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Cyberbullying

Taken from PowertoLearn.com:

An understanding of cyberbullying is critical to help young people deal with bullying techniques enabled by new technologies such as computers, online video games, the Internet, and cell telephones. This case study tackles information about cyberbullies and what to do about them.

Background Information
If you think back to your school days, especially those of the middle school years, you are sure to remember someone who was considered a bully. Often this person engaged in bullying of a physical nature. Maybe you didn't think of them as bullies, but members of cliques that excluded other students also engaged in what are considered bullying tactics. These tactics include not only physical abuse but cruel and hurtful information spread about a student through gossip, writing, and art.

Bullying is not something parents and teachers usually see, for bullies generally confine their actions to places where no authority figures are present. To be sure, you've heard about bullying in school halls, on the school grounds, in the bathrooms, in the locker rooms and even through prank calls. In today's world, bullying has also found a niche in email, Instant Messaging, Websites, blogs, bulletin boards, chat rooms, online video games, cell phone text messaging, and anywhere information can be passed along to cyberbully victims.

Kids often push the boundaries of good taste during middle school years as they test how far they can go with dress, actions and language. One way they've found to avoid good taste in language is through written messages sent through email and Instant Messaging, placed on Websites, typed in during chat sessions, posted on bulletin boards, spoken in the heat of an online video game that allows voice interaction, etc. You may have spotted nasty email sent by your students or have had parents call you about inappropriate language in messages sent to their children by your students. Often these types of messages are between two kids trying to impress each other with their new knowledge of crude language and their bravery in displaying it. There are times, however, when this misuse of language flows over into harassing others through vicious or threatening messages.

Other tactics that kids have long used to exert their influence over others are embarrassing drawings and slam books. Crude illustrations or altered photos of kids may be attached to email or posted online. Before the Internet, these drawings were passed around classrooms through secret notes on scraps of paper. Pre-cyberspace slam books were often circulated to the "cool group" in a class so that comments could be placed in the books about each kid in the class or about all the kids the person who owned the book knew. The idea was to rank kids, making the "cool group" feel superior and the others, inferior. This tactic has made its way to Websites where students rank others.

Cyberbullying is attractive to bullies because online actions are definitely more anonymous than, for example, verbal abuse in the locker room. Kids often feel that their online anonymous persona allows them to get away with hurting those who are not part of their group. They can, for example, go into a chat room and pretend to be someone they aren't, and if the chat room is not monitored, their language and actions will not usually be criticized by those in the chat. Using someone else's user name and password, they can pretend to be this person in a chat, post information under the person's name in a discussion group or blog, and send email and messages which look like they came from that person, and even pose as that person in an online game.

Although many cyberbullies are classmates and others who are known to the victim, sometimes bullies only know the victim through online interaction, usually chats, Instant Messages, online games and email. The bullies, both known and unknown, often befriend victims so that they can extract personal information from them. The victims, thinking the bully is a good friend, reveal passwords and other information that they would not want spread throughout their classroom, school, or the Internet.

It's difficult for parents and teachers to understand why young people can be so trusting with those they don't know. A look at their email address books or their Instant Message buddy lists should be enough to convince you that there is no way for your students to have that many "close" friends. Many times, however, young people, especially those who do not feel they are fitting in with their peers in school or in the neighborhood will turn for friendship to "friends" online. These friendships can be very positive unless the "friend" online is looking for someone to take advantage of, just like the bullies at school.

Taken from Power to Learn: Internet Smarts: http://www.powertolearn.com/internet_smarts/interactive_case_studies/index.shtml