February 2, 2024

Bills Mafia Unites: How a cyberbullying incident turned into cyberbacking

Be sure to check out the suggested Huddle question at the bottom of this article to discuss this important topic with your students in class, if you feel it is appropriate.

In a heartwarming turn of events, Bills Mafia, the devoted fanbase of the Buffalo Bills football team, showed the power of cyberbacking, which means calling out cyberbullying and supporting others who are receiving online hate. When the team’s kicker, Tyler Bass, faced online bullying after making a mistake in a recent NFL playoff game, fans turned the situation into a positive example of having each others’ backs online by raising money for charity in response to the bullying on social media. This is an example students and educators alike can learn from.

Instances like these give educators opportunities to help build students’ empathy and resilience in the face of cyberbullying. Read on to learn more about the situation and discover tips on how educators can empower students to cyberback others online.

How social media bullying turned into $300K for a cat shelter

Following the playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Tyler Bass deleted his social media accounts after reportedly receiving a ton of online hate for missing a field goal, which blocked the Buffalo Bills from being Super Bowl contenders this year. While some fans of the team supported Bass, other Bills fans criticized him for the mistake. Bills Mafia responded to the hate by donating $22, a number referencing Bass’s No. 2 jersey, to Ten Lives Club, a no-kill cat shelter. Bass is a known brand ambassador for the shelter and has participated in their campaigns before, like the Show Your Soft Side campaign. In just days, fans raised over $300,000 for the shelter. Ten Lives Club also stood up for Bass in an Instagram post, speaking out against the bullying he was experiencing. 

Cyberbacking is an important skill for students because celebrities are not the only people who can receive hate online; students often come across cyberbullying, too. Pew Research Center reported that nearly half of U.S. teens have experienced some cyberbullying in their lifetimes. When students experience bullying online by their peers, they may lose interest in school because of stress or even skip school altogether to avoid further bullying. In one study, many students who were cyberbullied reported being suspended due to absences. Because of this, it’s important to give students the tools to cyberback one another and speak up when they see cyberbullying. A study on the impact of cyberbullying reported that 60% of young people have witnessed online bullying and that most do not speak up when they do witness it. Bills Mafia donating in the face of cyberbullying provides a great model for what to do when students see hate and negativity online.

TSI’s Take: The importance of empowering students to support others online

We have many cultural events coming up, including March Madness, the Grammys, and the presidential election. These events can bring many people together in supporting their favorite artists or players online, but they might spur some negativity and bullying as well, like the online hate players faced during March Madness 2023. Bills Mafia banning together to support Tyler Bass’s charity is a great example of a positive response to cyberbullying that students can keep in mind for the future. 

Educators play a significant role in empowering students to cyberback one another by letting students know they can talk to an adult when they are seeing or experiencing bullying. Still, we can also equip them with the skills to think twice before they say something online. It’s important to inspire students to navigate online conversations in positive and high-character ways because online conversations can have real-life effects, such as damaging students’ self-esteem or well-being. 

We also know that students are more likely to go along with their classmates, so it’s important to encourage them to always be positive with their peers. We can help students learn the importance of cyberbacking by encouraging them to speak up against cyberbullying, avoid getting caught up in mob mentality, and only post things they would be comfortable saying to someone in person. 

Bills Mafia’s positive response to the cyberbullying Tyler Bass received is a great example to show students that can cyberbacking make social media a more enjoyable place and make a positive change out of a negative situation. Here are some more tips you can use to empower your students to cyberback others:

  • Empathize with others: Remember that there is a real person behind every screen. 
  • Have each other’s backs: When you see hateful comments towards someone online, take action by speaking up or reporting the comment. 
  • Emphasize positivity: Showcase the power of positivity and support online. 

Cyberbacking is an important skill for students to make their online spaces and schools safer and happier by speaking out against cyberbullying and making a positive change like Bills Mafia did. Educators can empower students with the tools to cyberback others with many of our #WinAtSocial lessons and student challenges. For more tips on Cyberbacking, check out our Cyberback Challenge to further empower your students to back each other up online. 

#WinAtSocial Huddle Question
Huddle with your students
As we get closer to the Superbowl, tension is growing on social media, and we may come across hateful posts and comments on our feeds. If you see these comments on your feed, how would you react? Would you keep scrolling? Report the comment? Share your thoughts with the class.

The Social Institute (TSI) is the leader in understanding student experiences and the creator of #WinAtSocial, a gamified, online learning platform that equips students, educators, and families to navigate social experiences — online and offline — in healthy ways. Our unique, student-respected approach incorporates topics like social media, technology use, and current events that have a significant impact on student well-being. Lessons teach life skills for the modern day to inspire high-character decisions that support the health, happiness, and future success of students while capturing data that provides insights to school leaders to inform school policy and communications and enable high-impact teaching and a healthy learning environment. For schools, our turnkey technology allows for easy implementation and a comprehensive game plan to support the well-being of school communities.