Cyberbullying is a widespread but often difficult to understand problem. To help put the issue in perspective, a new digital installation, This Was Louise's Phone, shows cyberbullying at its most devastating. The Louise in question was a real 16-year-old Belgian girl who died by suicide after receiving a horrifying amount of abuse online. The site is full of the real messages she received. Trigger warning for the contents of both This Was Louise's Phone and the rest of this article; proceed with caution.
"The internet has become an integral part of our lives and it’s not something that you can turn off or hide away from," Ramin Afshar, one of the project’s organizers, told the Daily Dot. "With the scale of the installation, we wanted to show that it’s not just one comment but there are hundreds of comments that get sent and the effect of constantly being bombarded with hateful messages on someone’s well-being is real."
The installation shows a room full to bursting with 600 large balloons, each with a real message Louise received written on it. Louise's phone sits in the center of the room on a small platform, a small and seemingly innocuous object that in truth acts as a helpless gateway to all the hate literally hovering above it. On the This Was Louise's Phone website, visitors can take a tour of the installation to read the messages, which are now available both in English and the original French.
Some of the messages are particularly disturbing, but all are ugly.
Cyberbullying is a serious problem, and one that's disturbingly common. It's also difficult to figure out how exactly to combat it. How do you show teenagers that what seems like a harmless comment from your side of the screen is received by others so very differently? After all, teenagers are by their very definition testing limits and trying to determine where the lines are; how do you try to keep the consequences from being devastating when some of them inevitably slip over those lines? How do you keep kids safe from other kids?
Hopefully, projects like This Was Louise's Phone can help drive home to kids exactly how serious the internet is and can be. You can find out in the video below how the installation is being used in Belgium to try to impact teens' behavior, and you can visit the installation yourself here.