Putting a Stop to Bullying, On and Offline

By Amanda Randone

Abraham Biggs was just 19 when he killed himself on livestream video. Online viewers tuned in as Biggs overdosed on prescription pills, some encouraging his destructive behavior, while others suspected a hoax. He was pronounced dead 12 hours after starting his suicidal blogging binge.

This tragedy was inspiration for one of the principal story-lines in MTV's new original movie, "(DIS)CONNECTED," a story of digital drama created to combat the growing issue of cyber-bullying.

"(DIS)CONNECTED," first announced during the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, is a film about four young bloggers absorbed in the world of cyberspace. Their digital identities serve as an escape from reality when an online community becomes the expressive environment where their virtual lives intertwine.

The film, which premiers tonight, Oct. 10, at 9 p.m. ET/PT, grapples with common issues of today's youth, from insecurities about body image to struggles with depression. While one blogger becomes consumed with a bad break-up, another hesitates to reveal his identity as an aspiring musician. But in this alternative electronic sphere where a code of ethics is nonexistent, the extent to which these issues affect the main characters is intensified because of their online presence. As the events of the film unfold, the reality of an increased potential for disaster because of a dependence on the internet is exposed.

"(DIS)CONNECTED," directed by Leslie Libman, is part of MTV's A Thin Line Campaign, which has mobilized more than one million young people in the battle against online harassment and discrimination. The film is intended to target the MTV audience, the first generation to grow up in this digital era, and to stimulate action within that young community.

"Storytelling is one of the best ways to inspire action," said Stephen Friedman, president of the popular youth-oriented network, of the film's role in the campaign.

A Thin Line was developed to educate people about making the distinction between harmless online fun and digital abuse. The campaign was organized not only to identify threatening online behavior, but to empower people to respond immediately to prevent future crises like that of Abraham Biggs. "(DIS)CONNECTED" provides an example of what happens when the line between a joke and something that could have serious consequences is blurred.

"I think this will save lives, and I think, most importantly, it will cause people to think about what they can do," said Parry Aftab, a member of A Thin Line's advisory board and Executive Director of WiredSafety.org. "Complete strangers looking out for complete strangers. That's how we have all connected, and we need to stay that way."

The authenticity of the film enhances the power of this message. Libman workshopped with young actors and fashioned the film's script after their personal dialogues. She used webcams and iPhones to shoot scenes from the film, capturing the real technological connection between its main characters. Libman has created something that the MTV audience can relate to, exposing viewers to the reality of this issue and their ability to make a difference.

Vinny Guadagnino of MTV's Jersey Shore has become an avid participant in the campaign against cyberbullying. In collaboration with A Thin Line, Guadagnino, who admits to being bullied in his past, is using his celebrity to raise awareness about "(DIS)CONNECTED" and the issues it deals with.

"I wanted to team up with a problem or issue that I can contribute and relate to," Guadagnino explained. "I think people will listen to me because of who I am."

Guadagnino has used Twitter, Facebook, and other online resources to spark conversation among his large fan base. The use of the internet as a tool for communication has proven vital to the success of A Thin Line, which has already changed many lives of a worldwide generation consumed with the web. While the campaign is designed to caution young people about the dangers of cyberspace, the power of technology has also had a positive impact on spreading this call to action.

MTV Vice President of Public Affairs Jason Rzpeka said of this dichotomy, "The internet is like a rosebush- tremendous beauty, but there are thorns."

To learn more about digital safety, visit AThinLine.org. For more information on "(DIS)CONNECTED," visit http://disconnectedthemovie.com.