Cyber Bullying is using the Internet, cell phones, video game systems, or other technology to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person. It is also defined as acts of aggression through computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices” (Jackson & Cohen, 2012).
Cyber Bullying can happen across several mediums such as
- Online Social Networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, MySpace and various other networks
- Instant Messaging (IMs) and Text messaging
- Chat rooms/ forums/blogs
- Online Games
The spectrum of Cyber Bullying actions is very wide. Famous examples are:
- Rumor Spreading
- Disclosure/sharing of personal information of others without their consent
- Exclusion/ Ostracism
- Heated Exchanges
- Defaming, Belittling, or Mocking
Unique Features of Cyber Bullying
- Overt and Covert Bullying
- Threats of harm, gossiping, exclusion and ignoring
- Not face to face
- Removes the impact of the action
- Perpetrator and bully observers may not be obvious
- Cyber world is not supervised
- Assaults can happen 24/7
- Not restricted to specific locations (ie school bus, classroom, & lunchroom)
- Cyber bullying is often related to offline problems
- Males and females are equally likely to experience and perpetuate Cyber bullying
- Some studies report females experience Cyber bullying at higher rates
The fact remains that teenagers today use more technology more than grownups, they have high speed internet, laptops, tablets, smart phones which is a 24/7 window to social interactions with peers and strangers. That brings bullying from school hallways to an all day exposure to potentially more hurtful dangers.
Who is the likely target?
It is clear that bullying in schools is still a monumental issue, but which students are being bullied and why? According to stopbullying.gov, the following attributes increase a child’s risk of being bullied:
- Children who are perceived as different from their peers, such as being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or different clothing, being new to a school, or being unable to afford what kids consider “cool”
- Children who are perceived as weak or unable to defend themselves
- Children who are depressed, anxious, or have low self esteem
- Children who are less popular than others and have few friends
- Children who do not get along well with others, seen as annoying or provoking, or antagonize others for attention
Why do kids break the rules of internet safety? There are a lot of reasons:
- Their friends are doing it
- They want to look cool and fit in
- They are rebelling against their parents
- They want to exercise adult behavior
- They are bullies
- They are seeking attention
- Forty-three percent of teens have been victims of Cyber bullying in 2010 in the USA.
- Nearly 20 percent of teens had a Cyber bully pretend to be someone else in order to trick them online, getting them to reveal personal information.
- Seventeen percent of teens were victimized by someone lying about them online.
- Thirteen percent of teens learned that a Cyber bully was pretending to be them while communicating with someone else.
- Ten percent of teens were victimized because someone posted unflattering pictures of them online, without permission.
- Eighty-one percent of youth said that others Cyber bully because they think it’s funny.
- Almost 80 percent of teens said that they either did not have parental rules about Internet use or found ways around the rules. of the types of activities youth are engaged in online and teach teens about cyber-ethics, responsibility, and Internet safety.
- Over 50 percent of teens felt angry after they were cyber-bullied. Roughly one-third of teens felt hurt, and almost 15 percent of teens felt scared by Cyber bullying experiences.
- Nearly 30 percent of teens wanted to seek revenge on those who cyber bullied them.
- Cyber bullying rates among children and adolescents range from 20-40%
- 8% of 10-12 years reported being cyber bullied
- 91% of children in grades 1-5 use computers
- 50% of children in grades 1-5 use the Internet
Average reactions by victims of Cyber bullying
In a survey conducted by www.stopcyberbullying.org, victims of Cyber bullying responded in the following methods:
- Thirty-six percent asked the bully to stop.
- Thirty-four percent blocked communication.
- Thirty-four percent talked to friends about the bullying.
- Twenty-nine percent did nothing about the bullying.
- Twenty-eight percent signed offline.
- Only 11 percent of teens talked to parents about incidents of Cyber bullying.
Short Term Effects of Being Bullied
- Kids that are bullied are more likely to skip school in an effort to avoid having to encounter their nemesis and experience the emotional, psychological and physical effects of being bullied. It is estimated that as many as 160,000 students skip school nationally on any given day out of fear of facing a bully that has, in some way, been terrorizing them.
- Bullied kids are more likely to get sick. Children who are being bullied are more likely to report feeling sick with some common symptoms being sore throat, cough, headache, stomach ache, and stuffy nose. These symptoms are not psychologically manifested, they are very real repercussions produced psychosomatically. Dr. Adrienne Nishina, Assistant Professor of Human Development at UC Davis, explains this physiological process. “Research with youth and adults shows that negative social interactions are experienced as particularly stressful. Stress causes the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol impairs immune system functioning, leaving the individual more vulnerable and less able to combat physical illnesses.”
- Bullied Teens are more likely to use alcohol as a coping mechanism which normally causes the teen to become more aggressive toward others. It is not uncommon for a child that was bullied in middle school or high school to ultimately become a bully later on in the academic process. Many kids that are bullies in college were bullied in middle school and high school.
Long Term Effects of Being Bullied
- People who were bullied as children are more likely to develop psychological issues as adults. Children who were bullied from the 6th-9th grade are more likely to become depressed by the time they reach the age of 23. Also, people who have memories of being teased as a child are more likely to experience depression, pathological perfectionism, social anxiety, and a greater neurotic ism in their adult years.
- People who were bullied during their childhood years are more likely to be bullied in the workplace. Unfortunately, many people who were victimized as children in a school environment often find themselves being the victim of workplace bullying as well. If fact, nearly 60% of people that are bullied at work admit to having been bullied as a child.
All of the aforementioned effects of being bullied are serious and carry an immense impact on the life of the one being bullied. There is one final result of bullying that I chose to present last. If for some reason the magnitude and gravity associated with the symptoms and results of being bullied that is listed above has somehow escaped you, maybe this one will convince you that this is a serious issue. Suicide is becoming more and more prevalent in its association with teens that are being bullied.
Suicides that have been linked to Cyber Bullying
17-year-old Alexis Pilkington, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, and 13-year-olds Megan Meier and Ryan Patrick Halligan never met each other and didn’t have much in common. They were all, however, victims of cyber-bullying.
Alexis Pilkington was just like any other seventeen-year-old girl. She was a popular athlete and a well -liked student who had already landed a soccer scholarship to college for next fall. She loved running on the beach near her Long Island home, and like most other teens her age, Alexis loved to be active, hang out with friends, listen to music, and of course use social networking sites such as Facebook and Formspring. It was on these sites where anonymous students attacked Alexis with insults, degrading comments, and vicious taunts. She was a strong willed girl, but because of the cyber insults in addition to some other personal problems Alexis was going through, she decided to take her own life.
Phoebe Prince was excited to start a new life in Massachusetts after having moved to the United States from Ireland with her family. To her and her family’s dismay,
Phoebe became a target of abuse and bullying from her classmates. In some cases the bullying took place in front of school staff, but nothing was done to stop the harassment. Phoebe was allegedly targeted because of a brief relationship she had with a senior on her new school’s football team. After the harassment continued to follow her from the school hallways to her living room through her computer, Phoebe decided to take her own life.
Megan Taylor Meier, November 6, 1992- October 17, 2006
Megan Meier was born in O’Fallon Missouri in 1992. From the time she was in third grade, Megan was put under the care of a psychiatrist. She was heavy for her age, and suffered from attention deficit disorder and also battled with depression. When
Megan started the 8th grade, things seemed to be looking up. She was losing weight and had just started at a new school where she was on the volleyball team. Although things were looking positive in Megan’s life, she decided to end a friendship with a girl who lived down the street from her. Around the same time as the ending of the friendship,
Megan received a friend request on her Myspace account, a social networking site, from a boy named Josh Evans. Megan thought Josh was really cute, he was 16 years old and after pleading for her mother’s permission, Megan added him as a friend. Tina Meier, Megan’s mom, kept a watchful eye on what her daughter was doing online, and was sure to keep tabs on her daughter’s new friend Josh.
Megan started to be happier than ever before. On her memorial website,
Megan’s mother comments saying that she believes her daughter’s happiness during this time was Josh. She is quoted saying, “Megan had a lifelong struggle with weight and self-esteem, and now she finally had a boy who she thought really thought she was pretty.”
Tina started growing suspicious of Josh when he never asked for Megan’s phone number, and when Megan asked him for his, he told her that he didn’t have a cell phone and his mother did not yet have a land-line because they had just moved to the area. On Sunday, October 15th, 2006, Megan got a message from Josh that made her very upset. It read, “I don’t know if I want to be friends with you anymore because I’ve heard that you are not very nice to your friends.” Megan frantically assured him that it wasn’t true. The next day at school, Megan passed out invitations to her 14th birthday party. She rushed home and asked her mother to log onto her Myspace to see if Josh had responded to the invite. Tina. Megan’s mom was in a rush to take her other daughter to the orthodontist, and was about to walk out the door when she noticed that Megan was very upset. Josh had still been sending mean messages to Megan. Tina told Megan to get off the computer and rushed out of the door. Fifteen minutes later, Tina received a frantic call from a crying daughter. Megan told her mother how all of the kids at school had posted bulletins on Myspace saying things like, “Megan Meier is a slut. Megan Meier is fat.”
After Tina arrived home, she found Megan trying to defend herself to her peers online. Tina had her daughter get off the computer, and told Megan that things would be okay and these kids obviously don’t know Megan. Megan, hysterical, ran up to her room. Twenty minutes later she went to check on her daughter in her room, and found that Megan had hanged herself in her closet. Megan died the next day, just three weeks before her 14th birthday.
The Meiers family later came to find that Josh Evans was a fictional character created by the mother of the girl who lived down the street who Megan decided to end a friendship with. Local police, as well as the FBI investigated the matter. No civil lawsuits were filed. On the site they created for their daughter’s memory, Ron and Tina Meier state that they want “the law changed, state or federal, so that what happened to Megan-at the hands of an adult-is a crime.
Ryan Patrick Halligan, December 18, 1989-October 7, 2003
Ryan Patrick Halligan was, as described by his parents, a “sweet, gentle and very sensitive soul.” Born in Poughkeepsie, NY about a week before Christmas, Ryan was “The best present of all.” As Ryan neared kindergarten, his parents grew concerned with his speech, language and motor skills development, and so from pre-school through the fourth grade, Ryan received special education services in school. When Ryan reached the 5th grade, he was assessed to be on grade level and no longer needed special education services. It was in 5th grade, once Ryan entered a public school, where he began to encounter bullying. A certain boy in Ryan’s school along with friends targeted Ryan because of his academic weaknesses and his poor physical condition and coordination.
Ryan, unlike a lot of kids, decided to tell his parents about the bullying. His parents advised him to ignore the bullying, since it was only verbal rather than physical. Ryan began seeing a therapist to help him develop stronger coping skills and to help him boost his self-confidence and self-esteem. By the end of 5th grade, Ryan’s therapist believed that he had improved a great deal and advised that Ryan stop sessions.
Once in middle school, the bullying problems resurfaced, and in December 2002,
Mr. and Mrs. Halligan knew something was wrong when Ryan had a breakdown at their kitchen table, admitting that the bullying had picked up and he never wanted to go back to school. He even asked if his family could move or if he could be homeschooled. Ryan began doing Billy Bank’s Taebo Kick Boxing program and in February 2003, his parents got a call from Ryan’s assistant principal who had just broken up a fight between Ryan and his bully.
Things seemed to calm down for Ryan after the fight, and a sort of friendship even formed between Ryan and his former bully. Ryan was just like any other middle school boy, his parents said. He loved doing things like swimming, camping, skateboarding, playing video games and instant messaging. “My son loved being on-line, staying connected with his friends after the school day and throughout the summer.” Ryan’s father commented. “But during the summer of 2003, a greater deal of time was spent on-line, mainly instant messaging. I was concerned and felt compelled to remind him of our Internet safety rules.”
The Halligans had set rules for Ryan’s Internet use, just as many cyber-bullying and teen suicide prevention experts suggest parents do. Things like no talking/IMing with strangers, no giving personal information to strangers, no sending pictures to strangers, and no secret passwords. The last rule was important to the Halligan parents because it allowed them to check what their children were doing and saying while online. It was with this rule that Ryan’s parents were able to access his instant messaging account days after his funeral and learn the true story behind their beloved son’s sudden suicide.
At the end of his 7th grade year, rumors began to spread around Ryan’s school questioning his sexual orientation. During the summer of 2003, Ryan approached a “popular” girl from his school on-line and began establishing a relationship with her in hopes of squashing the “gay” allegations that had rumored the halls of his school the previous year. When his 8th grade year started up, Ryan approached his new girlfriend, only to be crushed when she told him that she was only joking on-line, and her and her friends thought it would be funny to get Ryan to open up to this girl about personal things, and then all laugh about them. She even copied and pasted her personal conversations with Ryan and shared them with classmates. After finding out what the true intentions of his “girlfriend” had been, he went up to her and said, “It’s girls like you who make me want to kill myself.”
On October 7, 2003, when Ryan’s father was away on business, and everyone else in the Halligan family was sleeping, Ryan went into the family bathroom early in the morning and hanged himself. His sister found him that morning. On the memorial website that Ryan’s parents created for their lost son, Ryan’s father commented that “we (Ryan’s parents) have no doubt that bullying and cyber bullying were significant environmental factors that triggered Ryan’s depression.”
The legal aspects about cyber bullying: What does the law say?
In the USA:
To be sure, there are a number of cyber bullying behaviors that already fall neatly under existing criminal legislation (e.g., harassment, stalking, felonious assault, certain acts of hate or bias), though these instances occur with relative infrequency. Also, most can agree that certain forms of cyber bullying do not require formal (legal) intervention (e.g., minor teasing). That said, few can agree on the point when cyber bullying behavior crosses the threshold at which the criminal or civil law is implicated.
At the time of this writing, we are aware of recently passed or pending legislation in the following states: Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Washington. For example, Florida’s proposed law would add: “Bullying or harassment of any student or school employee is prohibited: (c) Through the use of data or computer software that is accessed through a computer, computer system, or computer network of a public K-12 educational institution.” Some proposals have been criticized for being ambiguous or for seeking to regulate behavior that is considered free speech. We personally argue that those who feel harassing, threatening, or otherwise intimidating speech or communications is (or should be) protected by the First Amendment are misguided.
A school that fails to respond appropriately to harassment of students based on a protected class may be violating several civil rights laws such as:
- Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act
- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
After Megan Meier’s suicide in 2006, Missouri governor Matthew Blunt created a task force whose only purpose was to study and create laws that had to do with cyber bullying. The task force includes public safety and mental health professionals, lawyers and legislators. Missouri also created more severe consequences for cyber bullying offences, changing the charge from a misdemeanor to a Class D felony, a misdemeanor being a crime that usually results in a fine or very minimal prison or jail time (less than 1 year), and a Class D felony being a crime that a definite fine and a lengthier jail time.
In the UK:
All UK state schools are required to have anti-bullying policies under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 and independent schools have similar obligations under the Education (Independent Schools Standards) Regulations 2003. These should include policies and processes for dealing with cyber bullying against teachers, as well as pupils.
Although cyber bullying is not a specific criminal offence in UK law, criminal laws such as the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 may apply in terms of harassment or threatening behavior. Where mobile bullying is concerned, the Telecommunications Act 1984 makes it a criminal offence to make anonymous or abusive calls. In addition, if you are harassed persistently on your mobile, it may be an offence under the 1997 Harassment Act. There is some anecdotal evidence that the police are more comfortable in bringing forward this law when dealing with issues of cyber bullying. The police have successfully used the Protection from Harassment Act to prosecute for the sending of offensive e-mails through the internet. Such messages will also constitute an offence under the Malicious Communications Act.
Furthermore, the Communications Act 2003 makes it a criminal offence to send: “…by means of a public electronic communications network, a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”.
Law in Action
On July 12th, 2009, a status posted on Facebook said:
“Keeley is going to murder the b*****. She is an actress. What a ****ing liberty. Emily ****head Moore.”.
Keeley Houghton, who was 18 then, had victimized Emily Moore for four years, both online and offline, before a court ruling sentenced her to a three-month period in a young offenders’ institution, becoming the first person in Britain to be jailed for bullying on a social networking site.
Finally, while a growing body of evidence is emerging that identifies peer-to-peer bullying as an increasing component of our young people’s daily experience in cyberspace, the legal system has sent clear messages to young people that criminal acts of bullying will be not be tolerated. However, it is not good social policy to wait until bullying reaches such acute levels before we intervene. For every bully who is punished before the court, many more will succeed in tormenting their target if we fail to engage sufficiently with the problem at a grass-root level.
The truth remains that Cyber Bullying is a serious issue that may go unnoticed by others. It all boils down to monitoring, reporting and counseling. Don’t let another child become a victim of bullying.