Cyber bullying takes what used to be schoolyard insults, pushing, and shoving to a whole new, expansive, and very dangerous level. The cyber bully uses email, chat rooms, instant messaging, cell phones and text messaging to insult, demean, threaten, humiliate, harass, deceive, impersonate, and in many cases, posts lewd or embarrassing photographs online of their peer – while hiding behind a veil of anonymity that the Internet provides.
On the middle school level, typical insults include comments like “U R ugly, U R fat, U R a liar, Nobody likes you”, however when kids reach 13, the comments are often sexual in nature, include profanity and detail true or untrue reports of promiscuity. Photos, which are sometimes altered, and video from cell phones are posted in emails and on familiar file sharing sites such as Myspace.com, Xanga.com, LiveJournal.com, Blogger.com, and others.
Even poor childish choices such as when a student puts up a website devoted to posting pictures of the ugliest or fattest kids in school, or when a 7th grade girl in Manhattan posted a video that a boy sent her of him serenading a song to her to her because he liked her and she didn’t like him back. It just seemed like a joke to her, that is, until it ended up being laughed at all over the Net. Needless to say, this young boy was devastated.
Unlike the schoolyard bully, these attacks aren’t by some scary kid wanting to push his weight around. They can be by anyone or no one that the child knows. Tragically, it’s sometimes by someone that the child thought was a friend. And unlike the schoolyard bully, a cyber bully can be comprised of one or many kids and by the time the posting hits the Net, literally thousands, if not millions of people have seen it, if it’s been shared around the world. And unlike the schoolyard bully, the cyber bully hits their victim in the sanctity of their own home or bedroom – where they feel that they can’t escape.
Often, kids are afraid to tell their parents for fear that their computer will be taken away or that their parents will make the situation worse. What they don’t realize is that unless the bullying stops immediately, it can escalate and leave permanent psychological scars.
Kids need to know how to navigate safely within this environment, so they’ll know how to prevent and protect themselves from these situations. Additionally, we make it very clear to children who might want to engage in this type of activity, that there are severe personal consequences to their behavior.
For example, we want them to consider “before” they make poor choices that whatever is posted on the Net is there forever, and as much as they may regret later that they did this to someone, the damage is done and irreversible.” Experts in the field state that victims of these crimes suffer psychological trauma requiring professional help, have had to move to other schools, their mental state has resulted in their grades dropping to such a degree that they cannot qualify for college upon high school graduation; many are afraid to form close relationships with new people; and in more severe cases, suicide or murder has resulted.
These are not just childhood pranks. These are serious crimes, and several states are enacting laws, such as Florida, making these emails felonies. In Pennsylvania, cyber bullying, harassment and stalking carry stiff jail sentences and fines for those convicted.
Cyber bullies need to realize that they may be able to hide from their victims behind screen names, but they cannot hide from law enforcement. Each time the Internet is accessed, an IP (Internet Protocol) address is established. The 12 numerals punctuated by the 3 periods is the electronic fingerprint that can be accessed by the authorities to trace all electronic communications between computers and/or mobile phones. No computer or mobile phone – or its user – is really anonymous in cyberspace.
According to a survey conducted in June of 2000 by The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on 1,500 children aged 10-17, 1 in 17 youths had been threatened or harassed over the Internet and about one-third of those found the incidents extremely distressing. A study in Britain in 2004 by NCH, a British children’s charity, found that 1 in 4 students had been bullied online.
The Internet and cell phones have become, in large part, the fabric of the social lives of tweens and teens. As such, they are prime targets for this kind of attack. The first thing kids need to understand about Instant Messaging, and blogs (web logs) or live journals, is that the more personal information you give someone, the more it can be used against you by not only those whom you wanted to read it, but by others whom you didn’t.
Whenever you type something online and press “send”, you have just given up your privacy. Additionally, people online will pose to be people they aren’t for purposes of deception and in many cases, to commit crimes – often stealing someone’s identity in the process.