Kelly Simpson was a cyberbully.
In middle and high school in Mauldin, S.C., Simpson was an early adopter of AOL Instant Messenger and other chat programs, and she used them to needle and taunt her friends and classmates.
For a long time, she thought nothing of it.
"It was kind of pervasive at my school," Simpson, now 27, recalls. "We didn't think it was a big deal." She was just the classic "mean girl," she says.
Among her recreations was sending links via AIM to a now-defunct trolling website called crush007.com, which collected personal information through questionnaires -- and then sent it to people mentioned in the survey. Given that the questions were about secret crushes and sexual habits, the results were often highly embarrassing. For example, one of Simpson's targets, who had just moved away from South Carolina, was revealed to be bisexual -- news that quickly made the rounds at his old school.
It was all amusing to Simpson and her friends until someone hacked into her account, revealing her own secrets -- love triangles and buried feelings, all the "major high school girl drama," says Simpson.
Suddenly she was ostracized and alone.
"I lost all my friends, and as my friends were pretty much my identity, I was at the end of my rope," she says. "I had nothing left."
Looking back, Simpson -- now a student at a Massachusetts seminary -- realizes it seems silly. But she knows how hurtful such acts can be when you're an adolescent.
"As adults we look at things and think, 'Oh, they'll get over it,' " she says. "But we don't realize that this is their world. This is their life. And their life is over when they lose their friends."
Justice or revenge?
Is this what justice looks like in the Internet age? Given the Wild West nature of the Web, with its anonymous social media trolls and a hodgepodge of laws governing online speech, some people believe that authorities aren't doing enough to crack down on bullies.
Anonymous, the hacking collective, has been particularly active in rape cases related to cyberbullying, including that of Amanda Todd, a Vancouver, British Columbia, girl who committed suicide in 2012 after a topless photo of her led to teasing and abuse at school, and the case of Daisy Coleman, a Maryville, Mo., high schooler who says she was raped by a local football player.
But other citizens have gotten involved, too.
In 2007, Lori Drew -- whose creation of a MySpace account for "Josh Evans," a fictitious 16-year-old boy, resulted in the suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier -- became the focus of national outrage and cyberattacks after her name was revealed by some online amateur detectives. Drew was acquitted of charges in 2008 and has since moved away from the St. Louis suburb where she lived down the block from the Meier family, but her acts still invite anger years after the incident.
But Tina Meier doesn't believe that vigilantism is a solution.
Meier, Megan's mother, now runs the Megan Meier Foundation. Its goal is to promote awareness of bullying and "promote positive change to children, parents and educators in response to the ongoing bullying and cyberbullying in our children's daily environment," according to its mission statement.
Meier admits it has been a challenge to look forward. When the MySpace account was first traced to Lori Drew, she says, "I felt that vengeance."
She remembers appearing on Bill O'Reilly's Fox News show and being asked what she thought of the attacks on the Drews.
"At the time, it was very, very hard for me to have an ounce of sympathy," she says. And she understands the impulse that prompts people to seek what they believe is justice in an unjust world. But, she adds, over time she has come to believe that such acts simply feed a cycle of violence and pain.
She compares it with standing up for people who are being victimized.
"I talk about this -- we want those bystanders to be 'upstanders.' Stand up when you see somebody ridiculed or made fun of," she says. "But what it means is to stand up in the right way. If you go out there because you're protecting them and you punch the other person, you might feel good for a minute because you did the right thing by standing up, but now it's caused more violence."
'Another type of bullying'
There's certainly no shortage of anger on the Internet, some of it driven by easy online anonymity. (Just read the comments to any CNN.com story.) As Lesley Withers, a professor of communication at Central Michigan University, said in 2008, "In the (pre-Internet era), you had to take ownership (of your remarks). Now there's a perception of anonymity. People think what they say won't have repercussions, and they don't think they have to soften their comments."
But experts are unsure if cyberbullying is on the rise, or if there's simply more attention given it nowadays.