Monday, August 6, 2012


Most parents don’t know how to deal with cyberbullying. It is a relatively new phenomenon that we simply never had to face when we were growing up. In fact, many parents will discount the damage cyberbullying can do. The fact that there is no physical contact involved can make cyberbullying seem like a mild issue. The truth is, cyberbullying is a very serious problem and accounts for some of the most aggressive behavior seen in our youth, which accounts for it’s role in many teen suicides.

Why do kids cyberbully? Why not just pick on each other face to face? What do kids get out of cyberbullying each other? The blanket answer to those questions is convenience.

· Anonymity/pseudonymity: kids can harass and bully each other behind the cloak of invisibility. Which limits the possibility of repercussions and allows a bully to behave in more extreme ways than they would in the real world. People tend to give themselves permission to behave in ways that they wouldn’t dream of in real world just knowing that others will not know who they really are. This is called disinhibition. The fact that a computer screen is in empassive object, and the bully doesn’t have to be exposed to the distress they are causing except in a remote way can also amplify disinhibition.

· Lack of supervion: As kids are often left to their electronic devices, even in their own bedrooms and with little moderation going on in chat rooms, message boards, etc. they know that they can get away with more. Parents don’t often check their youths cell phones and computers, much of the time, the teenagers know far more about them than their parents do. This helps them to hide activities easily that they don’t want their parents to see.

· Viral Nature: The “grapevine” most of us remember from our school days is taken to a new level in todays modern world. Mass emails and texts can spread gossip, rumors or even humiliating videos and pictures instantaneously to a multitude of people. Once it has been sent out, it can be impossible to retrieve as the information being sent is sent and forwarded, copied and reposted again and again. While traditional bullying is typically shared by a few, which is bad enough, cyberbullying is usually shared by an entire community of peers and can drag on endlessly as the “joke” never seems to die.

· Limitless vicitimization risk: The phrase, “tethered to your tormenter” is described in the book “Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard” as the nature of cyberbullying being one of limitless interaction between a bully and target. With traditional bullying, as kids leave school for the safety of their homes, they can catch a break from their harassers and even find solice in the comfort of their family members. But with cyberbullying, they may be pestered day and night with hateful texts or emails. A group of bullies may gang up on a target and bomboard their phone, email or social networking page with threats and hateful messages. Cyberbullying isn’t only limited to interactions over the internet. As it is defined by “Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard, cyberbullying involves the use of computers, cellphones and other electronic devices.

· Email: A bully can send mass emails, making fun of or threatening their target with the click of a mouse. Some social groups report the ability for members to create personalized lists of recipients, tailored to the content they wish to send. As many communities, especially schools but also churches, clubs and other organizations will keep member lists with contact information including email addresses available to other members, a bully can easily compile a list of contacts specific for the purpose of bullying or harrassing a peer.

· Chatrooms: Becausee chatrooms are basically anonymous, many users will say whatever comes to mind with little care for consequences. They can be very hostile places and are commonly avoided by teens who fear being bullied. They are often unchaperoned, and conversations can turn vulgar and hateful easily.

· Voting/Rating sites: There are websites on the internet, whose sole purpose is to allow users to rate a persons appearance. Bullies will sometimes upload a picture of a target, with the intention that they will be rated as “ugly” or “not” (hot) by perfect strangers, they will then send the link to their target. There have been instances where students set up websites such as these, to specifically rate their classmates or teens in their communities. They may title these as, “Vote for the ugliest guy in Nameofschool” and the person with the most votes will be informed of it. For adolescents, who are already typically sensitive about their appearance, a bad rating can be devastating.

· Blogging, virtual worlds, online gaming: Blogs, or online journals such as those hosted by Blogger, Wordpress, Open Diary, Live Journal and others are online diaries where a user can write about various topics. Many teenagers will blog about their lives and everyday situations. As these blogs invite readers to comment, a bully may use this feature to threaten or insult the blogger.

Virtual worlds such as There, Second Life, Active Wolrds, Keneva or IMVU are cyber “realities” or simulated enviroments where users take on avatars to represent themselves and interact as they would in real life.

Gaming sites, such as World of Warcraft, a massivly multiplayer online role playing game, have similar capabilities and as these venues allow users to communicate and interact, the same opportunities for bullying occur within them.

· IM’ing, or instant messaging are a way for people to have a conversation in real time, over a computer. This is often done as a user browses the internet, and unlike chatrooms, is private only to one or a few people who are invited into the conversation. Bullies can harass a target by sending messages over the IM and they may sometimes take on a pseudonym to hide their identiy. If a user knows a targets screen name, they can look them up so that even if the target blocks the identity of the harasser, it is very easy for the bully to make a new identity and go right back to bullying them. Several bullies ganging up on a target can make it difficult for that person nto communicate with their buddies, web surf, or do their homework while on their computer.

Another way a bully may use IM against a target would be that as a friend, they have a seemingly innocent conversation where the target divulges incriminating information and the friend may save the conversation to use against them later. More than one “Best friend” has turned on a pal and told others of a secret that was confided to them. IM’ing allows that to be taken further, as entire private conversations may be recorded and sent in emails or posted on facebook. It’s also possible for an IM to be edited once it has been saved, and many people have been accused of saying things that they hadn’t, but it is impossible to tell whether they did or did not.

· Cellphones: What teenager isn’t attached to their cellphone? While texting is a normal part of most adolescents lives, hurtful or threatening text messages are not uncommon. However, text messaging in school can also be a way for bullies to plan calculated attacks on a target. By now, most phones can capture photos or video. Not only are instances of bulling captured and posted online or sent in emails and texts, but many cameras are being taken into bathrooms or locker rooms to capture embarrassing images. People may even secretly “spy” on others with their cameras in hope of capturing them doing something silly or embarrassing.

With all of those tools available to cyberbully, there are a whole host of uses teenagers today can put them to in order to torment one another.

· Photoshopping: Photoshopping is a term applied to doctoring a photo digitally. This can sometimes be done for comedic effect, where it is obvious to the viewer that the picture has been tampered with. Sometimes, however, it is not always obvious that an image was altered. Photoshopping a target into a compramizing position can humiliate them, or it can get them into serious trouble when they are shown to be engaging in lewd and unacceptable behavior such as performing sex acts, or drinking or doing drugs, and those pictures find their way to parents or people of authority.

· Spreading rumors: Before the internet, rumor spreading was pretty common and was damaging enough when it was simply word of mouth. While traditional gossiping is still a large problem, it is even more problematic when we consider the scope that is available through techonology and the impostering capabilities available today.

· Flaming/Trolling: Flaming is posting hostile messages online which are meant to “inflame” others. This may occur in a chatroom or message board or any venue where comments are welcome. There are people who spend large amounts of time searching out these places and posting hateful comments. On websites where users can post their creative abilities, for instance, flamers might comment that they thought the piece was “total crap” and that the poster should refrain from posting any more. Trolling is similar, except that the troll seeks to insult individuals in a group, not the content of a discussion. Many believe most trolls or flamers are simply bored or angry teenagers who think it’s funny to go around hurting peoples feelings.

· Identity theft: This is a huge problem for many teenagers, just as it is for adults. The implications can be quite serious and therefore I consider this to be one of the most damaging forms of bullying. Identiy theft, or impostering, can occur when an account is “hacked” or hijacked by someone and used under the guise of the real user. It can also occur when a new account is made under the targets name by a person who intends to spread lies about them. Many people who use facebook will tell you that it is not uncommon for a person to walk off and leave their profile open and a friend or relative to post something cute or silly while posing as them. Most of the time, it is obvious that the person has been “hacked”. But it’s not always, nor is it always carelessness on the part of the target that brought about the hijacking. Friends will sometimes share passwords as a sign of trust, only to have that trust breached when an argument arises. Sometimes a bully can guess what a password is. Once an account – whether social network, email, IM, etc. is hijacked for malicious purposes, the bully can send out hurtful messages to their targets friends and contacts in order to get everyone angry at them. They may say things that aren’t true, such claiming to have had sexual encounters or tried drugs or stolen someones boyfriend away, etc. Once an account has been hijacked in this way, it is also then common for the bully to change the password to prevent the target from deleting or altering the content.

· Happy Slapping: This refers to capturing physical bullying on camera or on video, and then sharing it with others. There have been many reports of bullies beating up a target and the footage later posted on Youtube or elsewhere online for all to see. Apart from spreading the humiliation of the target, is the further devastation of the target at having to see and relive the incident again and again in cases where bullies repeatedly send them the images, post them on their social network sites or text it to them.

· Sharing personal information: Before the internet, you would sometimes hear of someones private phone number being posted on a bathroom wall next to a slanderous caption, “for a good time, call Brandy”. The victim of such an act would have to suffer through occasional or an onslought of perverted phone calls and may even have to go as far as calling up the phone company and having their number changed. This scenario is frequently referred to on t.v. shows as comedic fodder, but it used to be a way for a boy to humiliate or degrade a girl after he used her for sex, or used as a revenge tactic by angry girls.

Today, however, the internet has it’s own much more sinister version of this practice. At various online places, a photo of a target may be shared along with their phone number, email, even their home address with a caption requesting sexual partners or abuse. The truly terrifying aspect of this type of bullying is the vastenss of the internet and the fact that this information may be disclosed to very dangerous people who would happily accept the invited request. The bully may feel that the anonymity of the internet will provide them safety if they do such a thing, but there are now detectives who work in or with the police department that can trace posts like this back to their source. Of all of the laws on social ettiquite that have been introduced regarding the internet, sharing ones personal information with the intention of bringing harm or placing them in such danger is among the most highly punished.

With the overwhelming vastness that is cyberbullying to contend with, there are ways parents can help protect their teenagers. And that does not simply mean to keep your child from the internet. As it is so eloquently explained in “Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard”, to deny your child the right to use the internet simply because it can be a hazardous playground would be taking away a useful and even necessary tool that has many great attributes. Many kids have to use the internet for school, and even if they didn’t, it’s not right to punish the target of a bully by taking away their use of technology. Unfortunately, because the whole of cyberbullying is overwhelming, most parents see this as the simplest and most practical solution.

Many youth fear telling their parents when they are being victimized specifically because they fear their parents response will be an undeserved grounding. Besides that, most teenagers will attest that the cyberworld and the real world are so ingrained with one another, any bullying that is unseen by the target in the space of an evening will simply be heaped upon them the next day at school.

So, what can we do as parents? As with most potentially harmful situations, prevention is key. “Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard” recommends the following:

· Maintain open communication.

· Teach your child internet safety, especially from a young age.

· Treat the internet like the rest of the world – do not just allow your child free unlimited access.

· Go online with your child, ask them to show you around and see the places they frequent.

· Monitor their activities and be upfront about it.

· Schools, parents and law enforcement must all work together to keep kids safe on the internet as well as the real world.

They also offer this advice for kids:

· Protect your personal information. NEVER tell anyone on the internet your phone number, full name, or home address.

· Protect your passwords. As much as you may trust a friend, you should never give them the passwords to any of your accounts.

“Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard” also offers this advice if your child has already been targeted for cyberbullying:

· Make sure your child is safe
· Collect evidence
· Contact the school
· Contact the parents of the offender
· Contact the service provider
· Contact police, if threats are involved

In the case where you find your child is using the internet or cellphone to bully others:

· Talk about the hurtful nature of bullying
· Apply reasonable consequences
· Set limits and stick to them
· Consider installing tracking software
· Closely monitor computer/cellphone usage
· Convey firmer consequences if the behavior continues
As important as parents, educators and law enforcement, witness of bullying behavior can play a vital roll in ending bullying behavior. Teach your child what to do if they witness bullying behavior on the internet:

· Document what they see and when they see it · Don’t encourage the behavior · Don’t forwaard hurtful messages
· Don’t laugh at inappropriate jokes
· Don’t condone the behavior just to fit in
· Stand up for the victim
· Tell an adult they trust

Just as it is often up to adults and kids alike to prevent and stop bullying in its traditional sense, we need to do the same for cyberbullying. But as with the size and endless scope of the internet can be hard to detect bullying behavior, it is the very reason parents, educators and even law enforcement must be all the more diligent. Sources
Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard; by Justin Atchin, Sameer Hinduja

Do you monitor your childs online activity? Have you or your child dealt with cyberbullies? How did you handle it?

No comments:

Post a Comment