With the advent and increased use of web tools, such as social networking websites like MySpace, Facebook, Xanga, and others, bullying has evolved and now involves the use of technology. I guess as human beings we have learned how to adapt as life goes on. Bullying has adapted from school yard antics to cyberbullying. Cyberbullying involves communication using technology, as a result, the intentions may be different. With that said, what is cyberbullying? Cyberbullying according to Wikipedia is "...the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others." It has been said that cyberbullying is worse than bullying. Watch this video titled Cyberbullying Worse than Bullying on abcnews about a comparison of the two and decide for yourself.
Cyberbullying can take many forms. According to http://www.isafe.org/ these include:
- A threatening email
- Nasty instant messaging session
- A website set up to mock others
- Forwarding supposedly private messages, pictures, or videos to others
- "Borrowing" someone's screen name and pretending to be them
- Repeated notes sent to a cell phone
To what extent are teenagers being affected by cyberbullying? According to Do Something.org "35% of kids have been threatened online; nine of ten middle school students have had their feelings hurt online; 75% have visited a website bashing students; 21% have recieved mean or threatening emails; 56% of victimizing occurs in chat rooms; girls are twice as likely to be victims in comparison to boys; 58% of the kids admit that someone has said mean or hurtful things online; and in a national survey of 10-17 year olds, twice as many children indicated they had been victims and perpetuators of online harrassment in 2005 compared with 2000." I have by no means exhausted all eleven facts on cyberbullying that is posted on this website.
Without a doubt, as with everything in life, there have been several results of cyberbullying. The fact is that, though we are all human beings, the ways in which we would react to the various things in life is not the same. One of the many end results of cyberbullying has been suicide. Some individuals would just put a case of being cyberbullied aside. However, as I said before, everyone is not the same. The reaction to cyberbullying may even lead to death. One case that comes to mind is Megan Meier (feel free to peruse her story via this link). This was a thirteen-year-old girl who had a MySpace profile and had met someone online. She was given the consent of her parents to speak with the young man named "Josh Evans". The initial month went by without any event that would have contributed to the child's suicide. However, the child then recieved a message from Josh, who it was later found out to be the mother of one of Megan's friend that lived four houses from her and her friend, that said that "the world would be a better place without her." This lead to the child hanging herself.
According to an article titled US Cyberbullying laws do little to deter behavior, "because of Megan's case, people are paying attention" says Peter Aftab who is a lawyer the executive director of WiredSafety.org. The article goes on to point out that many "...states now have laws targeting internet harrassment and cyberstalking." One such state is North Carolina who has the H.B. 1261 Protect Our Kids/ Cyber Bullying Misdemeanor. This bill is said to make it a misdemeanor "depending on the accused's age, to send repeated communications to a minor, or post real or doctored photos or post private or personal info about a minor with the intent to intimidate or torment the minor." Additionally, in North Carolina according to the bill mentioned earlier "cyberbullying which is an offense shall be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor (more than six months in prison) if the defendant is 18 years of age or older... the offense becomes a Class 2 (must be more than 30 days but not more than six months)misdemeanor if the defendant is under 18 years old..."
On the other hand, what about the first amendment? In particular the section of the first amendment which says that "Congress shall make no laws... prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech..." Yet is it right to harrass a teenager to the point where the teen commits suicide? According to Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School District case from 1969 students who threaten or harass students from home using school equipment can face the "...possibility of school discipline under the 'substantial disruption of the educational environment'..." As a result, it has been said that "in the area of speech... the law must be clear so that people can easily discern the distinction between criminal activity and the exercise of fundamental constitutional rights."
On the other hand, what about bullying that does not involve school equipment? What happens then? That would definitely be the time when the law of the land will come into play. Like I said before many states now have laws against cyberbullying. Parents and teenagers need to be aware of their rights. They need to also be aware of the availability of support through websites such as WiredSafety.org which is said to be "the world's largest Internet safety, help, and education resource." This website offers a mosaic of information such as, cyberlaw, cybercrime, and information about ways to use the internet safely.
Additionally, students must be taught to respect each other. It should never be taken for granted that teenagers automatically give respect to each other. There should be consequences as well set by parents that are aware of cases that their children may be involved in. Watch this video titled Cyberbullying: Moms Fight Back. These students should be made to close their accounts by parents if needed. Parents and students alike need to be aware of the various privacy feature that social networking websites may offer, for example, Facebook is now, as of April 28, 2010, offering a certain degree of privacy by allowing individuals and their friends to share information that only they will view, many other websites don't offer this feature. Here is a tutorial about how that privacy on facebook would work that is done by WiredSafety.org.
What are schools doing to protect their students? Often times when schools get involve in the disciplining of students that may be a cyberbully, they are often sued. According to stopcyberbullying.com they often lose. According to the same website they "... recommend that a provision is added to the school's acceptable use policy reserving the right to discipline the student for actions taken off campus... this makes it a contractual and not a constitutional issue." At my school, though there is currently no policy as it relates to addressing cyberbullying. However, there are several teachers that have been meeting with the students and promoting the safe use of the internet. Tutorials have been emailed to students and parents about proper internet use and ways to protect themselves and how to deal with cyberbullying. Parents and students may also submit questions in response to their emails and ask questions concerning specific information regarding an issue they may be facing. This initiative is chaired by one of the school's Assistant Principal. It has been proposed that the middle schools and elementary schools be included in this initiative. This is awaiting the approval of the Superintendent. I am sure that based on the high occurrence of cyberbullying in our society that will be approved soon.
What have other schools done that have worked that could also be adopted? One preventative measure that I found striking was Gay Straight Alliance in a public school that was said to have been the first of its kind. This was a group that was formed at Newton South High School in Newton, Massachusetts by Mr. Bob Parlin in the 1990's. This group is now a "...national network that provides a powerful dose of social and emotional learning for students of every orientation." The aim is to teach the students tolerance. By doing this it is hoped that the incidence of cyberbullying that would be sparked based on an issue like this would be minimal. Of course there is still work to be done, but measures like this will help to boost tolerance and acceptance. Other groups could be formed that would focus on teaching tolerance in other areas and acceptance of the differences that individuals may have.
Educators must teach and model for students conflict resolution techniques. Students must be taught varied ways that conflicts can be resolved. I am sure that many will say that parents should do that. In all honesty many parents do. However, educators spend a lot of time daily with the students and nothing is wrong with teaching the students ways to resolve conflicts. In one school in Brooklyn, New York, there is a program called Resolving Conflict Creatively which teaches the students how to identify, manage, and communicate in a nonviolent way. One may wonder what does this have to do with cyberbullying? It is important to note that, cyberbullying involves communications that may be violent and threatening in nature. A program like this "educates the heart [which] is as important as educating the mind...". Obviously, if you know how to resolve issues nonviolently then chances are that, like the students at the Patrick Daly School is being taught, you will be less likely to participate or inititate acts of cyberbullying because you know better. Please watch this video it may touch your heart as it did mine. You may even want to inititate a program like this at your school. We have modelled a club like this at my school. It is not apart of the curriculum, however, the students are exposed to it at club meetings. Teachers also reinforce this in their lessens that may involve conflict resolution.
Last but by no means least here are a few preventative techniques that could be employed by students as they use the internet:
- One should never give out private information such as passwords for it can be used by a bully in a harmful way. Not even friends should be given the password. Friendships can turn sour like milk. If that happens they will reveal your password.
- Don't send or respond to messages when angry. Once something is said it is hard to "take it back."
- Don't post pictures online. This will lessen the likelihood of someone cutting and pasting an image on your picture that may be derogatory.
- Messages from people that a student does not know should be deleted.
- Don't send information over the internet to individuals that you may never have met.
- Trust your instinct. If it doesn't feel right then chances are that it isn't.
- Online conversations are not private. Therefore, don't discuss private information.
- Never post personal information such as, home address, contact number, social security number and other information.
- View the picture below...
One thing that is for sure is that cyberbullying happens daily. There are definitely ways that one can protect his or herself, a few of which I have highlighted. I believe that parents, students, and educators all have their role to play in combatting this problem, a few of which I have mentioned. The state has its role to play as it seeks to protect the citizens of the country. Adminstrators have their role to play as they ensure that the school environment is safe and conducive to learning. I hope that you found this blog informative and understand that there is no way that all cyberbullying issues could have been discussed, however, a few were outlined.