“What’s up, yellow monkey? Fatty!”
Hateful and threatening messages from anonymous harassers flood senior Sean Chaiswat’s direct message inbox on Instagram. The messages had been sent from accounts with followers and following counts of zero. With no way to identify these accounts, Chaiswat begins to feel helpless. Confused. He attempts to ignore the messages, but they overwhelm him.
In the second semester of his freshman year, Chaiswat fell victim to cyberbullying when he started receiving vulgar messages on social media. Only a month later, bullies, whom he shared classes with at the time, began harassing him at school.
“Every hour, my inbox would explode with hate,” Chaiswat said. “It was harsh. I don’t even know what I did. One of the messages was like, ‘Why can’t you run, fatty? Best go find a bridge. Why are you even alive? Just go get a car and drive into a wall.’ There were so many threats. The people behind the accounts would send links that hacked my account and videos of torture. They were really brutal.”
Although Chaiswat was never able to confirm the identities of the people behind the Instagram accounts, he noticed similar behavior from classmates in person. Bullies targeted Chaiswat verbally and physically every day.
“I assume that the bullies at school were the same people who messaged me because it all happened at the same time,” Chaiswat said. “To my face, I was told that I was a fat piece of sh*t. People used me as a punching bag.”
In one instance, the bullies jammed a heated vape into Chaiswat’s right leg, holding it until he pushed them off him. The burn developed into a scar, reminding Chaiswat, years later, of what life at school had previously been like for him.
“It felt like being pressed with the hottest thing in the world,” Chaiswat said. “It hurts at first and then numbs. The worst thing is putting on clothes afterwards because you feel it sting when it makes contact. This incident made me hate the world because it showed that some people are very cruel.”
Chaiswat had considered reporting the bullying to school administration but refrained from doing so. He was afraid it would worsen his interactions with the bullies and that administration would lack any findings of concrete evidence. Instead, to cope with the stress of being bullied, Chaiswat found an outlet by working at his parents’ Thai restaurant.
“I worked at the restaurant for two years,” Chaiswat said. “It helped me cope with the constant negativity of people because the rule is that the customer is always right. If I ever got mad, I would just put a smile on and say, ‘Have a gold day!’ It was nice counting money and cleaning the tables because it made me feel like I was a part of something. It was peaceful.”
After a year, the bullying suddenly ceased after the bullies lost interest. A relieved Chaiswat began joining sports, such as wrestling, and working out to remind himself that he was in control of his life. He looks back on his past trauma and believes it has shaped him into the stronger person he is now.
“Becoming physically active made me more confident to go out,” Chaiswat said. “Back then, I wanted revenge, but then a good friend of mine named River told me that it was not worth it, so I let it go. I am telling my story because I would rather spread awareness about cyberbullying than keep it to myself. To everyone reading this, please think before you act and treat others how you want to be treated.”