Submit: The Documentary

Submit: The Documentary Cyberbullying Research Center

I just previewed the producer’s cut of a new film on the topic of cyberbullying. Admittedly, I was skeptical at first, because I have seen these kinds of productions before and have either been underwhelmed or downright angry at the way the problem was portrayed.  But this effort was different and I think has the potential to do some good.

Submit: The Documentary” presents the perspectives of many who have experienced the problem of cyberbullying from a variety of viewpoints, including victims and parents, but also educators, researchers, legislators, and policymakers. I was glad to see many familiar cyberbullying prevention and education colleagues prominently featured throughout the film, including my friend and Cyberbullying Research Center co-director Sameer Hinduja. Together, they present a clear view of the nature of the cyberbullying problem, and offer their insights about why we need to focus more attention on it.

“Submit” includes the requisite stories of those who have been affected most deeply by cyberbullying. Tina Meier, Donna Witsell, John Lowe, and others who lost their children as a result of, at least in part, experience with cyberbullying remind viewers that these behaviors cannot simply be ignored. Their experiences, while thankfully not representative, are instructive. We can learn a lot from what happened to Megan, Hope, and Johanna, and shame on us if we don’t do things better the next time.

As much as it was important to revisit these tragic stories, and even though it was a nice change to see and hear from some of “the experts” who have devoted their careers to this problem, the indisputable stars of this film were the students. They illuminate a reality of cyberbullying that has largely escaped mainstream media.  They talk about why they do what they do, and perhaps even more enlightening, why they don’t do what they don’t do. The teens pointedly acknowledge the challenges of dealing with cyberbullying and related behaviors–most of which stem from a general distrust of adults to do anything meaningful to curb the bullying.  Indeed, most young people we speak with say the number one reason they don’t confide in adults when confronted with cyberbullying is because they fear it will only make matters worse. Mike Donlin re-affirms this perspective in his remarks that were featured in the film.

As a film intended to capture broad public interest, “Submit” walks a fine-line between presenting a narrative of cyberbullying that is accurate and one that is shocking, fear-mongering, or otherwise “entertaining.”  To be a commercial success, especially in the documentary genre, it seems that a film needs to be portentous, provocative, or overly alarmist.  Compared to other films that tackle this subject, “Submit” does a better job balancing the hype with the lived-reality of teens in the 21st Century. For example, “Bully,” the 2011 documentary that followed the experiences of five youth and their families, focused so much on the extremity of the problem that while I was left physically hurting for the families featured I was no better prepared to do anything about it. “Bully” left me with the impression that adults are impotent when it comes to stopping bullying because most of the adults included in that film failed in their efforts, or worse, didn’t try.

To some extent, “Submit” begins to lead viewers down a path toward a similar conclusion: that schools, parents, the police, and other adult institutions are incapable at preventing or stopping cyberbullying.  But “Submit” doesn’t stop there and carries the discussion forward, presenting some of the emerging evidence about what does work to stop bullying. Among the promising approaches highlighted is to cultivate empathy among students.  Not only will empathetic students refrain from bullying others online and off, but they will also stand up for those who are being targeted. By encouraging young people and empowering bystanders to take action, we have a better chance at making strides to reduce this problem. As Sameer states in the film: “Bystanders can be heroes.”  We genuinely believe that.  Teens see a lot more of what is going on than most adults and they are, as a result, often in the best position to do something about it.

But they shouldn’t have to do it alone, any more than schools should have to respond to bullying by themselves.  Bullying, no matter the form, is a community problem which demands a community response.  Educators, parents, police officers, faith leaders, community partners, researchers, technology companies, and yes, teens, have the power *together* to adequately prevent and respond to this problem.  “Submit” is a solid reminder and all who care about the online lives of adolescents are encouraged to check it out. Trailer here.


  1. That sounds like a really good movie to watch. I plan on being a teacher in the near future, I am almost done with my degree now. I frequently think about how I will deal with bullying in the school as well as online. Cyberbullying is a huge issue and I completely agree with you, i is something everyone in the community needs to work together to stop.

  2. My daughter Jessica Logan was extremely cyber harassed, physically assaulted, and psychologically abused from March to July, 2008 because she took a nude photo of herself. The photo was stolen off of her cell phone on Spring break in March of 2008.The photo was added to the two girls cell phones Jessica went on Spring break with and then sent to three more teenagers including the 19 year teen age boy Jessica dated but was no longer seeing him. It spread to 4 school districts and beyond. My only child, Jessica passed by peer abuse driven bullycide on July 3, 2008.

    She was 18 years young. Some adults blame my daughter. Some adults go as far as saying she should have known better because she was an adult. I find this very insulting. An 18 year old is not a adult in the sense we parent know a teenager to be. Jessica just turned 18 a month prior to this tragedy.
    It is stated on an incident police report written by the school resource officer that the photo was taken from her cell phone which does not mention it anywhere on the internet. Nor did our attorney’s use it their evidence.

    This was an total botch because the defense attorneys knew all the kids (two of them were attorney’s daughters) and they all knew each other including our prosecuting attorneys. We settled with the school but they refuse to acknowledge they were at fault. Our attorney’s said this was protocol. I say it is a disgrace in my daughters name.

    There is so much evidence on the developing brain of kids and teenagers that every adult should be aware of and use to prove this can happen again and again if we do not educate using the important material from doctors and psychologists who have studied the growing brain and the effects it has on the abused child and teenagers.

    I am giving you imperative information.
    Daniel Jay Goleman is an author, psychologist, and science journalist. For twelve years, he wrote for The New York Times, specializing in
    psychology and brain sciences. He wrote: “The brain is the last organ of the body to become anatomically mature, not
    reaching its final form until the mid-20s. And the circuits for emotional and social skills, including impulse control, are the very
    last to mature.During the ages that bullying is frequent, the brain’s circuitry for emotional impulse outstrips the development of the
    “executive centers” where good sense, patience, and maturity reside. Most critically, the strip of circuits that can stop, think through
    consequences, and “just say no” to impulse are still immature.”

    Dr. E.M.Hallowell Fascinating did his research on stress, bullying, incivility etc:(Dr. E.M.Hallowell) He refers to this as “brain burn.”

    High levels of adrenaline pumped through the body in times of
    stress(e.g. after being belittled, bullied, put down) actually burn a
    hole in the brain, creating a permanent tattoo and once this occurs, the overwhelming emotions are never forgotten.

    There is amendment which was added to the Ohio Anti Bullying Law last year. It is named after my daughter. It is called “The Jessica Logan Act.” It prohibits electronic devices to be used to harm students. It is mandated in all Ohio Schools but it is not funded. It was written by Representative Barnes and signed in law by Governor Kasich.

    • I tried to share this on “submit your documentary story.” I believe it has to be reviewed. l edited what I wrote above but am finding difficulty navigating on that page.

    • Hi Cynthia – we know your story and feel your pain. Thanks for sharing it here. Your strength inspires us to keep working to eliminate these problems. Let us know if there is anything we can do to help in your efforts. All the best.

  3. Though I did not see this documentary, I am strongly in favor of anything that works to curve this problem. It’s true that
    the students suffer the most in all of this. Not only does this problem affect them but it affects their relationships with the adults that are supposed to protect them. Students who have made the decision to stand up against cyberbulling are brave and inspiring. The emotional toll taken on these victims, as well as their families, is so overwhelming I could never imagine going through what they’ve had to endure. I commend them for persevering and telling their stories.

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