What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is an individual's use of technology to threaten, insult, tease, taunt, harass, or damage the reputation of another person. In online games this is often referred to as griefing. Some people reserve the term for web abuse that occurs between two minors; once adults become involved, the abuse is usually termed "cyber harrassment" or "cyberstalking." 1
Many people say things online that they would never dream of saying in real life. The somewhat artificial online environment can facilitate the posting of cruel and humiliating information about another person, and can make the exchange of vicious comments seem less serious than they actually are. Another factor that encourages cyberbullying is the fact that a cyberbully can hide behind the shield of online anonymity.
Common Forms of Cyberbullying
- A person pretends to be someone they are not while chatting online in order to trick, hurt, or embarrass someone else.
- Extremely personal or sensitive information about an individual is maliciously posted or distributed online.
- Lies, gossip, and rumors about an individual are maliciously posted or distributed online.
- An individual posts pictures of another person without that person's consent. These pictures are often altered from their originals and may even be pornographic.
- Cruel comments are exchanged back and forth through chat or email (these online altercations are often referred to as flame wars).
- A person threatens another person online or through texts. These threats may be vague ("I'm going to get you!") or frighteningly specific.
- An individual sends repeated "notify" or "report" messages to an ISP, chat room host, or online game. These flagging mechanisms, meant to help users report inappropriate web use, can be maliciously abused: by reporting a user repeatedly for no good reason, the victim's accounts or use of specific game sites can be restricted or completely denied. This method is sometimes referred to as "cyberbullying by proxy." 2
Kowalski et. al. also offers a list of common types of cyber bullying.
- Flaming: A brief, heated exchange between two or more individuals that occurs via any communication technology, generally occuring in a public setting.
- Harassment: A unique form of cyber bullying that involves repetitive offensive messages sent to a target.
- Denigration: Information about another that is derogatory and untrue.
- Impersonation: The perpetrator poses as the victim, most often using the victim's assword to gain access to his or her accounts, then communicating negative, curel, or inappropriate information with others as if the target himself or herself were voicing those thoughts.
- Outing and Trickery: sharing personal, often embarrasing information with others with whom the information was never intended to be shared.
- Cyberstalking: the use of electronic communications to stalk another person through repetitive harassing and threatening communications.
- Happy Slapping: a variant of catching someone unawares on camera, and then posting the picture for embarassment purposes. This variant is where someone slaps the victim, while another snaps a photo of the violence.
It's important to note that methods of cyberbullying vary from one age group to the next. Children in elementary school often focus on teasing and mean-spirited name calling, while older children and teens may enter into the more vicious realms of posting doctored photographs or telling overt lies. 3
Concerns for Parents
- Your child may be a victim of cyberbullying. Kids who are cyberbullied are at high risk for low self-esteem and depression, or even suicide. Teens like Tyler Clementi, Megan Meier, and Ryan Halligan are examples of the devastating consequences cyberbullying can have.
- Your child may be cyberbullying others. Studies have shown that kids who bully others show tendencies towards cruelty and violence later in life.
- One huge concern—whether your child is the bully or the one being bullied—is that information posted on the web can be viewed by anyone. Rumors, lies, and cruel or embarrassing remarks will be posted for virtually anyone to see. Further still, what is posted online never truly goes away. Cyberbullying could haunt your child for years to come.
How Can I Keep My Child Safe?
- Teach your kids to avoid environments where cyberbullying tends to start. Chat rooms, forums, and social networking sites like Facebook or YouTube can be hotbeds for cyberbullying and flame wars. Decide what places on the web are and are not appropriate for your child, taking age, maturity, and any other important factors into consideration.
- Stress the importance of following the rules of Netiquette. Remind your kids that there are human beings with feelings, opinions, and emotions behind every email address and screen name. If you are courteous and respectful towards other web users, it's likely that they'll return the favor.
- Be sure your children understand the importance of reporting cyberbullying. Whether the abuse is directed at them or at someone else, this kind of bullying can be extremely damaging and becomes harder to resolve as time stretches on. Let them know that they can come to you, to a teacher, or to any other trusted adult if they find themselves victimized by a cyberbully. The sooner parents and adults can get involved, the sooner the cyberbullying can be stopped.
- Be sure your child isn't a cyberbully. Do not let your children post unkind comments, photos, or videos of anyone else. Be sure they know that this kind of behavior is absolutely unacceptable. Many public schools are teaching this message in special anti-bullying lessons or programs. Help these good efforts along by reinforcing these ideas at home.
- Know the social networking tools your child is using. Sensitive information, often provides an easy target for a cyber bully. Social networking tools have settings to restrict access to a user's profile. Especially stress the importance of keeping personal and sensitive information offline even if they are just sharing with a close friend. Once data any kind of data has been sent, whether it is pictures, messages, or anything else, that data cannot be deleted or stopped by the sender. Immediately report any inappropriate or abusive activity to the social networking site. Social networking sites review complaints, and promptly address the issue.
- Keep the communication lines between you and your child open. If you have a relationship of trust already established, your child will be much liklier to tell you what is going on online.
- Monitor your child's web activity and make sure you have access to their online conversations or social networking profile pages. Be especially vigilant if your child is depressed, withdrawn, suffers from low self-esteem, or tends to form serious relationships with Facebook or MySpace friends. If you wish you can use monitoring programs on your computer; however often kids can get around these and there is no real substitute for open communication.
- Parents often blame the child for being the victim. As an example, when a child tells their parent they have been abused, a common response is: "Why didn't you tell them to stop?" A better response is: "I'm glad you told me that." The parent's ability to remain calm when the child tells the parent of an incident can build trust with the child.
- Be where your child is. Parenting is still parenting even when technology is involved. For example, if your child has a Facebook account, you should be their friend on Facebook.
- Upon hearing about cyberbullying, don't ban your child from social networking sites. This only makes it less likely that your child will tell you about problems in the future.
- The best warning sign that a child is being cyberbullied is that they are upset or anxious after looking at their computer or phone. Again, being sensitive to the needs of the child is key.
- Pay attention to your child's online relationships.
- Save the evidence of cyberbullying. This allows you to go to parents, professionals, and law enforcement agencies with absolute proof of abuse. Consider printing the abusive material out on paper or taking a screenshot, as the evidence may later be deleted by the bully.
- In general, if the occurrence is a once-or-twice occurrence, and includes no threats of physical harm, it is best to block the user or ignore their comments.
- However, if the abuse persists, or if the abuse threatens life or limb, it is advisable to take the case to authorities, such as the school or police.
- Authorities are much more willing to talk to parents when there is proof of abuse. Remember to save all evidence by printing out the abusive material or taking a screenshot.
- Consider asking the hosting web site (e.g., facebook) to remove the offensive user, and provide evidence to support your claim.
- Often, it is possible to request a trace from the internet service provider or the police to run a trace and find out exactly who is responsible for the abusive material. Consider requesting a trace so that you can find out the source of the problem.
Cyberbullying incidents seem to be increasing, not decreasing. Here are some unsettling numbers from recent studies and surveys:
- 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. 4
- 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. 5
- 58% of kids have not told their parents or an adult about something mean or hurtful that happened to them online. 6
- Cyberbullying victims are eight times more likely to report carrying a weapon to school in the last 30 days than non-bullied teens. 8
- Cyberbullying has led to at least four documented cases of teen suicide in the United States. 9
- Only 15% of parents polled knew what cyberbullying was. 10
Where Can I Learn More?
Watch Bullying -- Stop It
Read our guest blog post by Ken Shallcross, Protection from Internet Dangers.
Read our guest blog post from Judge Tom Jacobs, Cyber-Tips from a Juvenile Court Judge.
Listen to our podcast with Bill Belsey of Cyberbullying.org
Read some of our newswire reports on cyberbullying:
- MTV releases tool to fight cyberbullying
- President Obama's message about bullying and cyberbullying
- US Regulator requires cyberbullying prevention be taught in schools
- What parents can do about cyberbullying
Read this article about the warning signs of cyberbullying. Another great article from the same site highlights the potential tragedies cyberbullying may bring about and presents some sobering statistics about the prevalence of cyberbullying among kids and teens today.