Cyberbully (2011): Is the Movie Based on an Actual High School Student?

‘Cyberbully’ is a teen drama film that follows Taylor Hillridge, a high school student who has just celebrated her 17th birthday. Her mother gifts her a laptop on the occasion, and Taylor is thrilled at the idea of exploring the internet without her mother’s supervision. To keep up with the crowd at school, Taylor joins a social media site called Cliquesters and starts making friends with people online. However, she soon finds herself a victim of cyberbullying as slanderous rumors about her start floating around Cliquesters, due to which she is ostracized and berated by everybody at school.

Directed by Charles Biname, the 2011 film was made for television and features the talents of Emily Osment, Kay Panabaker, and Kelly Rowan in pivotal roles. The film’s depiction of cyberbullying, and its real-life consequences, is raw and authentic to the point that some viewers might experience a sense of uneasiness. This same authenticity might compel others to look into the true origins of the story itself. Well, look no further, for we have the answers for you!

The Megan Meier Case: Inspiration Behind Cyberbully

Yes, ‘Cyberbully’ is based on a true story. The film is loosely inspired by the case of Megan Meier, a 13-year-old teenager from Missouri who fell prey to cyberbullying. Meier was constantly picked on online, which led to her taking her own life in October 2006, a few weeks before her 14th birthday. A tragic incident, her death is one of the first widely known instances of cyberbullying and was the focus of the entire country at the time. The case’s verdict also led to the inclusion of a law against cyberbullying in the state of Missouri.

To research for the film and have a better understanding of cyberbullying, Teena Booth, who penned ‘Cyberbully,’ approached Megan Meier’s family. “Megan was just this gorgeous, sunny girl with so much promise, so full of life,” said the writer. “And she came into this situation that happened…built up very quickly; somebody tricked her on the internet with a fake profile and ended up torturing her, and driving her to hang herself in a closet.”

Much the same as Megan Meier’s case of cyberbullying, Taylor Hillridge in ‘Cyberbully’ also faces similar circumstances when she befriends a boy named James, whom she does not know in real life. While amicable at first, James soon becomes hostile and starts spreading misinformation about Taylor which makes her the object of ridicule and scorn at her school. It is later revealed that James was an online persona and never a real person, to begin with.

In an interview with Clevver TV, Emily Osment revealed how she took help from her mother to better prepare for the role of Taylor Hillbridge and to better understand what those who are bullied go through. “My mom’s a teacher, I talked to her about, you know, what she sees at school and it’s shocking the stories that you hear, and I already hear stuff from her every day when she comes home that’s really saddening,” the actress said.

The cast’s experience with cyberbullying, unfortunately, isn’t limited to what others have told them or the film either. Actress Kay Panabaker, who portrays Samantha in ‘Cyberbully,’ talked about how with fame comes the risk of being vilified online in a behind-the-scenes video. “Being someone in the public eye, being an actress, you go to events, you do movies, and it’s all talked about on the internet,” Samantha said. “And if you’re not careful, if you go looking up yourself, you’ll see people bashing your hairstyle, your eye color, your weight, the way you dress.”

Panabaker further went on to say how the bullies on the internet find it so much easier to bring somebody else down or berate them for whatever reason because they feel safe behind their computer screens. “They don’t think twice about it because they don’t see me as a person — they see me as either a character I portray, or they see me as some Hollywood person,” she continued. While the issue of cyberbullying and bullying, in general, are important ones that need to be addressed everywhere, it is not the sole topic that the film focuses on.

‘Cyberbully’ also brings to light the different ways through which victims of bullying can reach out and resolve the issue in a healthy manner. Healthy coping mechanisms are essential because, as Emily Osment puts it, “You can’t just say ‘Oh, grow some thick skin!’ It’s not that easy.” Though not a true story, ‘Cyberbully’ is still an emotionally charged film that brings into focus the very real problem of cyberbullying. It also spreads awareness about the need for greater awareness and education about online safety, as well as advocates for stronger legislation against online harassment of any kind.

Read More: Best Movies About Bullying