Cyber-Bullying

Bullying Hurts!Cyberbullying is a form of harassment that makes use of the latest electronic technology. Primarily the harassment occurs on the web, but today's smart phones are being used to harass people, too.

The term cyberbullying is a new one that has been defined in different ways by different organizations. According to the US National Crime Prevention Council, it is when the internet, cell phones or other devices are used in cruelty to others by sending or posting text or images intended solely to hurt or embarrass another person.

Unlike bullying in the school yard, a cyberbully might steal a classmate's online name and spread lies or write hateful comments about them. Cyberbullies often post damaging information on blogs or websites and even secretly record conversations (via cell phone) and then playing back the recording to the person being talked about. There are bullying stories all over the internet even one where stalking-type emails were sent to a 16-year old who ended up committing suicide.

Cyberbullying differs from the more traditional forms of bullying in that it can occur at any time - literally 24-hours a day. Email messages, videos and images can be distributed instantaneously to a world-wide audience with the perpetrator remaining anonymous, often making them difficult to trace. Although research is scarce, studies have found that approximately 30 percent of students in grades six through eight reported they recently had been cyberbullied or had cyberbullied another person at least once. Research shows that girls are about twice as likely as boys to be victims and perpetrators of cyberbullying and that the most common method of cyberbullying is through instant messaging, followed by chat rooms, e-mails and messages posted on websites.

The practice of cyberbullying is not limited to children and, while the behavior is identified by the same definition in adults, the distinction in age groups is sometimes referred to as cyberharassment when perpetrated by adults toward adults, sometimes directed on the basis of sex.

Common tactics used by cyberstalkers are to vandalize a search engine or encyclopedia, to threaten a victim's earnings, employment, reputation, or safety. A repeated pattern of such actions against a target by an adult constitutes cyberstalking. Source: Wikipedia 2010. When a person's physical safety is threatened, cyberbullying is illegal. Making the bully aware that his or her actions could be illegal might not stop them. But, other tools are in place to help those who have experienced both cyberbullying and cyberstalking.

The National State Conference of Legislatures lists information about cyberstalking laws for 47 states at http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/telecom/cyberstalking-and-cyberharassment-laws.aspx   : "Law enforcement agencies estimate that electronic communications are a factor in from 20 percent to 40 percent of all stalking cases. Forty-seven states now have laws that explicitly include electronic forms of communication within stalking or harassment laws. State laws that do not include specific references to electronic communication may still apply to those who threaten or harass others online, but specific language may make the laws easier to enforce. Two reports from the U.S. Department of Justice provide detailed information on cyberstalking: Stalking and Domestic Violence: Report to Congress and, Cyberstalking: A New Challenge for Law Enforcement and Industry."

Polls conducted in 2010 report that most people are more concerned about internet safety now than they were 3 or 4 years ago. Major social networking sites like Facebook have taken steps to help protect user safety. Bullies can be blocked. Threatening messages can be reported. The user's account can be disabled by Facebook (other sites are not monitored that well.) Bullies do not usually participate in public chats, but sometimes they will trick people into visiting private chat rooms. It only takes a moment to upset someone with disgusting photos or violent images.

Unfortunately, children and teens are rarely concerned about internet safety. Yet, cyberbullying can have a devastating effect on them. At least a dozen suicides have been linked to internet harassment in just the last few years. Published information from the National Crime Prevention Council indicates that half of all American teens are bullied online. Because the disturbing trend seems to be on the rise, celebrities, businesses, parents, teachers and kids have joined together to help teach everyone about internet safety practices. Some new programs help parents stop cyberbullying without forcing their kids to stay off of their computers.

What Can You Do?

If you are an adult and you have been a victim, do not hesitate to contact the police. Adults internet safety concerns should also include identity theft and the damage that can be done to their computers by viruses. To protect against online identity theft, you should never reveal personal information to anyone. There are many ways to safeguard your computer against viruses. You should ignore emails that appear to come from your bank or credit providers. Financial institutions do not ask their customers to verify information by way of an email. If you receive an email asking for personal information, you should contact your financial institution immediately.

The Department of Health and Human Services has a great website loaded with excellent information about bullying at: http://www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/kids/ .

If the cyberbullying is occurring through your school district's Internet system, school administrators have an obligation to intervene. Consider contacting the cyberbully's parents. These parents may be very concerned to learn that their child has been cyberbullying others, and they may effectively put a stop to the bullying.

On the other hand, these parents may react negatively to your contacting them. So, proceed cautiously. If you decide to contact a cyberbully's parents, communicate with them in writing; not face-to-face. Present proof of the cyberbullying (e.g., copies of an email message) and ask them to make sure the cyberbullying stops.

Consider contacting an attorney in cases of serious cyberbullying. In some circumstances, civil law permits victims to sue a bully or his or her parents in order to recover damages. If you are uncertain if cyberbullying violates your jurisdictions criminal laws, contact your local police, who will advise you. If we all work together, perhaps (maybe, hopefully) we can manage this problem.