Ikuko Aoyama & Tony L Talbert. Adolescent Online Social Communication and Behavior: Relationship Formation on the Internet. Editor: Robert Z Zheng. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference, 2010.
Internationally, school bullying has been one of the major concerns since the 1980s and various studies have been conducted by researchers with regard to the prevalence, the nature, the short/long-term consequences, perceptions of parents’/teachers’, measures of prevention/intervention, and the cultural differences that define and distinguish traditional bullying (Bradshaw, Sawyer, & O-Brennan, 2007; Kanetsuna, Smith, & Morita, 2006; Holt, Finkelhor, & Kantor, 2007). In most western societies, traditional bullying is characterized by physical behaviors such as hitting, punching and spitting, or nonphysical aggression such as verbal assault, teasing, ridicule, sarcasm, and scapegoating (Campbell, 2005; Kanetsuna, et al., 2006; Smorti, Menesini, & Smith, 2003). It involves not only the perpetrator(s) and the victim(s), but also a large number of bystanders who witness the bullying events but do not interfere due to the fear of being the next victim (Akiba, 2005; Campbell, 2005; Talbert, 2004; Talbert & Glanzer, 2006; Talbert & White, 2003). The scientific definition of bullying is complex because it has to refer not only to a single act of aggression but also to situation, power-relation, and bullies’ intent to harm (Carey, 2003; Eslea, et al., 2003; Smorti, et al., 2003).
The difficulty of establishing a definitive operational concept of bullying is further exacerbated by the cultural and linguistic derivations of the concept in non-western cultures. Oftentimes there is no equivalent word to describe exactly the same meaning of the English term, bullying, in other languages (Eslea, et al., 2003; Smorti, et al., 2003). For example, in Japanese, a word, Ijime, is a close linguistic cousin to the western notion of bullying. However, the concept of ijime has a more nuanced application and intent than is ascribed to traditional bullying in western society. Unlike the western definition of bullying, which is “aggressive behaviour characterized by repetition of action and asymmetric power relationship” (Kanetsuna, et al., 2006, p. 570), ijime often takes psychological and indirect forms, such as ostracism/exclusion and systematic ignorance from a peer group, (Akiba, 2005; Kanetsuna, et al., 2006; Smorti, et al., 2003; Treml, 2001), and multiple perpetrators, often a whole class, target one victim (Akiba, 2005; Maeda, 1999; Smorti, et al., 2003). In fact, over 90% of Japanese students believed that only group-to-one harassments are ijime and they clearly distinguish ijime and fighting (Maeda, 1999). In a collective culture like Japan, it can be a serious threat to become an ijime victim because Japanese form their identity based on their roles in a community (Akiba, 2005; Nesdale & Naito, 2007). Japanese students think social isolation is the most dreadful thing that could happen (Akiba, 2005). Victims are often blamed and considered to be worthy of bullying because their behaviors are “Selfish”, “Noisy”, “Inappropriate”, “Not following school rules”, or “Different”(Akiba, 2005; Treml, 2001). In a collective society, being different can threaten to disturb the harmony within the group (Nesdale & Naito, 2007; Treml, 2001). The Japanese saying: “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down” reflects the concept well.
As described, there are many studies to demonstrate the distinctions that comprise traditional bullying between cultures and countries; however, little research on cyberbullying has been conducted. Analysis of several studies demonstrated a consistent description of the characteristics of cyberbullying as “the willful use of computers or computerized mechanics as tools to intentionally and repeatedly causes harm or discomfort through verbal or relational aggression that targets a specific person or group of persons” (Cook, et al., 2007, p. 4) and can be categorized into two distinct types: the use of computer technology or cell phones to bully others in the real world and the use of cyber space to bully others in the virtual world. More teachers, school administrators, and parents seem to be interested in cyberbullying; however, they may not be fully aware of the various ways that students use technology and how these technologies are being used by some students as a means of harassing other students. As Storm and Storm (2005) point out, teachers, administrators, and parents are not well-prepared to handle cyberbullying. When it comes to technology, it is possible that younger generations are much better versed than adults. Therefore, we have to know what is actually happening and develop appropriate preventions/interventions before things get worse.
A Technology Generation
Megan Meier was thrilled when her parents gave her permission to open her first MySpace account. Like most 13 year old girls Megan was eager to chat with her friends online about school, the latest gossip, and of course boys. Not long after Megan had established her identity using MySpace she began to send and receive her first messages to people who she knew and a few who she didn’t know.
One evening Megan received a message from a boy named Josh. She didn’t recognize the name but after taking a peek at Josh’s information on his MySpace page Megan immediately became interested in the cute boy who was sending her messages. Unfortunately Megan’s story is not one of young love being found using technology that is the 21st century’s equivalent of the school romance. Instead, Megan’s story is one of cyberbullying that splashed across the headlines of newspapers, appeared on the blogs of citizen journalists, and shocked the world when this 13-year old girl named Megan committed suicide in her bedroom inside her parent’s home (Maag, 2007). Court records reveal the sordid tale of Megan’s death caused by stress of being the target of a callous cyberbullying incident.
Instead of Megan developing a friendship and love interest on MySpace with who she thought was a new boy in the area named Josh, Megan had been targeted as a victim of cyberbullying by Lori Drews, the mother of one of Megan’s 13-year old former friends, with whom Megan had gotten into a fight with, and an 18-year-old temporary office worker who worked for Drews (Korman, 2008). Ms. Drews and her 18 year old accomplice orchestrated an elaborate hoax to convince Megan that she had a developing relationship with a boy named Josh and even went so far as to suddenly end the fake relationship by sending a final message to Megan that stated, The world would be a better place without you…(Maag, 2007; Shariff, 2008). When the hoax was finally revealed it spread like wildfire across the Internet for all to see. Sadly, Megan’s emotional state was unable to deal with the humiliation and she took her own life.
While the outcome of Megan’s story is not typical it is certainly endemic to the growing global phenomenon of cyberbullying. Moreover, there are few laws, policies, and established protocol that societies and schools have in place to address the incidences of cyberbullying that are all too common among today’s adolescents and teenagers. As an example, in Megan’s case the state of Missouri had no cyberbullying laws at the time of her suicide and while Lori Drews was convicted of misdemeanor offenses as a violation of the Consumer Fraud and Abuse Act for violating the terms and conditions of her MySpace account the full penalty of laws that would govern traditional physical and psychological bullying offenses did not readily apply in this tragic case.
Over the past few years, both major and minor cyberbullying incidences have been getting more attention in technologically advanced countries such as the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan. In the U.K, a group of teens filmed themselves slapping and beating up the targeted victim and posted it on YouTube with the title of “Happy Slapping” (Shariff, 2008). In South Korea, two celebrities, who were severely attacked by numerous anonymous people on the Internet, killed themselves, too (Mckenna, 2007). In Japan, a sixth grade girl had slashed the throat of a girl in her class at school because she was angry at what the girl posted about her on her Website (Watanabe, 2008). It maybe hard to imagine for adults to have a motive to kill someone based on a comment posted on the Internet, but maintaining a personal Web site can be time consuming. Thus, it “can also promote an increased focus on the self and a heightened, and perhaps exaggerated, sense that others are watching [it] with interest” (Wallace, 1999, p. 34). In fact, the Web site was an important place for self-expression for the girl who was awkward in communication in real life (Shimoda, 2008). Negative remarks on the personal Web page were possibly unbearable to the girl due to egocentrism in adolescence. Incidents such as these may only represent the tip of the iceberg. Similar episodes are reported in Australia, New Zealand, India and Thailand, as well (Shariff, 2008).
While societies and schools have been slow to respond to the increased incidences of cyberbullying, scholars studying the phenomenon have actively investigated and defined this new type of bullying in which perpetrators use technologies such as emails, cell phones, Internet Web sites, social networking sites (SNS), and/or chat rooms (Campbell, 2005; Cook, et al., 2007; Shariff, 2008; Storm & Storm, 2005) to harass, threaten, and even conspire to do harm. Studies have revealed that deliberate acts of cyberbullying include sending threatening or aggressive emails, text messages, and/or instant messages. Other acts also include spreading malicious rumors, posting embarrassing pictures and/or videos online without permission, setting up a derogatory Web site targeting the victim, breaking into someone’s e-mail or SNS account to damage the person’s reputation or relationships, excluding the victim from an online group, disclosing personal information, and attacking anonymously by using avatars (Campbell, 2005; Cook, et al., 2007; Lenhart, 2007; Shariff, 2008).
Some educators and parents may think cyberbullying is an unusual behavior in which only students with problems are engaged. However, considering the fact that new information technology hardware, software, and application innovations are part of the lives of today’s adolescents and teens, it is not surprising that the way students bully their peers has adapted with this technology. The prevalence of cyberbullying varies depending on the definition and the participants’ age and gender; however, several studies have shown that approximately 15% to 57% of school age students in the U.S. have experienced some types of cyber harassment (Cook, et al., 2007; Hinduja & Patchin, 2005; Lenhart, 2007; Li, 2004). In Canada, it is revealed that 34% of students in grades 7 to 11 have been bullied through the Internet (Media Awareness Network). In England, it was reported that about 25% of youth aged 11 to 19 had been cyberbullied, and sixteen children committed suicide due to cyberbullying each year (Anderson & Sturm, 2007; Li, 2006). Another study on British youths also demonstrated that “31 percent of youth ages 9 to 19 had received that unwanted sexual comments and that 33 percent had received nasty comments sent via email, chat, instant message, or text message” (Willard, 2007, p. 32). In Japan, 45% of high school students, 67% of middle school students and 10% of elementary school students have experienced cyberbullying (Yomiuri Online). A study conducted by Li (2005) demonstrated that over 60% of students in China have experienced cyberbullying, as well.
As for the Internet use among American children age 5 to 17, 90% of them use computers, and 59% have access to the Internet (Cook, et al., 2007). A different survey revealed that 22% of teens ages 12 to 17 reported they were keeping a personal Web site (Willard, 2007). In Canada, 94% of students grades 4 to 11 (N=5000+) have the Internet access at home and by 11th grade, half of them have thier own Internet-connected computer. 28% of 4th graders use instant messenger (IM), and that figure rises to 86% among 11th graders (Media Awareness Network). In the U.K, about 70% of students have access to the Internet at home, and 75% of them carry cell phones (Shariff, 2008). In China, over 40% of high school students have their own computer with the Internet and 63% of them have cell phones (Watanabe, 2008). In Japan, the survey results (N= 25,800) demonstrated that 95% of high school students, 40% of middle school students, and 21% of elementary school children have cell phones with the Internet access (Yomiuri Online). The Internet space is a perfect playground for many adolescents which provides many like-minded friends and where self-expression is made easy (Shimoda, 2008). It is predicted that the number of students who have access to the Internet and cell phones will increase each year. Technological equipment is getting smaller, faster, more interactive, and more ubiquitous (Willard, 2007). As a result, the number of cyberbullying incidents may also rise worldwide; thus, it is essential for educators and parents to understand the diverse aspects of cyberbullying and prepare for strategies to prevent the problems.
Many of the studies on traditional bullying have focused on school-age children because school bullying incidents peak at middle school and then rapidly drop by the end of high school (Chapell et al., 2004; Chapell, Hasselman, Kitchin, Lomon, MacIver, & Sarullo, 2006). However, this drop may not be the case for cyberbullying because older students are more likely to have their own cell phones and computers. In fact, more eighth graders reported their cyberbullying experiences than sixth graders (Kowalski, et al., 2008), and cyberbullying is prevalent even among college students. A survey conducted by Aoyama (2009) revealed that about 30% of university students (N=421) reported that they have heard of cyberbullying taking place in a circle of friends, and about 46% of them have seen material posted online that denigrates or puts down a school staff member. In addition, 13% of students have received mean and nasty messages from someone. These findings suggest that not only middle and high school but also university administrators are facing new challenges.
The high prevalene of cyberbullying among collge students is not surprising because the ages between18 and 24 had the highest rate of the Internet use of all age groups (Gordon, Juang, & Syed, 2007). Problematic Internet usage such as Internet addiction, among college students is often reported (Ceyhan & Ceyhan, 2007; Gordon, et al., 2007). The perfect example would be one Website called juicycampus.com in which rumors and gossips relating to the college/university are posted anonymously. On such a Website, some users discuss physical attributes, personal aesthetic, and intimacy relationships of faculty and students, and some posts even contain racist and sexist remarks (Hostin, 2008).
Gender differences also need to be mentioned. Because it is said girls are more likely to engage in indirect/psychological bullying than boys, researchers point out cyberbullying is more prevalent among girls (Willard, 2007). However, as will be described in the following discussion, there are several different forms of cyberbullying; thus, it is probable that boys and girls equally engage in cyberbullying, but in different ways and types. In fact, it is reported that boys’ most popular activity online is gaming, and girls’ favorite online activity is communication; therefore, flaming and exclusion types can be seen more among boys, and denigration and outing/tricky types can be seen more among girls (Willard, 2007). Another study demonstrates that males are “more likely to be bullies and cyber-bullies than their female counterparts” (Shariff, 2008, p. 84). Li (2006) also shows that more male students reported being cyberbullied than female students, but females are more likely to inform their victimized experiences to adults.
Categorical Applications and Typological Characteristics of Cyberbullying
Research on cyberbullying has provided operational definitions that articulate both the applications and typologies of the phenomenon. Researchers outlined distinct categorical applications and unique typologies of persons who engage in cyberbullying behaviors. As previously discussed, cyberbullying ismost often perpetrated through the use of computer technology or cell phones to bully others in the real world (e.g., “Happy Slapping”) and the use of cyber space to bully others in the virtual world (Cook, et al., 2007). For example, an online character such as one in Second Life, can attack or intentionally exclude other online characters.
|Table. 1. Statistics on international cyberbullying and technology usage among youth|
|Cyberbullying prevalence||Teen’s accessibility to technology||Cases|
|U.S||15-57% of students have experienced some type of cyberharassment||90% children ages 5 to 17 use computers & 59% have access to the Internet||13-year-old girl who was attacked on MySpace by her online boyfriend who turned out to be a mother of her friend killed herself|
|U.K||31% of youth ages 9 to 19 have experienced cyberbullying and cyber-harassment||70% of students have access to the Internet at home, and75% of them carry a cell phone||“Happy Slapping”: a group of teens beat up the targeted victim and film the actions, then uploaded it on YouTube|
|Canada||34% of students in grades 7 to 11have been cyberbullied||94% of students grades 4 to 11 have Internet access at home||“Star Wars Kid”: a boy who dressed like a Star Wars character was filmed by his peer who uploaded the video for fun. It was one of the most downloaded video of the year on YouTube. He was so embarrassed that he dropped out of high school|
|Japan||45%of high school, 67% of middle school &10% of elementary students have been cyberbullied||95% of high school, 40% middle school students have a cell phone.||A 6th grade girl killed her classmate who left negative comments on the girl’s Web site|
|China||60% of students have been cyberbullied||32% high school students use Internet||School teacher sued against his student who modified pictures of teacher’s face with naked body and monkey and posted them online|
Types of Cyberbullying
Willard (2007) identified seven applied categories which characterize cyberbullying.
Yasukawa (2008) also recognized four patterns of cyberbullying as follows.
Profiles of Perpetrators
Shariff (2008) also notes two types of cyberbullying in terms of target and intention of perpetrators.
The latter type of cyberbullying provides evidence to the fact that teachers and school staff, not simply youthful peers, can be victimized by cyberbullying as well. For example, a teacher who tried to stop cyberbullying and posted a warning message on the “unofficial” school Web-page ended up receiving many threatening emails (Yasukawa, 2008).
The characteristics of cyberbullying perpetrators also emerge in four distinct typologies that best articulate the phenomenon (Kennedy, 2005; Kowalski, Limber & Agaston, 2008).
However, the four categories listed above are not conclusive. Students may engage in cyberbullying without believing they do. Students believe it is okay to write anything on these Websites because nobody seems to be reproached for posting negative comments or rumors (Shimoda, 2008).
|Flaming||Angry or rude messages sent directly to a victim or to an online group. Generally, flaming occurs in public communication such as chat room, game, and blog.
According to Wallace (1999), group polarization can be quite high in the Internet community because it is so easy to find someone with similar opinions in the virtual settings. As a result, people may hold biased discussion and believe different opinions or attitudes deserve attacking.
|Harassment||Bullies repeatedly sending a victim offensive messages. Contrary to flaming, harassing messages are generally sent though emails, instant messages, and text messages.|
|Cyberstalking||Threats of harm are made though emails, instant messages, and text messages. It is often linked to the termination of sexual relationship.|
|Denigration (Putdown)||Harmful or cruel statements about a person are conveyed others by forwarding emails and posting misleading information about the victim on the Web sites. In this case, the intended recipient is not the target, but the public who read the email or watch the Web site.|
|Masquerading||It refers to someone who pretends to be somebody else and tries to make a victim look bad by sending or posting negative messages or comments. It can happen because the exchange of passwords is believed to be evidence of true friendship among teens, especially girls.|
|Outing and trickery||It refers to sensitive, private or embarrassing information disclosed by forwarding emails or posting information online. Outing and trickery can occur in the context of a failed relationship in which one party distributes private information acquired while the relationship was still mutual.|
|Exclusion||It means exclusion from online groups such as games.|
|Deception emails||It is similar to Willard’s (2007) identified masquerading types; however, an exchange of the password is not necessary.
There are Websites to make up deception emails. Users just type someone’s email address and create messages. The Web-based email services send messages which seem to be sent by someone who uses the email address.
For example, students receive emails from their own email addresses which often contain death notice. Perpetrators can use multiple peers’ email address to harass the targeted victim, too. The victim student easily believes s/he is completely rejected.
|Chain emails/texts||This is an electronic type of chain letter which attempts to induce the recipient to forward a number of messages and then pass them on to as many recipients as possible.
For instance, it is reported the perpetrator took private pictures of his peer at the rest room and attached the picture with a chain email by using anonymous email address. The message said “If you do not forward the email, it is your turn to be the victim.” (Yasukawa, 2008, p. 39) It did not take time that the picture was spread throughout the students at the school.
|Masqueraded profile on SNS||It is also similar to masquerading and denigration (Put down) types. A perpetrator sets up a (2007) SNS account and creates someone’s profile which often describes the victim as a sex addict, a shoplifter etc. The profile looks so real that even teachers believe it. The victimized high school girl was suspected to prostitute and left the school (Yasukawa, 2008).|
|Unofficial School Web-sites||This is like a juicycampus.com where negative remarks or rumors about someone are posted, but students or alumni opened the “unofficial” school Web-page as a students’ secrete where they hang out without adult supervision because these Web-sites are often inaccessible without ID and password.
In face-to-face bullying, it maybe difficult for some children not to conform to bossy student who bully other peer. However, a study showed that the degree of conformity did not disappear in the computer-mediated communication environment (Wallace, 1999). Thus, it is possible that students feel silent pressures to conform to the group even in the Internet community.
Strom and Strom (2005) also argue that jealousy is a common motive for cyberbullying. Unlike traditional bullying, popular students can be targeted.
|Peer-to-peer cyberbullying||Malicious and defamatory remarks and rumors are posted about a party.||e.g., JuicyCampus.com|
|Anti-authority cyber-expressions||Vitriolic comments are invited when students are angry with teachers or professors for a variety of reasons.||e.g., RateMyTeacher.com and RateMyProfessor.com|
|Vengeful angels||Individuals who engage in cyberbullying to protect their friends and they do not see themselves as a bully.|
|Power hungry||Individuals who want to demonstrate their power in cyberspace. However, they are often the victim of traditional bullying and could not exert their power in real life situations.|
|Revenge of the nerds||Individuals who have high technology skills and use them to frighten or embarrass others. As in the power hungry typology, they may not be tough enough in real life. Anderson and Sturm (2007) point out “[cyber] bullies may have low self-esteem and act aggressively to overt compensate for their weakness.” (p. 25) It is one of the characteristics of cyberbullying, which is seldom seen in traditional bullying, that cyberbullies can be physically smaller and younger than victims unlike traditional face-to-face bullying.|
|Mean girls||Individuals who are bored and engage in cyberbullying to look for some entertainment. These cyberbullies are often female (Kennedy, 2005).|
Another interesting study conducted by Shariff (2008) has revealed that 71% of students indicated they were less likely to bully others if they were happy at school. The study further reveals that stress can drive teens to misbehave online or cyberspace can be a stress outlet for them. In either case, students seem to engage in cyberbullying behaviors just for fun without thinking about the serious consequences. In fact, the frustration-aggression theory, first proposed by a group of researchers at Yale University in 1939, argues that frustration brings out anger and aggressive responses, and then anger triggers a hostile action (Berkowitz, 1989). Perpetrators are often less restrained in their attacks on the victim because they cannot observe the consequences or pains the victim suffers. As a result, they believe they do not hurt anyone (Mckenna, 2007). This is the phenomenon of disinhibition in which “the anonymity afforded by the Internet can lead people to pursue behaviors further than they might otherwise be willing to do.” (Kowalski et al., 2008, p. 64) In real life face-to-face settings, our behaviors are modulated by the emotional reactions of others; however, because perpetrators face no social/peer disapproval and the threat of punishment in cyber-space, their behaviors can be more extreme than they normally would be.
Profiles of Cyberbullying Victims/Targets
Just as there are organized profiles of individuals who are most inclined to engage in cyberbullying behaviors, there are also predictors of those individuals who are typically targeted as victims of cyberbullying. The cyberbullied victims/targets fall into two identifiable at-risk groups (Willard, 2007). The first group is the wannabe crowd who tries hard to fit in with the group of peers and intentionally involve themselves in Internet communication. Second, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual (LGBT) students, who are often the target of traditional bullying as well, are generally targeted for personal characteristics or through sexual forms of harassment (Shariff, 2008). A study shows that GLBT individuals are “twice as likely to experience cyberstalking or e-mail harassment from a stranger as were students who identified themselves as heterosexual” (Finn, 2004, p. 480).
It is important to recognize that both victim-prone groups are frequent users and active inhabitants of social networking sites (SNS), thereby exposing them to more opportunities to not only be victims but also the potential to replicate cyberbullying behaviors toward others. According to Shariff (2008), about 40% of students who use SNS have been cyberbullied compared to 22% of students who do not use SNS. However, as mentioned earlier, everyone, teachers, popular students, and ex-boy/girl friend, can be victims. This is another difference from traditional bullying which victims are often younger or physically smaller and weaker. It is also possible that the victimized students in traditional bullying can be cyberbullies. Watanabe (2008) discusses that the victims are 17 times more likely to be bullies than bullies to be victims. A child’s status as a bully or victim could be easily interchanged.
Negative Effects of Cyberbullying
Many researchers on traditional bullying have argued various undesirable influences on victims including depression, anxiety, lower self-esteem, poor academic achievement, more physical health problems, school avoidance, and future social phobia (Kowalski, et al., 2008; O’ Moore & Kirkham, 2001; Shariff, 2008). Although fewer studies have been conducted, cyberbullying can be more damaging than traditional face-to-face bullying to victims because the fluidity and frequency of the bullying behaviors using technology. In other words, cyberbullying can occur anytime and anywhere. Hence, negative effects such as depression, anxiety or low self-esteem can be more severe and longer lasting.
Adolescents cannot simply turn off the computers or mobiles as many adults would do because technology is a vital tool of communication. Even though victims change their email addresses, phone numbers, and screen names, it may give an only temporal solution because it is unreasonable that the victims would never use the Internet again, and they simply may not be mature enough to handle the virtual world and its anonymous attack (Anderson & Sturm, 2007; Maag, 2007).
In traditional bullying, a limited number of children are involved. Contrarily, in cyberbullying, “hurtful or humiliating content can be sent to a large number of people in a short period of time” (Hinduja & Patchin, 2009, p. 23). For example, in Canada, a high school boy dropped out of school after his classmates found an embarrassing video of him pretending to be a Star Wars character and posted it on the Internet as a joke which became the Internet’s most downloaded video of 2006 (Mckenna, 2007). It can cause further cyber-harassment by those who are not originally related to the victim. The fact that thousands of audience/bystanders may be involved will make victims helpless. What is more, the materials posted online are difficult to delete completely. They are easily copied by or forwarded to many people. Proof of harassment will last almost forever (Yasukawa, 2008).
Finally, unlike traditional bullying, many victims often have no idea who are the cyberbullies. In fact, about half of the students who had been cyberbullied did not know who was bullying them (Media Awareness Network). Anonymity may amplify fear and negative effects on victims; as a result, victimized students may doubt all of their peers and fail to seek out help
What Can We Do? The Role of Teachers, Parents, and Researchers
In spite of the high prevalence of bullying/cyberbullying among adolescents, a number of studies suggest that adults underestimate the incidents (Holt & Keyes, 2004). In fact, the district-wide survey conducted in Japan revealed that only half of the parents whose children have been cyberbullied have acknowledged that their children have been victimized online (Yomiuri Online). Shariff (2008) also reports that 32% of parents in her survey thought online bullying could not hurt children because “it is just words in cyberspace.” (p. 80) That is why many teens think that adults do not understand their new online world (Willard, 2007). Even for adults who are aware of danger, the majority of them are not confident to instruct appropriate use of mobiles and the Internet to their children (Shimoda, 2008)
As described, cyberbullying can cause more serious problems than traditional face-to-face bullying; however, intervention is not easy. What makes cyberbullying intervention difficult is its hidden nature. Unlike traditional classroom bullying, cyberbullying is more likely to happen outside of the school, and proofs of victimization are invisible because cyberspace is the major place for bullying. Many parents who respect their children’s privacy are reluctant to check emails or text messages. On the other hand, as students become older, they are less likely to report their bullying incidents even though cyberbullying seems to be more prevalent among older students (Smith, Madsen & Moody, 1999). In addition, there could be a context in which a young person has provided sexually suggestive pictures to his/her ex who is now making threats or cyberstalking. In such case, the victim is hesitant to report because of shame or fear of punitive consequences (Willard, 2007).
Another factor to consider is rights of free speech. Many schools do not have general guidelines to regulate off-campus speech. In the U.S., the student who was suspended for setting up a Web site mocking a teacher sued the school in 1998, and the Federal court determined that the student’s rights were violated and ordered the school district to pay $30,000 and apologize to the student (Sturgeon, 2006). Most schools do not have a policy to punish cyberbullying (Kennedy, 2005). Nevertheless, it is essential to teach children about the limit on their free speech rights (Willard, 2007).
First, schools have to teach children how to use technology and behave ethically online. Children may believe only physical threats and violence are bullying (Media Awareness Network). However, it is vital to educate children that cyberbullying can cause serious psychological distress among victims. Various netiquette programs and useful Web resources are available for schools and children (in Appendix A). Teaching social skills, such as anger control and stress management, can also be effective. Willard (2005) points out that social skill training can “enhance predictive empathy skills and ethical decision-making and conflict resolution skills.” (p.11) To deliver effective education on technology use and cyber-bullying prevention, teachers should understand full behavioral aspects of cyberbullying (Willard, 2007). It is also essential to encourage students to report cyberbullying to adults.
Second, many cyberbullies think they won’t be caught; thus, it is important to teach them that they leave cyber-footprints on the Internet wherever they go, and a PC can be located with an IP address (Willard, 2007). It is also necessary to instruct that cyberbullying is a crime. In 2006, the U.S. Congress passed a law making it a federal crime to “annoy, abuse, threaten or harass” another person through the Internet, and approximately 36 states have enacted similar legislation (McKenna, 2007, p. 60). There is a similar law in Canada, too. “It is a crime to communicate repeatedly with someone if your communication caused them to fear for their own safety or for the safety of others” (Media Awareness Network). It’s also a crime to publish information which injures a person’s reputation. As Wallace (1999) argues, defining harassment and threats in legal terms is difficult; thus, introducing real stories can be helpful for students to visualize what is actually a crime.
Even though many schools would handle cyberbullying cases without legal procedures, it would be effective to know those facts. It may be also a good opportunity to review school policies. As of 2008, 30 states have laws related to bullying and five state laws (Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, South, Carolina, and Washington) include electronic communications (Kowalski, et al., 2008). In Missouri, cyberbullying law was signed in July, 2008, and it “covers harassment from computers, text message and other electronic devices” (Associated Press).
In addition, teachers’ education and professional development of school staff and policy-makers are critical. Raising awareness is the very first step for schools and teachers. The teachers’ education needs to include legal literacy which prepares them to apply legal principles because, through discussion and analysis of case law, they are able to reflect their school situations (Shariff, 2008).
If schools already have anti-bullying programs, cyberbullying needs to be included. Defining it operationally in easy language for young students is also important because cyberbullying can occur in several forms. If schools already have rules on Internet activity, it is best to be conveyed to students in the context of discussion (Willard, 2007). Educating staff about the seriousness of cyberbullying is also essential for successful school-based intervention because adults often think indirect nonphysical bullying has less harmlful than direct physical bullying (Bradshaw et al., 2007).
With regard to monitoring, there are some computer programs/software that filter harmful Web sites, detect emails or instant massagers (IMs) that contain certain words, keep logs, and track all Web sites children visited (Kowalski, et al., 2008). However, no monitoring system is perfect forever. Students in the computer generation may be able to use methods which allow them to bypass the filtering programs; thus, again it is important to encourage students to report cyberbullying. It would be also a good idea to invite experts in digital literacy to help teachers develop resources of databases of useful Web sites (Shariff, 2008)
Finally, informing parents of the issue is also necessary because, as mentioned earlier, cyberbullying is more likely to occur outside of schools. Providing workshops, sending information in school newsletters, and having more extensive information available in counselor’s office are suggested (Campbell, 2005).
While teachers must certainly be prepared to address issues and incidences of cyberbullying the reality is that home Internet access facilitates a 24/7 playground for predators to bully others (Campbell, 2005; i-SAFE America) leading to more incidences of cyberbullying taking place away from schools than in schools. However, the victims of cyberbullying are often reluctant to report the incident to parents because they fear overreaction by their parents who may take away Internet access or a cell phone which is a vital tool for teens’ socialization (Campbell, 2005; Storm & Storm, 2005). These facts make it more difficult for adults to identify cyberbullying. Thus, the consequences of cyberbullying can be more serious than face-to face bullying (Campbell, 2005).
Parents are primary sources to teach moral values and social expectations to their children even though influential mass media transmits contradicting messages (Willard, 2007). Unlike mass media like TV, newspapers, and books, the Internet information is personal media which individual responsibility is important; thus, parents of children who misbehave online are responsible for the behaviors (Shimoda, 2008).
The very first thing parents can do is to increase monitoring regarding the Internet or other technology use. “Parents of bullies have been found to demonstrate lack of involvement, no limit setting, and model aggressive problem-solving” (Willard, 2005, p. 6). It is also reported that only 33% of teens think their parents monitor their online activity contrary to 62% of parents said they check on teens’ activity on the Internet (Lenhart, 2005). Asking what they are doing online or helping them find resources increases adolescents’ online skills; however, parents have to be careful not to be too pushy about monitoring, restricting and controlling their children’s online activities because teens are extremely protective of their privacy (Shariff, 2008). Setting rules on Internet use and installing filtering software will be an appropriate first step, but establishing trust is more important (Willard, 2007).
Simply keeping eyes on the screen may not be helpful because teens use net lingo and abbreviations among friends. For example, do you know what the following words mean?
The answers are
- Parents Standing Over Shoulder
- Be Back
- Can’t Talk
- Parents Alert
- Just a Minute
To become not simply familiar but perhaps proficient in speaking the language of cyber communities and cultures is essential if we wish to not only understand the catalysts of cyberbullying but also the means by which we can prevent these acts. To learn more about the language used in cyber communities and cultures adults may wish to access online information pages such as: NetLingo Top 20 Internet Acronyms Every Parent Needs to Know www.netlingo.com/top20teens.cfm; and, Text Message Abbreviation swww.Webopedia.com/quick_ref/textmessageabbreviations.asp)
Second, they must teach their children how to handle personal information. It sounds so common sense to adults, but children may simply be cognitively immature and have no idea that mailing address, telephone number, password should never been given to others online. Knowing the locations where children post information is important. Even though children can be upset that it is invasion of privacy, material posted online is public. Once negative information is posted, it is difficult to delete it completely. In reality, a high school girl who posted her high school information and her address on SNS was stalked by a middle-age pedophile (Watanabe, 2008).
Because cyberbullying is relatively a new phenomenon, there is not enough literature as of this writing. Thus, researchers need to study various aspects on cyberbullying. As Storm and Storm (2005) discuss the implications for future study, researchers can pursue the following study.
First of all, it is necessary to know the extent in which the students exposed to cyberbullying behaviors. A larger student sample with various backgrounds would give a more accurate prevalence of cyberbullying among youth.
Second, it is important to explore the similarities and differences between traditional bullies and cyberbullies. Shariff (2008) says “background on traditional bullying is important because it lays the foundation for an improved understanding of emerging profiles of cyberbullying” (p. 9). The behavior patterns of traditional bullies are well documented and contrary to popular assumptions, bullies often are intelligent, receive good grades, and usually express self-confidence. Kowalski, et al. (2008) also point out a high correlation between traditional bullies and cyber-bullies, and traditional bullying victims and cyberbullying victims. 55% of cyberbullies reported their school-yard bullying behaviors, and 61% of victims of cyberbullying reported being victimized in traditional bullying as well.
Third, the long-term effects on adolescents who are involved with cyberbullying also need more research. In traditional bullying, student perpetrators record higher than average rates of alcoholism, more frequent personality disorders and require greater use of mental health services than their non-bully peers (Storm & Storm, 2005). Classic bullying study by Olweus has demonstrated that 60% of boys who engaged in bullying were convicted at least once in adulthood (Watanabe, 2008). Moreover, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem can last for a long time. Thus, longitudinal studies will be necessary to investigate if similar findings are obtained from cyberbullying contexts.
Fourth, it is essential to comprehend the family relationships and environment of cyberbullies. Parents of traditional bullies do not use even a fraction of the praise, encouragement, or good humor that other parents use in communicating with their children (Storm & Storm, 2005). In addition, students who mistreat others are often victims themselves within their own home (Holt, Finkerlhor, & Kantor, 2007). The bully students are twice less likely to have family communication (Watanabe, 2008). These findings suggest parental involvements can be the key for cyberbullying prevention.
Fifth, developing research-based intervention/prevention programs is critical. In traditional bullying, many schools have helped adolescents to overcome social skill deficiencies and emotional immaturity. School-wide anti-bullying curricula are available, too. For example, Dan Olweus, a researcher in Norway, is a pioneer in bullying study who conducted the country-wide intervention program in the 1980s. The effectiveness of his programs is also proven empirically (Olweus, 1993). The program is adapted to the U.S school system and proved to be successful as well. Therefore, researchers have to test if existing programs would work for cyberbullying. It is crucial for researchers to understand the new phenomena and replicate the well-documented area of traditional bullying with cyberbullying perspectives (Cook, et al., 2007; Hinduja & Patchin, 2005; Lenhart, 2007; Li, 2004).
Subsequently, it is important to understand definition/perceptions of cyberbullying between students and teachers/parents because, as Bradshaw, et al. (2007) suggest, there is a large discrepancy between students and teachers in terms of perception of bullying. About 50% of children reported being bullied by other students at school at least once during the past month whereas 71% of staff estimated that 15% or less of the students at their schools were frequently bullied. Staff members who reported bullying rates similar to those indicated by students were only less than 1%. Additionally, whereas half of the staff (45.6%) indicated that a student had reported being bullied to them during the past month, 21.3% of students reported telling school staff after having been bullied.
It is hypothesized that the discrepancy will be much bigger for cyberbullying because it is rare for teachers and adults to witness the incident due to its hidden nature (Bradshaw, et al., 2007). It is also possible that the definition from researchers can be different from the one from students. In that case, the research findings are least valid.
The definition/perceptions of cyberbullying would be different in different cultures. For example, in China, behaviors of online prank and the Internet slander are forms of cyberbullying, and under the Chinese law, it is considered criminal to “insulting others using force or other methods or fabrication stories to slander others (Shariff, 2008, p. 61). In Japan, many students interviewed referred to name calling on bush boards as cyber-bullying. (Aoyama & Talbert, 2009). They also mentioned that unofficial school Web sites are often created by students for cyberbullying, and the use of cell phones to access the sites is common. Wallace (1999) points out that the Internet is a global environment with people from many cultures with different social rules. Hence, it is also necessary to be aware of cross-cultural aspects of cyberbullying.
Finally, the lack of a well-validated scale/instrument to measure cyberbullying is one of the problems for future study. Currently, researchers who have conducted studies on cyberbullying have created their own questionnaires/surveys, but they rarely provide information on reliability and validity (e.g., Li, 2006). Different measurements may lead to different results; thus, a measurement that have demonstrated technical adequacy will be needed.
Ending Where We Began: A Commitment to Inform, Reform, and Transform
While Megan’s story is certainly tragic it serves as a reminder to each of us the importance of actively seeking remedies to ending harassing and violent behaviors whether they be perpetuated in cyber-space or the play ground. The reality is that the lines between the terrestrial-world and the cyber-world are no longer evident. The boundaries that separated fantasize and realities have long been blurred in our highly adaptable and intuitive technology enriched 21st century society. As clearly seen in reports from popular press and academic research many students internationally have already experienced cyberbullying at varying levels of intensity as reported by both perpetuators and victims of this phenomenon. While many adults fail to embrace the importance and even the severity of cyberbullying incidents and while the hidden and even seemingly pecular nature of the acts of cyberbullying are difficult to fully fathom by a generation of adults not fully immersed in the lifestyle of information technology, the reality is that as technology advances so will the diverse applications and typologies of cyberbullying.
As educators, parents and researchers strive to keep pace with the new challenges of evolving information technology use and abuse it becomes more important to include students in the conversation and the research initiatives in order to overcome the generational and operational gap obstacles that serve as a veil to full disclosure and understanding of cyberbullying activities. Although there are still many obstacles before we can fully and effectively eliminate many of the incidences of cyberbullying, the simple act of increasing awareness of information technology use and behaviors among students, teachers, parents, and researcher is a significantly proactive first step in surmounting the obstacles that have allowed cyberbullying to thrive. Most important, these proactive efforts to educate and inform all stakeholders of both the overt and covert varieties of cyberbullying will serve as a catalyst to prevent future tragic incidences as detailed in Megan’s story.