CYBERBULLYING. by Caroline Hejja

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1 CYBERBULLYING by Caroline Hejja Considering the increased use of technology among students today, it is imperative that teachers and other school staff are aware of the types of activities that fall under the definition of cyberbullying, as well as the motivation behind students engagement in these activities. It is equally important to become informed of effective means of dealing with incidents of cyberbullying when they occur. Cyberbullying is defined as the use of any technological means of communication, such as , text messaging, websites, or discussion forums, to intentionally hurt, defame, or intimidate another. Cell phones are increasingly being used for cyberbulllying, as bullies may use pictures taken with cell phones to intimidate or embarrass others, or send frightening or degrading comments by phone text messaging. The proliferation of cyberbullying is of growing concern, and its effects are enormous. There have been reports of cyberbullying leading to suicide, school violence (including school murder), school failure, and school avoidance. Results of a recent survey conducted by the National Crime Prevention Council indicate that, nationwide, more than 40% of teens have been victims of taunts and threats via social network web sites, such as MySpace and Facebook, Instant Messages, or text messages from cell phones. Furthermore, 1 in 8 reported feeling scared enough to stay home from school due to these messages. Unlike cases of traditional bullying, size and strength are not issues when considering cyberbullying. Whereas most cases of traditional bullying involve a more powerful person or group attacking a less powerful one, it is not unusual for a less powerful person to use the Internet to engage in cyberbullying activities directed towards the more powerful. This is often the case when cyberbullying is utilized as someone s attempt at gaining revenge for previous ill treatment received from another. Girls are just as likely to be involved as online bullies as boys are. In fact, there is some indication that girls are more likely to engage in cyberbullying than boys, since girls are more inclined towards using the Internet and cell phones for communication, whereas boys are more likely to use technology to engage in gaming and violence against fictional characters. Traditionally, bullying among girls tends to be more indirect and verbal in nature and, therefore, more consistent with the characteristics of cyberbullying, whereas male bullying tends to be more physically or verbally direct. Forms of Cyberbullying Nancy Willard, M.S., J.D. (2007) has identified the following seven forms of cyberbullying: Flaming- Online fights using electronic messages with angry and vulgar language;

2 may include insults or threats Harassment- The repeated, ongoing sending of offensive, rude, and insulting messages to another Denigration- Dissing someone online by sending or posting derogatory comments, cruel gossip, or rumors about the person to damage his or her reputation or friendships; creating a web page or web site devoted to insulting another classmate or classmates Impersonation- Breaking into someone s account, posing as that person, and sending messages to make the person look bad, get that person in trouble or danger, or damage that person s reputation or friendships Outing and Trickery- Sharing someone s personal or embarrassing information or images online or via cellphone, or tricking someone into revealing secrets or embarrassing information, which is then shared online Exclusion- Intentionally designating someone for exclusion from an online group, like a buddy list, a gaming environment, or a group blog Cyberstalking- Repeatedly sending messages that include threats of harm or that are highly intimidating, or engaging in other online activities that make a person afraid for his/her safety Motivation for Cyberbullying The motivation for students engaging in cyberbullying is the same as that which motivates those who engage in offline bullying. Bullying gives the student a sense of power over his/her victim. However, unlike traditional bullying, cyberbullies usually do not see or hear the effects of their threats or teasing, therefore they are less likely to feel uncomfortable regarding their actions or feel empathy for their victims as they might had they witnessed their victims responses face-to-face. Therefore, more students are likely to engage in cyberbullying than would bully another if it meant facing their victims personally. Additionally, cyberbullies have the advantage of being able to attack from their computers or cellphones while hiding behind the anonymity of screen names or online persona. They often communicate in a way that is unknown by adults and away from adult supervision. Therefore, the risk of being caught is lessened, although the harm caused by their actions can be enormous, as hurtful messages can be communicated to an incredibly wide audience within a remarkably short period of time. In addition, cyberbullying is often beyond the legal reach of schools when it occurs outside of school property and time. Although cyberbullying may be less personalized for the bully, it can be far more invasive and personal to the victim than traditional bullying might be. Cyberbullying invades others personal space in the form of their own cell phones, boxes, or homes. Unlike schoolyard bullying, cyberbullying can occur any time and any place, and it is almost impossible for a victim of cyberbullying to walk away or avoid his/her attacker. In addition, in most instances, although the cyberbully knows the victim, the victim does not know the identity of the attacker. Victims are sometimes fearful of

3 reporting cyberbullying to adults, fearing that adults will over-react and take away their cell phone, computer, or Internet access. Dealing with Cyberbullying within the School Setting All schools should have a clear anti-harassment policy that includes definite guidelines for the acceptable use of technology in the classroom and clearly defined consequences for misuse. The Broward County Code of Student Conduct indicates that disciplinary action will be taken against those who engage in cyberbullying or who use district technology to libel another student or staff member. Although there are currently no laws directly addressing when a school may monitor and search student Internet use records or files, generally accepted standards based upon the outcome of cases regarding the search and seizure of a student s personal possessions in the school setting have been applied in these instances. Students should have a clear understanding that there is a limited expectation of privacy when using technology on school property. This may be accomplished by giving students a clear notice that Internet use on school property is likely to be monitored. Posting such a notice at each computer station may serve as a deterrent in itself. Routine monitoring may lead to the discovery that a student has been involved in the misuse of school technology. It is generally agreed that an individual search may occur if there is reasonable suspicion that a user has violated district policy or broken the law. Based upon the outcome of previous cases, it is recommended that individual searches only occur upon the approval of an authorized staff member, generally the administrator who is responsible for the student, and that they be conducted by the district s technology director or someone designated by the technology director. Communication is important, both as an attempt to deter cyberbullying and as a means of dealing with it. It is important that communication occur between the schools technology department and the committee involved in school safety issues. Getting the topic of cyberbullying on the school s agenda to be discussed with students, parents, other staff, and administrators may result in increased awareness and vigilance. Teachers should talk with their classes, perhaps using news stories about cyberbullying for the purpose of opening discussions. In addition, school personnel should provide a way for students to anonymously report instances of cyberbullying while letting them know that all reports will be taken seriously and that the privacy of the reporter will be respected. Students will be more likely to report if they are assured that adults understand and that they will attempt to take action to stop the harm. Some other recommendations related to school-based cyberbullying include: Expanding current bullying/threat report procedures to specifically include cyberbullying and cyberthreats

4 Surveying classes to gain feedback on the occurrence of cyberbullying Educating students regarding ethical issues in the appropriate use of technology, (Banning and filtering sites alone will not stop cyberbullying, but may only drive the problem deeper, or off campus, making it more difficult to deal with.) Making students aware that it is illegal to use technology to make threats of physical harm to another and that it may be illegal to post derogatory information about another with the intent to harm Striking at the assumption of anonymity that is behind a lot of cyberbullying by explaining how identities can be tracked through IP addresses, headers, and other information; No one is truly anonymous on the web. Making sure that students know the steps to take if they are being harassed, intimidated, or ridiculed through IM s, , text messages, or web sites; sites and services have terms of use that prohibit the posting of harmful material and they will remove harmful content and terminate the membership of the offender, but someone must report it. When Cyberbullying Occurs Outside the School Setting The law is extremely unclear related to administrators rights to intervene in instances of off-campus cyberbullying, especially as it applies to personal cell phone use away from school grounds. A recent Federal case determined that the review of cell phone records by school officials in such cases could be considered a violation of state wire-tapping law. However, it is generally agreed that school districts are within their legal rights to intervene in cyberbullying incidents, even those initiated off-campus, if those incidents result in a substantial disruption of the educational environment. Cyberbullying activity that is occurring off campus should be reported to parents. School personnel may assist victims parents by informing them of the steps they might take to stop the cyberbullying and to have all harmful material removed from web sites. Parents can file a complaint with the Internet service provider, web site, or cell phone company. They might send a letter to the parents of the cyberbully if the school does not do so. In addition, parents may consider contacting an attorney if the cyberbullying is extensive, as it could justify civil litigation. Parents may contact the police in cases of severe cyberbullying. An incident may be a violation of criminal laws if it involves death threats; threats of violence; excessive harassment or extortion; threats that involve discrimination based on race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation; or any evidence of sexual exploitation. Schools have a responsibility for the safety of students and to assure that every student receives an education without substantial interference. Although less visible, the resulting harm from cyberbullying may reach further and deeper than the harm caused by traditional schoolyard bullying. All school personnel must understand that bullying in any form is unacceptable; and they must be willing to become involved in prevention and application of consequences to those who violate school rules and policies.

5 Resources Related to Cyberbullying for Educators This website has numerous resources for educators, including the Educators Guide to Cyberbullying, an online tutorial for educators, teacher lesson plans related to cyberbullying, online video clips with activity cards, downloadable posters, and links to view other school districts policies on cyberbullying. This website has information and recommendations for teens regarding cyberbullying. This website has numerous resources for educators, parents, and youth related to internet safety, including three Real Life Cyberbullying stories with activity cards and related news articles that may be used in facilitating classroom discussion. Willard, N. (2007). Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats: Responding to the Challenge of Online Social Agression, Threats, and Distress, Champaign, IL: Research Press.

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