Turn on a TV or read any major newspaper and you're likely to come upon a story about cyberbullying. StopCyberbullying.org defines cyberbullying as "when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones."
Some teens are so affected by the actions of cyberbullies that they have committed suicide.
A News & Observer story about a victim of cyberbullying told of a victimized student:
The incident involved his best friend and a group of bullies. The bullies planned to teach this young man a lesson on "disrespect," so they beat him after school at an off-campus location. An audience of peers watched and captured the entire altercation on a cell-phone camera. Before the victim could find his six missing teeth in the gravel and dirt, the fight appeared on Facebook, MySpace and YouTube, all before his parents, dentist and school administrators knew what had taken place. That is the instant wrath of cyberbullying.
Matt Ivester, a 2005 graduate of Duke University and founder of JuicyCampus.com had this to say when asked if sites such as JuicyCampus perpetuate online cruelty:
This is the same gossip that happens offline everyday anyhow. With JuicyCampus, though, people have the opportunity to read the gossip that would otherwise be told behind their backs. And if they don't want to know, they don't have to visit the site.(For another example of the fallacy of such logic, go here.)
Four popular views on the subject of cyberbullying are:
- Enact laws against it.
- Let the schools deal with it.
- Let the parents deal with it.
- Leave it alone - after all, it's protected speech.
It's interesting that we require kids to be at least a certain age and to pass a test before we allow them to drive, yet we give them free reign to post anything they want to the roughly 1.4 billion worldwide Internet users. Can we honestly expect a thirteen year old to grasp the concept of such a potential audience?
In the days of yore, kids who found themselves victims of bullying may have brought threatening notes they've received home to Mom and Dad, who then might have had a phone conversation with the parents of the harasser in order to "chat" about the behavior. Then the bully's parents laid into him/her, hopefully bringing to an end the improper actions.
One problem with cyberbullying, however, is the issue of the anonymity of the harassers. (But posts published in cyberspace may not be as anonymous as you might think.) In a modern adaptation of the way bullying was handled in the past, perhaps the parents, friends and educators of the victim, or maybe the victim him/herself may collect an electronic "paper trail" (e-trail) of the offensive material in order to present via some means, including the police if necessary, to the parents of the evil-doers with hopes that they will act upon such offensive behavior.
Yes, granted the evidence may not be as damning as the victim would hope, but when presented with material implicating one's offspring, it would be hoped that those parents would look more critically at the availability of the electronic commerce they've granted their kids.
Cyberbullying is an unacceptable practice which can be reduced if parents and educators would be willing to keep a closer eye on the means by which our children communicate with their peers.