a Playful Hacker when he makes an image of a demonic face suddenly appear on her screen.
  • Kick the Dog: The girls at Jennifer Li's new school dress up as her for Halloween.
  • Lack of Empathy: Despite the Hacker constantly chiding Casey for not sounding sincere enough when apologising about her involvement in Jennifer Li's bullying, he bullied Jennifer to far worse levels than Casey and mocks her during her Heroic B.S.O.D. and when she sheds Tearsof Remorse over Jennifer Li's suicide.
    • When Casey threatens to write down his username for the police to find, the Hacker responds, "Maybe. But you'll be dead. I still win."
  • Manipulative Bastard: The hacker so much. He repeatedly threatens to post videos and pictures of her friends if she doesn't do what he says. He stays true to his word and posts a few pictures of her best friend and a video of her friend Tamara coming out. His control over her starts to slip towards the end and he tries making her stay by promising to reveal his identity.
  • Moving the Goalposts: The hacker orders Casey to take more of her antidepressant pills than is safe in exchange for him not posting topless pictures of her online. He initially says she needs to take one pill for each of the five pictures, but later includes pictures of Megan in that as well, since he knows that taking five pills won't hurt her too much.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Sort of. Casey is genuinely horrified by Jennifer Li's suicide, and acknowledges her own role in starting it, but repeatedly refutes the hacker's claims that she is solely responsible, because she stopped long before Jennifer got pushed that far.
  • Never My Fault: The hacker accuses Casey of this, though considering what the hacker does, the audience is likely to agree with Casey's point that it's unfair to blame Jennifer's suicide entirely on her since she only started the bullying and stopped before it escalated.
  • Noodle Incident: So what exactly did Nathan's mum do in Weston Supemare?
  • Not So Different: Subverted. The hacker at first says he's only doing what Casey herself did when she trolled other accounts, but it becomes clear this isn't true as Casey becomes genuinely remorseful over the consequences of her actions, while the hacker sadistically pusher her further and further.
  • Oh Crap!: Casey has one whenever the hacker reveals a new weapon in his arsenal or escalates his demands.
  • Playful Hacker: Casey asks a friend to help her hijack someone's social media account as revenge for cruel comments he wrote about her, but he refuses. The antagonist later lets her do this while pretending to be her friend, but he is anything but playful.
  • The Power of Friendship / The Power of Trust: Casey discovering that Megan trusts Casey enough to know that she would never send that hurtful material herself and that she must have been hacked arrests Casey's downward spiral, and lets her drag herself back up.
  • Serial Killer: By the end of the film Casey suspects that the hacker deliberately finds and trolls people to suicide, making him the cyber equivalent of this.
  • Sheathe Your Sword: Or rather "don't feed the troll", the cyber equivalent of this trope.
  • Shout-Out: The hacker quotes Dirty Harry's famous "do I feel lucky?" speech, but with Casey's pills instead of bullets.
    • One of Casey's own troll posts was related to a girl making a fool of herself while talking about removing a bottle cap, likely a nod to the 2011 film.
  • Smug Snake: The hacker's Villainous Breakdown makes it clear this is all he is.
  • So Bad, It's Good: With how quickly the plot/conflict escalates, the writing, acting, editing, & music swells being as forced as a Full House episode, & the rising action leading to the funniest scene in the entire movie where Taylor tries to take the pills, but "can't get the cap off", it's one of the most unintentionally funniest movies you'll ever see. It'll totally make your night & makes for some great jokes when talking about the movie.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: All Casey needs to do is close the computer and stop talking to him, but his threats to upload pictures that he has already gotten prevent her from doing this. Eventually she does precisely this whatever the consequences.
  • Stalker Without a Crush: The hacker at first claims to be "a fan" of Casey's posts, and during their first, apparently harmless, chat, Casey clearly thinks he might be this because she carefully avoids signing her posts with a kiss to avoid encouraging him. Later he's shown to be a particularly sadistic troll.
  • Stress Vomit: Casey ends up vomiting out the overdose of antidepressants she recently took as a reaction to the stress, though in this case it's very definitely to her advantage, as well as giving her an opportunity to take a second to think things through.
  • Totally Radical: Averted. Williams herself and the director's teenage daughter were both consulted to make sure the teenage slang is accurate. When someone uses out-of-date or strange-sounding language Casey quickly picks up on it, allowing her to guess at the hacker's age and eventually make a good guess at his identity by the fact that he types "har" instead of "ha" because he's so used to using the Computer Voice software.
  • Troll: The hacker is one of the most sadistic to ever appear. Casey herself has done it, though more out of thoughtlessness of the consequences than deliberate malicious sadism.
  • The Unreveal: The hacker's identity is never revealed and Casey eventually realizes it doesn't matter.
  • Vague Age: Casey has various ideas at different points of the film about how old the hacker is, though she's pretty confident he's not a teenager due to the outdated slang he uses.
  • Victim Blaming: When Casey thinks the hacker is Jennifer and has just rejected her (debatably sincere) apology, Casey angrily lashes out and says that Jennifer gets bullied because she makes it so easy. Naturally, she feels awful about this when she finds out that Jennifer had committed suicide some time ago.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The hacker's responses become more childish and sloppily typed when Casey makes a good guess as to who he might be and when Casey starts to ignore him and move away he eventually offers to tell her who he really is if she stays in the room.
  • Wham Line: In Jennifer Li's "Stop The Hate" video, she said that singing reminded her of her mother who passed away from ovarian cancer.