What was once confined to the school yard has expanded into cyberspace, and these days, cyberbullies are causing more than just hurt feelings. Studies suggest that more than 42% of kids have been bullied while online. With serious results in many cyberbullying cases, including suicide, it is a concept that definitely deserves the attention of computer users on a worldwide basis.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullies use various aspects of technology to threaten, harass, or embarrass other internet users. Victims are often teens or preteens who live in the same area or attend the same school district as the cyberbully.
On a fairly frequent basis, cyberbullies send e-mails, instant messages, or text messages to the intended victim’s mobile phone or computer. Cyberbullying can also include leaving hurtful messages on a victim’s blog. From threats of physical harm to willfully disclosing personal data and photos to many other internet users, the harmful behavior perpetrated by cyberbullies tends to defame and embarrass victims. The cyberbullies of today tend to be the victims of yesterday, and bullies and victims trade roles on a fairly regular basis.
Cyberbullying can occur directly or indirectly. In the case of direct bullying, one bully communicates with just one victim. The messages they trade back and forth are only between the two of them. In the case of indirect bullying, others are involved in the process. Often adults are involved, and few of the bullies know the victim. Whether they manage to get the victim’s IM account or blog banned or they encourage others to post horrible information about the victim, the danger is very real because so many individuals are ganging up on the victim. With more bullies comes more power and more damage.
Just One Example
On October 17, 2006, teenager Megan Meier committed suicide. Soon after opening a MySpace account, Megan had begun to correspond with an individual whose screen name was ‘Josh Evans.’ While the two spend some time corresponding, the tone of the correspondence changed dramatically in October. ‘Josh Evans’ sent several hurtful messages to Megan. The final one read, “The world would be better off without you.” Megan hung herself that evening. Federal prosecutors are currently considering charges of both wire fraud and cyber fraud against the cyberbully who called herself ‘Josh Evans.’
The Causes of Cyberbullying
Cyberbullies tend to be motivated by many different things. From anger at their victims to frustration with the world around them, cyberbullies often have a jumble of emotions that lead them to harass victims. Some cyberbullies even attack victims for entertainment or power. With so many aspects of technology at any given bully’s disposal, cyberbullying is neither difficult nor uncommon.
Unfortunately, experts don’t think all of the causes of cyberbullying are related to the causes behind traditional bullying. Studies have shown that both the type of communication that occurs and the demographics involved with cyberbullying tend not to correlate with those of their offline counterparts, leaving lots of parents, school officials, and researchers in the dark as to the exact causes.
What You Can Do About It
The best way to handle cyberbullying is to prevent it from ever occurring. Educating potential victims and creating awareness campaigns can help to stop the process. Ensuring that both schools and parents are involved with internet use as a whole may also help to prevent it from occurring. Teaching kids to keep their information safe while online is another way to prevent cyberbullying.
If it does occur, it is essential that it be addressed immediately. While it may not be a case for law enforcement, getting the Internet Service Provider (ISP) and/or host site involved is probably a good idea. Keep in mind that every cyber bully attack is different, so helping the victim to clearly communicate the type of threat, the frequency of messages, the potential sources, and the nature of the threat will help to ensure that proper action is taken.
In some cases, law enforcement must be involved. Contact members of the police department if a threat of physical violence is present, if the material involved is obscene, or if physical harassment is taking place as a result of the cyberbullying. At times, civil prosecution may be an option as well. Should the victim’s rights be infringed on during the bullying, it is a good idea to contact an attorney.
Potential victims must know how to respond to a cyberbully should they encounter one while online. In case of an incident, the victim should:
Ignore the emails, messages, or postings that use harmful language.
Not forward bullying messages to others.
Ignore emails, messages, and postings from known bullies.
Block the addresses of known bullies.
Show the messages to trusted adults including parents, teachers, or counselors.
An increasingly serious problem in today’s technology-based world, cyberbullying must be addressed on an ongoing basis.