Cyberbullying involves the use of information and communication technologies such as e-mail, cell phone, text messaging, instant messaging, defamatory personal Web sites, and defamatory online personal polling Web sites, to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others.” It seems to be even worse than live bullying because the perpetrators are not bound my time or space, and the audience can be much, much bigger. With the power of technology, the offenses can be much more cruel as they can incorporate a rich array of media (sounds, altered graphics, text, video, slide shows, and photos) to deliver the attacks. Consider the following real situations among cyberbullying victims as reported in one national newspaper:
- When Joanne had a row with a longtime friend last year, she had no idea it would spill into cyberspace. But what started as a spat at a teenage sleep over swiftly escalated into a three-month harangue of threatening e-mails and defacement of her weblog. "It was a non-stop nightmare," says Joanne, 14, a freshman at a private high school in Southern California. "I dreaded going on my computer."
- Ashlee, a former elementary school teacher in Birmingham, Ala., says she was "sickened" by the manner girls manipulated one another with instant messages. "I grew to hate that," she said.
- "If I find you, I will beat you up," one message read. Frightened, Michael blocked their IM addresses but didn't tell his parents for two weeks. "It scared me," he recalls. "It was the first time I was bullied."
- At one Elementary School in Fairfax, Va. last year, sixth-grade students conducted an online poll to determine the ugliest classmate, school officials say.
- Cyberbullying is so pervasive in one New York county that officials held a half-day conference last month for students, parents, teachers and law-enforcement officials. Six hundred attended.
- "The person was pretending it was me, and using it to call people names," the 14-year-old Seattle student said. "I never found out who it was."
In a startling case that occurred in June 2003 a twelve-year-old Japanese girl killed her classmate because she was angry about messages that had been posted about her on the Internet. In another example, Canadian teenager David Knight’s life became hell when a group of his school mates established a “Hate David Knight” website and posted denigrating pictures and abuse and invited the global community to join in the hate campaign. In another case right her in Florida, a boy named Jeffrey was the target of relentless bullying. The perpetrators used the computer to launch attacks at Jeff and even destroyed a video game he and his friend worked on all summer. After two years of this persistent bullying and harassment, Jeff committed suicide by hanging. These are only a few examples of this significant and growing problem among children (Studies about the frequency of cyberbullying suggest that cyberbullying is affecting a significant minority of school-age children, with nearly 25 to 35 percent of respondents claiming to have been bullied in chat rooms, e-mail, and via text messages.)
Researchers across various disciplines have collected a rich array of anecdotal examples for how high-tech bullying takes place which highlights the complexity of the problem. Here is how kids bully each other in a high-tech world.
- Exclusion: Exclusion is the process of designating who is a member of the “in-group” and who is an “outcast.” In some cases, this is done by who has a mobile phone and who has not. Students, particularly girls, will also omit certain other girls from e-mail lists, chat room conversations and so on.
- Flaming: Flaming is a heated argument, frequently including offensive or vulgar language, that occur in public communication environments, such as discussion boards or groups, chat, or newsgroups. Flamers may use capitol letters and a range of visual images and symbols to add emotional intensity and anger to their messages. According to the Wikipedia (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flame_war), a flame may have elements of a normal message, but is distinguished by its intent. A flame is typically not intended to be constructive, to further clarify a discussion, or to persuade other people. The motive for flaming is often not dialectic, but rather social or psychological. Sometimes, flamers are attempting to assert their authority, or establish a position of superiority. Occasionally, flamers wish to upset and offend other members of the forum, in which case they are “trolls.” Most often however, flames are angry or insulting messages transmitted by people who have strong feelings about a subject. Occasionally a flame can also be used as a zenslap (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zenslap). Finally, some consider flaming to be a great way to let off steam, though the receiving party may be less than pleased.
- Outing: this includes the public display, posting, or forwarding of personal communication or images, especially communication that contains sensitive personal information or images that are sexual in nature. Increasingly, images taken using mobile phone cameras and mobile phone text messages are used as part of outing bullying. Reading the saved text messages on other’s phones can also be part of the outing process;
- Cyberstalking: includes threats of harm, intimidation and/or offensive comments which are sent through personal communication channels. Frequently with cyberstalking there is a threat, or at least a belief, that the virtual could become real stalking.
- E-mail: One student sends a threatening e-mail to another, then forwards it to additional people.
- Harassment: Sending hurtful messages to someone in a severe, persistent, or pervasive manner.
- Instant Messaging (IM): several students log on to an IM platform (e.g., America Online's Instant Messenger) and simultaneously “slam” another.
- Websites: bullies set up derogatory Web sites dedicated to one or more victims.
- Impersonation: in other cases, students may impersonate other students and make unpopular online comments, even set up websites that include hate leading to the impersonated student being ostracized or further bullied in more traditional ways.
- Voting/Polling Booths: Some Web sites offer users the opportunity to create online polling/voting booths, many at no cost. Cyberbullies can use these Web sites to create web pages that allow others to vote online for "The Ugliest , Fattest, Dumbest etc. Boy/Girl at their respective schools.
Children seem to view the real world and the online or virtual world as part of a seamless continuum. Conversations with friends may begin at school and pick up again, on a child’s computer, after dinner, or vice versa. Unfortunately, this is also true of bullying behaviors. What begins as a flame war in an Instant Messaging conversation can carry over to the lunch room the next day and include many of the same group members witnessing the electronic conversation the night before.
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