Bullying: Beware of Harassment in Cyberspace

By Lin Wang

Most of us are familiar with the term bullying, which describes the verbal, mental, or physical harassment that occurs amongst children and youth. It can range from a fistfight between several kids on the playground to open discrimination.

However, a new type of bullying, which many of us may not be familiar with, is happening more and more often, it is called cyber-bullying. Harassment is no longer only about the face-to-face confrontation in the school hallways. Instead, the advancement of science and civilization has given students access to more powerful technology, which pushes traditional bullying into the world at large.

Bullies now have more tools at their disposal, from cell phone cameras and recorders to forums, chat rooms, and the web. They may send threatening emails, post offensive photos or videos online, or spread false messages under fake IDs. Bullies can now mask their identities and cause damage without having to confront their victims physically. This makes it easier for potential bullies to take action and may result in higher rates of harassment.

There are many serious consequences that could rise from cyber-bullying as well, from permanent psychological problems to underachievement in school.

Students can be targeted anytime, anywhere, as long as there is access to the cyberspace.
One example is David Knight, a teen student who discovered a web site that publicized hateful comments about him and his whole family. According to a CBC report, some attackers smeared his reputation, even wrongly accusing him of being a pedophile. Others haunted him with rude and hateful emails. He explained that he suffered great pain from cyber-bullying. The attackers used the written world, and unlike face-to-face bullying, the threats did not disappear after he left school each day and worse, billions of people with access to the Internet could view the site. David eventually decided to turn to home schooling because there was no easy way to stop or confront the person behind the malicious attacks.

It is more common than you might think. A group of eighth graders from Deer Park Public School in Toronto were consulted in 2005 about their personal experience regarding online harassment. One girl commented that her friend received rude messages making fun of her appearance. A boy knew of a friend who received an email that threatened to beat him up. One student even confessed to insulting a friend through cyberspace as a result of peer pressure and regretting it afterwards.

Many parents and youth are worried about this new form of bullying. To help stop and avoid cyber-bullying, you must first learn to identify cyber-bullies and detect harassment. In addition, it is important to teach youths how to avoid becoming a victim and to provide advice or guidance to those being cyber-bullied.

Characteristics Of A Cyber-Bully

What kind of student is most likely to engage in cyber-bullying? A study back in 2000 suggested that many cyber-bullies have the characteristics of traditional bullies, including poor relationships with their parents and guardians, a history of harassment and drug abuse.

However, they also share other new traits such as exceptionally high Internet use, addiction to the electronic media, and social awkwardness. To be a school bully you need to be strong or physically fit, but even the classic 98 pound weakling can be a cyber-bully.

Characteristics Of A Victim

Sometimes, victims of cyber-bullying try to internalize the suffering and refuse to seek help from others. Therefore, it is important that we are able to identify signs that may suggest someone is a victim of cyber-bullying. Whether you are a parent, relative, teacher, or friend, here are some things to watch out for:

  1. Reluctance to use computer, answer phones, and communicate with others using electronic devices.
  2. Secretive about internet activities
  3. Closing down computer screens when others enter the room
  4. Unexplainable phone calls and files on electronic devices
  5. Behavioural changes such as low self-esteem or anger
  6. Sudden refusal to attend social events and interact with others
  7. Falling behind in school, lack of academic success

What Youths Can Do To Prevent Cyber-Bullying

  1. Make sure to keep your personal information private. This applies to your name, family information, email, phone number, physical and email address, etc. Also, keep your passwords secure so that no one can steal your accounts.
  2. Do not post anything in the cyberspace that you wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing publicly.
  3. If you chat or send instant messages, set up your account so that it automatically saves your messaging history.
  4. Do not believe everything people say online in forums, chat rooms, etc. A person may claim to be a sixteen-year-old girl when the person is actually a fifty-year-old man.
  5. Avoid reading emails and messages from strangers.
  6. Be polite online. Treat others with respect. Avoid sending emails or text messages when you are angry. Never post anything that you would not be comfortable saying to the person face-to-face.

Advice For Cyber-Bullying Victims

  1. If you receive any mean messages, email, or calls, do not respond. Bullies generally want to upset and scare you. They will be encouraged if you reply.
  2. Save any harassing messages you receive through cyberspace and print a physical copy as well just in case. These messages will serve as important evidence and might help identify the cyber-bully.
  3. Try to block the sender or caller. If it does not stop, close down the window (for messages) or shut down the electronic device (for phone calls).
  4. Talk to a trusted adult, such as a parent, teacher, counselor, or family friend. The adult will provide good advice and mental comfort, and their interference may help stop the cyber-bullying.
  5. Inform the police of the cyber-bullying, or have a trusted adult do it for you. In Canada, it is a crime to communicate repeatedly with people in any way that would cause them to fear for the safety of themselves or others. It is also a crime to expose people to ridicule and hate.

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