This Distressing PSA Captures the Horrors of Bullying in the Facebook Era

Meet Betty B., the ultimate frenemy

"Betty B. goes to my school. This is my school."

In "Betty B.," a PSA written, directed, shot and edited by Matt Bieler, represented by Los Angeles-based Reset Content, a crisp young voice recounts her relationship with a girl from school. As she describes how Betty B. courted her trust, from saying hello to teaching her how to put lipstick on, we see flashes of the places and objects around which their friendship bloomed. 

"I like having a friend," our protagonist muses, as she adds Betty B. on Facebook.

Halfway through the film, the narrative starts over. Same images, different relationship dynamics. See how it all plays out:

There's a nostalgic quality to "Betty B." that brings "Stranger Things" to mind. Its graininess and visual clues feel locked onto our childhoods: Those swings with the black bottoms, the prefab classroom buildings, that well-used eraser on the end of a No. 2 pencil, so close to our faces that we remember the smell… 

The decision to avoid using people or faces also cultivates a realism that makes it feel personal. This could be anyone's story, barring the fact that, as kids, we were lucky enough not to have social media. 

Because god damn, we don't envy the kids today. Their terrors don't end after school or with prank calls, which were so easy to block or ignore. Like a persistent leak, social keeps us drowning in our relationships, for better or worse, all our waking hours.

The film's climactic moment—when Betty B. tells our protagonist, on Facebook, to kill herself—sets the tale in modern times, lending tangible credence to a sense of isolation that felt more bearable pre-social media. It also underscores a moment when "frenemies"—friends who are enemies, a phenomenon we handle with relative ease as adults—can pivot into sinister threats. 

We never really learn how things turn out, but "Betty B." is apparently inspired by a true story that "did not end well," according to Bieler's publicist. 

The ads tell us that "83 percent of girls and 79 percent of boys report being bullied either in school or online." It's a staggering statistic that lulls us into believing bullies are so common we can almost write them off, like a bad case of flies around watermelon. But bullies are powerful: Regardless of how common our experiences may be, their ability to zero in on our insecurities can make us feel uniquely unworthy. 

When our narrator talks about Betty B. becoming her friend, there's something that tells us Betty B. is all she's got, is possibly even her crash course in friendship, compounding her influence. So, if Betty B. suddenly decides you don't deserve to breathe, well…

Bieler is an award-winning commercial director. You can feel the strength of his chops in "Betty B." It's minimalist but visceral, guiding us down a potent path that begins in cozy nostalgia and concludes by scraping at our sense of alarm. 

Our only critique of "Betty B." is how helpless it leaves us. There is no association to volunteer with or offer money to (it's not connected to any client), and no website that provides well-meaning tips for mentorship or talking about bullying. As the video's Vimeo description notes, "Over 67 percent of students believe that schools respond poorly to bullying, with a high percentage of students believing that adult help is infrequent and ineffective."

We don't think adults lack awareness; it's more that the impact of social on bullying—from humiliating YouTube videos to Snapchat's disappearing taunts—is so overwhelmingly new that it escapes us. Public resources for helping to manage bullying can often seem like too small of a Band-Aid for a gushing wound, but it's still helpful to remind parents of how important it is to keep the problem in their sights and monitor kids' relationships—even if they don't say much. 

When my sister was 10, she signed up for Facebook for the first time. My mother called me, perplexed, to ask if it was appropriate, and I had no idea; Facebook was young, and it felt strange to lack a frame of reference. 

She would later be bullied there and on YouTube, where she'd uploaded videos that we thought were creative and cute. It made us all feel exposed and helpless. And while she's fine today, it still isn't clear how we could have made those years easier for her without squashing her creativity and infecting her with our fears. 

It's still too soon to know how these kids will digest these experiences as adults. But maybe when they get there, they'll be better equipped to know what to do. 

CREDITS
Director/Writer/DP/Editor: Matt Bieler
Voice: Lola
Music: Chris Newlin
Color: Santiago Padilla
Flame Artist: David Hernandez