Everybody at school hates you. You are the fattest person I have ever seen. You sleep with every guy in school. You’re too ugly to ever get a girlfriend. You’ll never be popular. You should go kill yourself.
Cyberbullying, or what the Center for Disease Control calls “electronic aggression,” is a form of teen violence – a new phenomenon brought about by social media that threatens, harasses, degrades and humiliates teenagers and their peers. And parents, teachers and kids are all struggling to find solutions.
America’s youth, especially teens and preteens, are utilizing electronic mediums to target and torment their peers. Instead of mean girls making sly comments at the lunch tables or gossiping in the high school halls, or the traditional playground bully shoving nerds around and breaking their glasses, teens are using the Internet as an outlet -allowing anyone and everyone online to view and join in on the torture. Popular sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter that are unintentionally providing teens with this opportunity are scrambling to fix this very serious problem that has led a number of teens to commit murder and, at an alarming rate, suicide.
The problem is only worsening. 2011 cyberbullying statistics from Internet Safety 101 revealed that 43% of teens ages 13-17 had experienced some range of cyberbullying withing the last year. Among teens who use social networking sites, 39% reported having been the victim. Kids and teens who are being cyberbullied are likely bullied in person as well. A cyberbullying informational guide created by Mayor Law further reports that adolescent girls are just as likely, if not more likely, to experience cyberbullying compared to boys. It is related to low self esteem rate, suicidal ideation, anger, frustration, and a variety of other emotional and psychological problems.
Cyberbullying v. Traditional Bullying
Cyberbullying is different, and can sometimes have more dire consequences than traditional bullying for various reasons. While traditional bullying primarily occurs within the confines of the school, cyberbullying can take place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – anytime, anywhere. Kids can no longer escape the schoolyard to get away – they are followed by their perpetrators wherever they go.
Due to the relative perceived anonymity the Internet offers, cyberbullying messages and images can be posted by unnamed sources – this often gives bullies greater incentive to make postings even more vulgar and degrading without fear of getting caught. When cyberbullies hide behind computer screens and cell phones to harass their victims they are unable to witness an immediate response – therefore they are less likely to think twice about the consequences of their actions.
Getting rid of harassing messages and embarrassing photos can also prove to be extremely difficult after they have been sent or posted on the web.
The many forms cyberbullying can take
Harassment: The repeated and relentless sending of mean, offensive, rude and insulting messages or images.
Denigration: Distribution of information on the Internet about a peer that is false and derogatory. The spreading of rumors and unfounded gossip. This sometimes even includes entire websites dedicated to the spreading of defamatory information about an individual.
Flaming: Online “fighting” via aggressive and intimidating electronic messages such as e-mail or instant messaging, using angry and vulgar language.
Impersonation: Posing as another person online in order to harm their image and set them up for problems.
Login Theft: Hacking into someone else’s account or stealing their login information in order to falsify information, send damaging messages or post embarrassing material.
Outing and Trickery: Sharing, posting or forwarding a peer’s secrets that were gained through trickery.
Cyberstalking: Repeatedly sending electronic messages that include threats of harm or intimidation.
Immersion of state laws
Every state in the U.S. besides Montana has anti-bullying laws in place, and regions are working to enact anti-cyberbullying laws as well. As of April 2013, 16 states have passed anti-cyberbullying laws, while 5 others have proposed such legislation. However, only 7 of those states that have laws to combat cyberbullying have included off-campus behaviors. That means that in only 9 states in the U.S. can a person be subject to lawful punishment if they electronically bully a peer after school hours.
The following are the 16 states that have some form of anti-cyberbullying legislation: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah and Washington.
The severity of cyberbullying: Suicide
The nature of the problem has become so grave that, following several high-profile suicides that resulted from Internet harassment, a term coined “cyberbullicide” is now floating around.
Research carried out by Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D. And Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D. found that cyberbullying victims were nearly twice as likely to have attempted suicide compared to youth who had not experienced cyberbullying. It should be noted that cyberbullying is not more likely to result in suicide for any particular victim than traditional bullying, however the phenomenon is growing at a much more rapid rate due to improvements and innovations of technology. This means that “cyberbullicide” occurrence is escalating while the traditional bully-suicide rate stays about the same (kids aren’t finding new, imaginative ways to torment their peers outside the Internet).
Fifteen-year-old Irish immigrant Phoebe Prince moved to South Hadley, Massachusetts and quickly became the brunt of nasty online messages and emails. Not long after being told to “go hang herself” she was found dead in her home. Incredibly and unfortunately, Prince’s experience was not an uncommon one.
Audrie Pott, a fifteen year old California student, took her own life after being involved in a sexual assault case. Photos and emails about the rape were spattered and made fun of across the Internet. Pott’s final Facebook status read: “They took pictures of me; my life is ruined.”
Earlier this year a 12-year-old girl, Gabrielle Molina, was found hung in her Queens Village home after being taunted online. She left behind a note saying she was “sorry” and that she had been “cyber bullied.”
And these are just three of the many suicides and suicide attempts brought about by online bullying.
The following are some tips that teenagers, teachers and parents can use to prevent or end cyberbullying:
Teens and Preteens
If you are the victim of cyberbullying, tell an adult about what is going on and be sure not to cyberbully back.
Don’t delete evidence of the bullying – this can be used to formally bring justice to your tormenter.
Seek out a trusted adult if you suspect someone you know is being cyberbullied.
Find out if there is an anti-bullying program at your school. Use the opportunity to start one up if there isn’t already one in place, in order to raise awareness and provide support to your bullied peers.
Stay informed. Keep yourself updated on Internet trends, new social media websites and cyberbullying tactics.
Watch out for warning signs that your child may be a victim. If your teenager suddenly stops using the computer, no longer wants to participate in activities, shows signs of aggressive behavior or loses interest in school, it may be time for a talk about bullying.
Talk to your child about the consequences of cyberbullying, set computer rules and standards and let them know that such bullying will not be tolerated in your house.
Implement an anti-bullying code of conduct and enforce it with consequences to match the actions.
Have students sign an anti-bullying and anti-cyberbullying pledge. While this may simply seem like a piece of paper, it will create a community of awareness and a group promise.
Create a safe place for students to speak with you about cyberbullying.
Teach conflict-resolution skills that can prevent this type of harassment before it begins.