Bullying has always existed. But in the last decade, with increasing access to Internet and proliferation of smartphones, it has take a new form. Psychologists are calling it cyberbullying. And it has become worse in many ways. Cyberbullying can be defined as the act of “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.”
Cyberbullying is quite common, can occur to any young person online, and can cause profound psychosocial outcomes including depression, anxiety, severe isolation, and, tragically, suicide.
Cyberbullying: most important things to know
− Children are very reluctant to tell their parents about their experiences, especially if they believe that it will show them poor light. Less than 20 per cent of teens talked to parents about incidents of cyberbullying. And more than 90% of teens use Internet.
− Cyberbullying involves two minors on both sides, and never an adult. When an adult is involved it cyberharassment or cyberstalking.
− Cyberbullying is a draining experience. Research has linked cyberbullying to lack of appetite, low-self esteem, constant mood swings, academic difficulties.
− A paper presented at the annual meeting of the Louisiana Education Research Association has pointed out school authorities are relatively less prepared to handle cases of cyberbullying. It says, “Daily, school administrators across the nation struggle with the desire to act on behalf of the victimized student, but are not sure how to respond since most acts of cyberbullying happen off campus. It is the regrettable job of administrators to balance the needs of the victim against the judicial rights of the bully; legal guidance and policy protocol from school boards and systems are limited.”
− Cyberbullying is an extension of real-world bullying. The driving factors remain the same and the difference is only the manifestations. Coloroso, in her book, The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander (2003), said there are three main elements to bullying: imbalance of power, intent to harm and threat to further aggression. The elements apply to cyberbullying as well.
− But what makes cyberbullying more dangerous? The paper points to four important concepts that differentiate cyberbullying from real-world bullying. They are:
Persistence: Digital footprints are really hard to erase and they stay in the network even if do not show up.
Searchability: It is also easier to search for a particular person on the Internet. And even worse is the ability to filter searches and target people.
Replicability: It provides a means to copy, paste information that need not be necessarily original.
Anonymity: The online medium, in a way, gives a person a sense of anonymity that makes him/her believe that “if there’s no person in real, then there’s no consequence.”
− Children very rarely disclose their personal problems and it is the duty of the parent to make sure that the environment is such that child is comfortable enough to talk about it. Coloroso says,”Statistics show that 58% of those who are online bullied do not tell an adult – parent or others. This unwillingness to tell is not only due to the fact they feel adults may not respond appropriately, but because they fear their Internet usage will be taken by those who are trying to protect them.”
− Over 70 percent of teens said that being able to block cyberbullies was the most effective method of prevention.
− Studies have also shown the school authorities are more likely to react if there are overt and obvious physical assault. Very few schools have policies in place to tackle the menace of cyberbullying.
− Bullying is not a crime in the legal sense. The paper, however, notes that, ”..the factors related to bullying, such as slander, defamation of character, physical harm, harassment, threats of physical harm, are legally defined” and invite serious actions. The National Association of Secondary School Principals has issued a statement, where it gave guidelines for policy makers formulating policies/ or revising them. They are:
- Formulate policies that reinforce a balanced approach to the use of Internet technologies and protect students and personnel from Internet crime
- provide funding and other resources to support ongoing professional development of school leaders and staff on Internet safety issues
- where appropriate, build the capacity of central office to be the clearinghouse for district wide technology issues
- hold Internet service providers and social networking Web sites accountable for reporting criminal behavior to the appropriate authorities,
- reward schools that are using technology in effective and innovative ways. Solicit, showcase and recognize these best practices, and
- remind parents to oversee their children’s Internet use.