Cyberbullying simply refers to the act of bullying online. This type of bullying can consist of any of the following actions committed by an individual or group to another individual or group:
- Threats of violence
- Hate speech
- Peer pressure
- Psychological abuse
Further, these offenses are often committed by people impersonating someone else, anonymously, or under the guise of a group, making accountability and preventability difficult.
The definition of cyberbullying has broadened over the years since it has expanded to include any number of internet connected devices, web sites, behaviors, victims, and victimizers. For example, in its earliest incarnations, cyberbullying mostly consisted of one person or small group of people attacking each other via an internet-enabled desktop computer. These earlier offenses, while certainly harmful, had some limitations in the amount of damage they could cause because:
- Most computer usage was still limited to desktop computers
- Broadband internet connectivity was more limited
- Most mobile devices were not equipped with cameras and/or data services
- Social Networks were not mainstream
Given these constraints, you did not hear about it as much as it was generally less frequent, and was usually confined to smaller groups.
Today, things are different. Most homes and schools have broadband connectivity, portable Internet enabled computers and devices prevail, most mobile phones have photo, video, and data services, and socializing online has long hit mainstream. Given the pervasiveness and social acceptance of these technologies, it has become very easy for one person to not only capture and share information easily, but for that information to spread almost instantly.
The cyber bullying statistics can be quite daunting. For example, a study done by isafe.org on 1,500 students grades 4-8 found the following1:
- 42% of kids have been bullied while online. 1 in 4 have had it happen more than once.
- 35% of kids have been threatened online. Nearly 1 in 5 have had it happen more than once.
- 21% of kids have received mean or threatening e-mail or other messages.
- 58% of kids admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online. More than 4 out of 10 say it has happened more than once.
- 53% of kids admit having said something mean or hurtful to another person online. More than 1 in 3 have done it more than once.
- 58% have not told their parents or an adult about something mean or hurtful that happened to them online.
So what does this mean for the victims? A recent survey conducted by Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin at cyberbullying.us yielded the following results:
"Looking at the most recent victims of cyber bullying, both boys and girls are likely to report feeling angry, sad, and embarrassed. Slightly more girls than boys feel frustrated, while significantly more boys are scared as a result of cyberbullying." 2
Cyberbullying varies dramatically from offline bullying in many ways. For starters, the torment is no longer limited to face-to-face interactions in a controlled environment. It now carries over from the schoolyard, to the home, and the entire online community. Also, as mentioned above, bullies can come in all shapes and sizes, with either known or unknown identities. No longer is it about the one big bully picking on the smaller kid in the schoolyard. Anyone with an Internet connection of any kind can bully almost anyone else. Further, not only is cyber bullying more difficult to prevent, it can spread very quickly and leave a permanent online trail that can have devastating long-term consequences for both the bullied and the bully.
The effects of cyberbullying can hurt and hurt quickly. There have been numerous stories in the news of children, teens, and young adults who have been driven to suicide or violent crime as a result of being bullied online. While these tend to be the more extreme cases, it can have a serious detrimental effect on a victim's self-esteem, emotional well-being, and sense of personal safety. As a result, this can often lead to any number of further negative consequences including, but not limited to depression, despondence, self-destructive behavior and poor performance in school or work just to name a few.
Parents and teachers are best equipped to recognize changes in behavior that might be the result of cyberbullying. Communication with your child, his/her teachers, coaches, and friends is a must. Also, being "friends" with your child online and understanding how they "live" online as well as offline will not only help you to stay informed, but can also let your child know that you are there. Opinions for cyberbullying safety vary greatly on this issue, and certainly vary based on the age of the child in question. Whether you do or don't become online friends with your child, a discussion with your child about it can't hurt.
Talk to your child, make sure they are OK, and make sure they know you are on their side. Some children can be embarrassed or ashamed of the situation they might find themselves in. It is important to have an open dialogue with them to ensure their cyber safety. You can follow these Cyber safety tips for parents.
Next, if the offenses are serious enough, you should consider contacting your child's school and/or your local law enforcement agency. Just because it happens online, you should not take these offenses lightly. Also, be sure to NOT erase any traces of what you find online as these traces (e.g. comments, messages, photos, etc.) can help in taking action against a cyber bully.
Finally, contact the web site(s), social networks, or mobile phone providers that might have been used as a platform for these offenses. They most often take these offenses seriously and are willing to help stop and prevent these behaviors.
Cyberbullying legislation has been introduced in New York, Missouri, Rhode Island and Maryland. In June, 2008, Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) and Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.) proposed a federal law that would criminalize acts of cyberbullying. 3