Stop BullyingTyler McKeever, 16, meanders his way through a sea of students to get to his first class on a misty Monday morning at East Ridge High School, in suburban Woodbury, Minnesota. As he walks, his outward demeanor looks calm and collected, but, on the inside, painful memories cloud his thoughts. He winces at the recollections as he continues to move forward. McKeever takes a deep breath and steels himself to make it through another day unscathed: he is a victim of bullying.

A junior in high school, he has suffered all types of bullying throughout the years: physical, emotional and cyberbullying. When his classmates were not taunting him verbally or through social media sites, they were physically harassing him. Some boys even used to push and shove him as he walked down the halls. “It started probably freshman year,” McKeever says during a recent phone interview. “I dressed a little more preppy than all the other guys, and they came after me. They called me gay, but I wasn’t, and I’m still not. They just judged me on my appearance.”

Sophomore year wasn’t much better. McKeever began to use social media sites more frequently and openly posted his religious beliefs, often typing passages from Christian scripture that gave him hope, in an attempt to stay strong in the face of all the tormenting he endured. “People would friend me just to say how much they hated me, and that I shouldn’t even be here,” he recalls. At the time, he never suspected that those same posts were gaining attention from more than just the bullies.

What McKeever endures is all too common, as bullying is now a nationwide epidemic, with about 20 percent of high school students experiencing bullying each year, according to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, conducted by the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bullying began receiving widespread attention from the public when bully-related suicides became high profile topics in the media. Over the last decade, the media, educators, hundreds of organizations and anti-bullying advocates have taken to social media sites to fight back against the disruptive behavior and the harm it causes its victims. As with any other cause, out of the hundreds of sites that emerged, there are a number of individuals who managed to achieve widespread attention across social media platforms. How do they gain so much attention, and why do bullied victims turn to them for help?

Social media expert Mandi Sonnenberg, a professor and educational technologist at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, may have some answers. She says that the world needs more anti-bullying advocates than ever; especially with how easy it is for teenagers to commit acts of cyberbullying. “I think as we integrate more iPads and cell phones in the classroom, then there’s more opportunities for kids to become bullies,” she says. “Bullying is running rampant because of social media. You post one little remark, and that’s bullying. It spreads like wildfire.”

So, how do advocates help the victims? “If you can transform it and revolutionize the bullying topic by finding people who have risen above it, coped with it and stopped it, then that’s what’s going to get you recognized, because it’s something different,” she says.

McKeever managed to cope with bullying by helping others, and at the same time, himself.  He started an anti-bullying Twitter platform @ERHSnicewords, with now more than 27,000 followers, or, as McKeever likes to refer to them, #TylersWarriors. It occurred to him to start a Twitter account dedicated to bullied victims after his own experiences caused him to spiral downward into a vicious cycle of self-harm and depression. After confiding in his 19-year-old sister and seeking help from a counselor, McKeever realized that he could use his painful experiences to help others.

While at a friend’s house during a hot summer day, the two stumbled across the Twitter account of a popular football player from a neighboring high school. The football player posted positive messages to his peers and seemed to promote an idea of acceptance to all of his classmates. “I was like, ‘Wow, that’s really cool! There’s a lot of bullying and nobody’s really doing anything. Administration tries stuff all the time and it doesn’t really work,’” he says. McKeever saw a void, and it dawned on him how to fill it.

In August 2012, McKeever started his Twitter account, which is now called “The End to Bullying.” It generated close to 300 followers in the first couple of weeks, and it garnered the most attention from classmates. Unaccustomed to the demands of maintaining a popular social media account, McKeever didn’t keep to posting on a regular schedule at first, and he subsequently lost some followers, and most of the followers lost were fellow classmates.

McKeever did not need to worry, though. As he continued to type inspirational messages, lonesome, struggling teenagers around the world were reading them. A much larger wave of support was about to roll his way. “A lot of anonymous accounts that deal with depression, suicide and that stuff started following me, and I kept tweeting, and it got bigger and bigger worldwide,” he says. He consistently tweets inspirational messages to his followers every day, such as, “Pain is temporary. Suicide is one decision that doesn’t only take you from this world, but also hurts everyone that once knew you. Don’t do it.” Most recently, he started doing a weekly “Featured Follower,” in which he randomly chooses one of his followers and asks the other 27,000 followers to tweet something nice to the person throughout the day.

Kasey Powers, 14, is one of McKeever’s longtime supporters, and she attests to McKeever’s merits and the unwavering dedication he gives to his “warriors.” “For the past two years, I’ve struggled with depression,” Powers wrote in a recent email. “It’s gotten worse this year. And don’t get me wrong, people tried to help me, but nothing worked. Until I followed Tyler. I wouldn’t say I’m happy but he makes my life just a little bit easier.” Powers privately messaged McKeever a few times when she needed additional support, and she writes that he always helped her work through the pain.

And though one might think that a teenager who is known online for his anti-bullying efforts would now be immune from the effects of bullying, McKeever is still very much a victim. Just a month ago, he posted a snapshot to his Twitter account of nasty comments that teenagers wrote on his Facebook wall. The teenagers were calling McKeever vulgar names and using heinous language. “People will say, ‘Oh, you’re just doing this for attention,’” he says, explaining that hurtful messages are still posted on his anti-bullying Twitter account and personal Twitter and Facebook pages. “I know what I’m doing is good, and the support that I get keeps me strong.”

Powers believes that McKeever’s motives are selfless. “He isn’t doing this for ‘fame’ or followers. He just wants to help us,” Powers writes. “I’m sure I speak for all 26,100 followers when I say: Tyler McKeever, you are a hero. Thank you for being here for me and everyone else. You’ve already done so much for so many people, but this is only the beginning.”

McKeever also has a website on which followers can share their own experiences with bullying and ask questions, which is exactly what social media expert Sonnenberg believes is key to McKeever’s success. She says that if anti-bullying advocates want to maintain relevance and continue to be heard through their websites, they need to “keep promoting how to cope and how to prevent [bullying].”

McKeever has attracted support from some A-list celebrities for his anti-bullying efforts, including singer LeAnn Rimes who has spoken to him via Twitter on multiple occasions. He passed along the names of some bullied victims to her, so that she can personally reach out to them and give them the support McKeever believes they need. In fact, just in mid-November this past year, McKeever tweeted Rimes that one of his followers was contemplating committing suicide. She promptly tweeted the follower an inspirational message: “Sweetie I hope you rethink this! You are better and worth mots [sic] than someone’s ignorant, hateful words.”

Sonnenberg says it’s no surprise that anti-bullying organizations often receive celebrity support, though. “Many celebrities are kind of jumping on this whole thing, almost like they feel a responsibility to do a PSA,” she says. Sonnenberg explains that social media connects everyday people with celebrities, and they then become an integral part of their lives, so when celebrities start to support a certain organization, that gives an immediate credibility and cache to the group.

Regardless of whether or not celebrities are jumping on the anti-bullying bandwagon, it is a movement that could use everyone’s support, with thousands of anti-bullying accounts to be found on Twitter alone. A 16-year-old in the UK is just one voice whispering amongst the thousands, but her whispers are getting louder as more and more followers are flocking to her account to hear her advice and share their stories.

She is the voice formally known on Twitter as “DM Your Confessions,” and although the blogger behind Twitter account @SelfHarm_Advice has not yet amassed tens of thousands of followers like McKeever, the teen currently has 6,000 devoted fans, and her numbers continue to increase on a daily basis. Her story, and approach, is a little bit different than McKeever’s.

“Jessica,” who will not provide her last name because she wishes to remain anonymous in her efforts, often fell victim to acts of “relational aggression” from her classmates, which is a common type of bullying among girls; think Mean Girls, and only slightly less dramatic. Her supposed friends often made fun of her and whispered about her behind her back. “I felt like I had no one to trust, no friends,” she writes in a recent email. Yet, it was not her own experiences that led her to create the Twitter account, but the experiences of a dear friend. “I started my account last September, because one of my friends suffered from depression and anxiety, and she regularly self-harmed,” she writes in a recent email. “I felt like I didn’t do enough to help her, even though there wasn’t much I could do, except support her and be there for her.”

Jessica’s Twitter account asks her followers to use Twitter’s direct messaging service to privately write to her any confessions, whether they be problems dealing with bullying, depression or self-harm. She then publicly posts their messages to her account, without identifying the original sender, and, in a new twist, gives her followers a chance to offer their own advice and support. “I just felt that there should be an account on Twitter that people like [my friend] could go to, like a friend who would never judge and always try to help,” she writes. Also, by publicly posting messages detailing what other victims are going through, Jessica is showing all of her followers that they are not alone, and that, together, they can help each other get through the difficult times.

How does she offer enough advice in the 140-character limit Twitter? She doesn’t stick just to Twitter. Jessica recently asked her followers to tweet to her things that make them happy along with the hashtag #GiveALittleLove. She then sent personal cards to anyone who tweeted her something positive with a message telling them to stay strong.

It seems as though social media sites are the new “go to” to gain awareness and support for anti-bullying causes. “Social media has become the new hot thing, and it’s ubiquitous,” writes Drexel University psychology professor Charles Williams in a recent email. “Ergo, everything associated with it will get the same type of media saturation and attention.” He also adds that reporters are more motivated to write about the topic because of the recent, public strings of “bullycides,” which he defines as suicide caused by the effects of bullying.

Beyond the virtual world of Facebook and Twitter, bullied victims can find meaning and support in the lyrics of a great song. That’s why Canadian singer Angelo Marchelletta chose “Alive” to be the single released off his debut album. The song’s powerful lyrics highlight different storylines of children who fall victim to bullying and sadly meet death before their time.

At one moment in the song, Marchelletta sings, “There was a girl named Molly who walked down her high school hallway and everyone would always stare. They would point and they would laugh at her, and they would talk about her like she wasn’t there.” While at first, his lyrics might seem like a very typical scenario for a bullied teenage girl, Marchelletta isn’t afraid to “go there” and show the horrific effects that seemingly harmless teasing can have. The song continues: “And now she’s gone another victim of the morgue, and her family mourns, lighting candles in her name. There’s one deceased, but there’s two lives lost, because the mother’s at the bottom of the barrel trying to drown the pain.”

Better known by his fans as A-Lo, the singer grew up a constant victim of physical bullying in the rough neighborhoods of Windsor, Canada. In his neighborhood, teenage boys were divided into two categories: the “tough guys” and the one who got picked on. A victim of vicious physical fights and verbal bullying, Marchelletta says that peers bullied him so severely that eventually he saw no other option but to stand up to the bullies and fight back, sometimes physically.

He’s come a long way from his troubled past, and he’s using it to mold a brighter future for both himself and bullied victims. Today, the 27-year-old boasts close to 30,000 followers on Twitter and more than 3,000 likes on his Facebook fan page, with numbers on both sites increasing on a daily basis. He recently won the Regional Star Radio Award and made it to the finals for Canadian Music Week, in which he received third place.

So, why make “Alive” his debut single off his debut album? “I figured I’d use my publicity as an artist to reach out,” he says during a recent phone interview. “Not everybody’s strong enough to stand up for themselves, so that’s why I made the song. You want something to pick you up and make you feel better.” All proceeds made off the song will be donated to anti-bullying organizations.

The “Alive” music video opens with Marchelletta dressed casually in a college hoodie and holding up index cards, almost as though they’re cue cards, which he uses to tell his listeners why he created the video. He writes, “I hope this video gives you strength and helps change the world.”

Because he says he wanted the video to focus less on him and more on the bullying issue at hand, Marchelletta himself rarely appears in his music video except for a few short interludes in which the audience sees him singing. His first album, released on iTunes last week, is called “Northern Light,” a play off the Northern Lights, because he wants people to look to him for inspiration, as though he is the guiding light setting people free from their struggles.

Now with a two-month-old son, Mason, Marchelletta worries about the kinds of tormenting his son may one day face and wants to be the voice that bullied victims turn to in times of despair. So, what would Marchelletta tell Mason if he is unfortunate enough to experience bullying?

“That’s a really scary question,” he says. “I’d rather people stand up to make a point and stop the bullying instead of fighting. I’d tell him to speak up. Tell somebody.”

Richard Gallagher, Ph.D., is an associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at New York University’s School of Medicine. He agrees with Marchelletta’s advice. He says that he often gives lectures to parents on how they should tell their children to deal with the effects of bullying. He agrees that violence is not always the answer, but that it is sometimes better to teach children to stand up for themselves than to just ignore the acts.

So now that these three individuals have made their mark, either through social media or music, where do these anti-bullying advocates see themselves in the future?

Tyler McKeever, the Minnesota teen, is partnering with a suicide prevention collaborative program in the next couple weeks to make tee shirts and bracelets for his followers. He hopes to one day “score a seat on one of the big talk shows.”

Jessica, the UK founder of the up-and-coming @SelfHarm_Advice, hopes to gain more followers, she writes. “I just want to spread the love and let my followers and anyone else who is struggling with bullying know that they are worth so much more than the bullies make them feel.”

Singer A-Lo recently released his debut album and hopes to keep inspiring people through his music. “I want [bullied victims] to know that they’re not the only ones who have been in this situation,” he says.