Cyberbullying: Is it the Wild West of the Internet?

Q&A with Les Parsons

Q: What exactly is cyberbullying?

A: Cyberbullying is the intentional attempt to harm someone else through information and communication technologies. Usually, harmful texts or images are posted via email, cell phone, instant messaging, Blogs, or chat rooms. Cyberbullying usually occurs more than once. A single episode, of course, can be devastating to the targeted individual.

Q:  How are cyberbullying and bullying related?   

A:  While cyberbullying may be related to other forms of face-to-face bullying, each  incident needs to be understood on its own terms. One person, for example, may be targeted at school as well as online. Another student may be targeted at school and retaliate online. Still another individual, targeted at school, may disclose online their anger or depression.

Q:  What forms can cyberbullying take?

A:  Young people need to understand the kinds of bullying they may meet online. If they have met any of the following kinds of behaviours, they are being bullied:

  • harassment (repeatedly bothering or tormenting someone, often with hurtful and offensive notes)
  • bad-mouthing (claiming that someone is a bad person by attacking their character or reputation, often by posting rumors or gossip)
  • impersonation (pretending to be someone else and trying to get them into trouble)
  • rejection (trying to turn a group against someone and repeatedly leaving them out of things)
  • outing (posting a secret or embarrassing information or image)
  • threatening (trying to frighten someone by revealing that you may say or do something to harm them; if someone is bothered, tormented, or threatened so badly or so often that they become afraid for their safety, the term cyberstalking is sometimes used)

(Flaming or sending messages with extremely angry, disgusting, or mean-spirited language are an inappropriate behavior that is relatively common online; in extreme or repeated occurrences, it may be deemed to be cyberbullying.)

Q: Why are people so reluctant to get help with cyberbullying?

A:  In spite of the distress, fear, and emotional and social damage suffered by students online, they are notoriously reluctant to report incidents of cyberbullying. The number one reason, of course, is that they expect that parents will unduly supervise or severely restrict their online activity.  Some teenagers believe not using their cell phone or computers, seems to be a fate worse than the bullying they endure while they are there.

Many students hold the mistaken belief that there are no rules on the internet: therefore, bullies think they can say anything they want. In the same vein, students may have been targeted while engaging in risky or unwise behaviours online, behaviour they may rationalize as permitted in the “wild west” environment of the internet but still punishable by their parents. Finally, just as in real life, targets may feel that if the bully gets in trouble, the friends of the bully might retaliate.

Q: What can teenagers do to protect themselves from cyberbullying?

A:  Young people should “cyberproof” their behaviours, from protecting personal information of all kinds to “netiquette.” The number one rule, of course, is never to put anything online that would allow someone to find the person in real life. Young people need to understand that they aren't invisible online.

When a person is bullied, they should not immediately respond to the attack; the cyberbully loses power if the attack has been ignored. If the targets want to respond after an interval has passed, they should reflect on what they want to say, in what form they want to say it, and why they want to say it. Then challenge the bully from the strength of that reflection.

Les is the author of numerous books, including The Classroom Troubleshooter and Grammarama. His latest book is, Bullied Teacher: Bullied Student.  For more information, contact Les at clifpar@rogers.com.

By Melissa Sherman, Executive Director, Beyond Bullies

Dec 1 2010 in Home Page admin Comments Off on Cyberbullying: Is it the Wild West of the Internet?

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