So, What is Cyber Bullying?
Cyber Bullying is the act of using the Internet, cell phones, video games, or other technology gadgets to send, text, or post 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:
- Social Networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, MySpace, etc.
- Instant Messaging (IMs) and Text messaging.
- Chat rooms/forums/blogs.
- Online Games.
The spectrum of Cyber Bullying actions is very broad.
The most famous examples are:
- Rumor Spreading.
- Disclosure (sharing of personal information of others without their consent).
- Heated Exchanges.
- Defaming, Belittling, or Mocking.
Unique Features that define Cyber bullying
- Overt and Covert Bullying.
- Threats of harm, gossiping, exclusion and ignoring.
- Incognito impact of the action.
- Perpetrator and bully observers may not be obvious.
- Cyber world is unsupervised.
- Assaults can happen 24/7.
- Not restricted to specific locations (e.g. school bus, classroom, lunchroom, the kid’s home)
- It is often related to offline problems.
- Girls are twice more likely to experience it than boys.
- Cyber bullying affects teens of all races equally.
The fact remains that teenagers today use more technology in a very advanced way. They have high speed Internet, laptops, tablets, smartphones and smart watches. They have 24/7 access to social interactions with peers and strangers. This brings bullying from school hallways to an all day exposure and creates potentially more harmful results. Hence it is important to understand what does Cyber Bullying mean, who does it impact and how?
Who are the most likely targets of Cyber Bullying?
It is clear that bullying in schools is still a monumental issue, but which students are cyber bullied and why? According to Stopbullying.gov, the following characteristics increase a child’s risk of being cyber bullied:
- Children who are perceived physically different from their peers, such as being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or cultural symbols.
- New students who still have a long way to become adapted to the school system and guidelines.
- Children who are physically weak; those suffering from a disability and a chronic disease like asthma or diabetes.
- Children who are depressed, anxious, or have low self esteem.
- Children with few friends (antisocial) and are viewed as vulnerable.
- Children who do not get along well with others and showcase aggressiveness or hostility to other students.
- Children from poor income families.
- LGBT children.
What is Cyber Bullying and Why do Kids Cyber bully?
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 act like adults.
- They are bullies by nature.
- They are seeking attention.
- They want to gain more popularity.
CyberBullying: Statistics (2013-2014)
- 25 percent of teens have been victims of Cyber bullying via their cell phones or the Internet.
- Over 50 percent of teens using the Internet have been cyber bullied.
- 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.
- 50 percent of teens said they don’t confide in their parents when they experience cyber bullying.
- 20 percent of cyber bullying victims were twice more likely to be bullied on Facebook than any other social network.
- 11 percent of teens were victimized because someone posted unflattering or embarrassing pictures of them online, without their consent.
- Cyber bullying has had a catastrophic effect on the social and mental life of up to 70 percent of the young generation.
- Almost 95 percent of teens said witnessed cyber bullying incidents on social media and chose to ignore it.
- 33 percent of cyber bullying victims feel vengeful afterwards, about half of them feel angry, 15 percent of teens felt scared by these experiences while 20 percent feel helpless.
- Cyber bullying rates among males and females are almost the same.
- Only one in every 6 parent to adolescents knows exactly what is cyber bullying.
- 69 percent of British teens aged 13-22 reported being cyber bullied.
- 65 percent of children go online without parental supervision.
- 36 percent asked the bully to stop.
- 34 percent blocked communication.
- 34 percent talked to friends about the bullying.
- 29 percent did nothing about the bullying.
- 28 percent signed offline.
- 11 percent of talked to their parents about the incident.
In another research conducted for the National Crime Prevention Council in 2007, the following findings about cyber bullying victims were given:
1) Kids that are bullied are more likely to skip school in an effort to avoid having to encounter their tormentors. Their experiences of emotional, psychological and physical trauma lead them to prefer staying at home than going out to pursue their studies. It is estimated that as many as 160,000 students skip school nationally on any given day because of bullying.
2) 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, but they are real repercussions produced psychosomatically. Adrienne Nishina, assistant professor of human and community development at the University of California, 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.”
3) Bullied Teens are more likely to use alcohol as a coping mechanism which normally causes the teen to become an alcoholic and on the path for self-destruction.
4) A cyber bullying victim may be aggressive, defensive, reclusive, unwilling to participate in enjoyable, daily experiences. As a result of extreme cyber bullying, a teenager may resort to self harm, self mutilation, binge drinking, binge eating and other destructive behaviors.
- People who were bullied as children are more likely to develop psychological issues as adults. Children who were bullied from grades 6-9 are more likely to become depressed by the time they reach the age of 23. Also, people who have memories of being teased or picked on as children are more likely to experience depression, social anxiety and suicidal tendencies in their adult years.
- People who were bullied during their childhood years are more likely to be bullied in the workplace. Nearly 60% of workplace bullying victims admit to having been bullied in their childhood.
- A cyber bullying victim may be aggressive, defensive, reclusive, unwilling to participate in daily activities. As a result of extreme cyber bullying, a teenager may resort to self harm, self mutilation, binge drinking, binge eating and other behavioral and mental disorders.
Cyber Bullying Suicide Stories:
Suicides that have been linked to Cyber Bullying are:
- 17-year-old Alexis Pilkington.
- 15-year-old Phoebe Prince.
- 13-year-old Megan Meier.
- 13-year-old Ryan Patrick Halligan.
These kids never met each other nor had much in common. They were all, however, victims of cyber bullying.
Alexis was just like any other seventeen-year-old girl. She was a popular athlete and a well-liked student. Due to her athletic excellence she had landed a soccer scholarship to college for next fall. She loved running on the beach near her Long Island home. Like most teenagers her age, Alexis enjoyed hanging out with friends, listening to music, and of course social networking on websites such as Facebook and Formspring. It was on these sites where her tragedy took place. Anonymous students attacked Alexis with insults, degrading comments and vicious taunts. She maintained strength and courage for long, but sadly the cyber insults got to her. Due to those vicious attacks and in addition to other personal problems, Alexis decided to take her own life on March 21st, 2010.
Phoebe Prince (November 24, 1994 – January 14, 2010)
Phoebe was excited to start a new life in Massachusetts after having moved to the United States from Ireland with her family.
To her as well as her family’s dismay, Phoebe became a target of abuse and bullying from her classmates. Sometimes the bullying even took place in front of school staff, but everybody chose to ignore it. Phoebe was allegedly targeted because of a brief relationship that she had with a senior on the school football team. After the harassment continued to follow her from the school hallways to the safety of her room through cyber bullying, Phoebe decided to take her own life. Her story became an example of how seedy and diabolic the online world could be.
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 overweight, and suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder predominantly inattentive (ADHD-PI) and also battled with depression.
When Megan started 8th grade, things seemed to be looking up. She was trying a healthier lifestyle that led her to lose weight. She had just started at a new school where she was on the volleyball team. Although Megan’s spirit was beginning to lift, she decided to end a friendship with a girl who lived down the street, four doors away from her.
Around the time the friendship ended, Megan received a friend request on her Myspace account, from a boy named Josh Evans. Megan thought Josh was really cute, he was 16 years old and after asking her mother’s permission, Megan accepted his friend request. Tina Meier, Megan’s mom, kept a watchful eye on her daughter’s online activities, and kept tabs on her daughter’s new friend Josh.
Megan was happier than ever before. On her memorial website, Megan’s mother commented that she believed her daughter’s life changed to the best, because of 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 landline because they had just moved to the area.
On October 15th, 2006, Megan received 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. 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 insulting 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 explain herself to her peers online. Tina ordered Megan to log off the Internet and told her that things would be okay and that these kids obviously don’t know her. Megan, hysterical, ran up to her room. Twenty minutes later Tina went to check on her daughter, and found that she had hanged herself with a belt in her closet. Megan died the next day, just three weeks before her 14th birthday.
The Meiers later found out that Josh Evans was a fictional character created by the mother of a girl who lived down the street. This girl, Sarah Drew, was the one whom Megan had ended her friendship with few days before Josh appeared in her life. Local police, as well as the FBI investigated the matter. No civil lawsuits were filed.
The Megan Meier Foundation was founded in December, 2007 by Ron and Tina Meier. On the official website, they state that they want “the law changed, state or federal, so that what happened to Megan -at the hands of an adult- is a considered a cybercrime.”
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” for his parents. As Ryan reached kindergarten age, his parents grew concerned with his speech, language and motor skills development. From preschool through fourth grade, Ryan received special education services in school. When Ryan reached fifth grade, he was assessed to be on grade level and no longer needed special education services. Once Ryan started fifth grade in a public school, his tragic story with bullying had just started. A certain boy in Ryan’s school along with his gang of friends targeted Ryan because of his academic struggles and his poor physical condition.
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 so it wasn’t as serious as physical assault. 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 fifth grade, Ryan’s therapist believed that he had improved a great deal and advised him to stop sessions.
Once in middle school, bullying problems resurfaced, and in December 2002, Mr. and Mrs. Halligan knew something was wrong when Ryan had a meltdown 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. To help him cope with his bullying torment, Ryan’s parents enrolled him in the Billy Blanks Tae Bo® Kickboxing & Kwon program. They were in for a surprise, however, in February 2003, when they got a call from the school assistant principal who had just broken up a fight between Ryan and his bully.
Things seemed to calm down for Ryan after the fight. A sort of friendship even formed between him and his former bully. Ryan started living like any other middle school boy, his parents said. He began enjoying activities like swimming, camping, skateboarding, playing video games and instant messaging.
“My son loved being online, 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 online, mainly instant messaging. I was concerned and felt compelled to remind him of our Internet safety rules.”
The Halligans were firm about Ryan’s Internet use. They followed cyber bullying and teen suicide prevention experts and their advice on limiting kids’ Internet time as well as ensuring their cybersafety through implementing rules like:
- No talking/IMing with strangers.
- No giving personal information to strangers.
- No sending personal pictures to strangers.
- No secret passwords.
The last rule was especially important to the Halligans because it allowed them to check on their children’s online activities. It was this rule that aided Ryan’s parents in learning the true story behind their beloved son’s sudden suicide when they accessed his instant messaging account days after his funeral.
At the end of 7th grade, rumors questioning Ryan’s sexual orientation were circling around school. In the summer of 2003, Ryan approached a popular girl from his school online. He began establishing a relationship with her in hopes of squashing the allegations about his sexuality. When he started 8th grade, Ryan approached his new girlfriend, only to be crushed when she told him that she was only joking online, and that she and her friends thought it would be funny to get Ryan to open up about personal things, and then laugh him off later. She even copied and pasted her personal messages with Ryan and shared them with their classmates. After finding out what her true intentions had been, he went up to her and said, “It’s girls like you who make me want to kill myself.”
On October 7th, 2003, while Ryan’s father was away on business and everyone else in the household was fast asleep, 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 in memory of their 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.”
Remember that the cyber bullying includes harassment, stalking, online blackmail, name calling, sexting, identity theft, happy-slapping, etc. Cyber bullying is not restricted to an age group, gender or sexual orientation. Any person from anywhere on this planet could be a victim of cyber bullying.
There are a number of existing cyber bullying behaviors that already fall neatly under criminal legislation (e.g. harassment, stalking, felonious assault, certain acts of hate or bias), although they occur with relative infrequency. A lot of people also argue that certain forms of cyber bullying do not require formal (legal) intervention (e.g. minor teasing). That being said, cyber bullying behavior could sometimes cross the line at which the criminal or civil law is implicated.
As we speak, we are aware of recently passed or pending cyber bullying legislations in the following states: Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont and 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 for cyber bullying laws have been criticized for being ambiguous or for seeking to regulate behavior that is considered free speech. In Nobullying.com, we argue that those who consider harassing, threatening, or otherwise intimidating speech to be forms of free speech that are (or should be) protected by the First Amendment are misguided.
A school that fails to respond appropriately to harassment of students 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 state governor Matthew Blunt created a task force whose only purpose was to study, investigate and enact laws dealing with cyber bullying. The task force includes public safety and mental health professionals, lawyers and legislators. Missouri also passed more severe laws for cyber bullying offences, like changing the charge from a misdemeanor to a Class D felony. A misdemeanor is a crime that usually results in a fine or very minimal prison or jail time (less than a year), while a Class D felony is a crime that is punished via a definite fine and a lengthier jail time.
What is Cyberbullying in the UK?
All UK state schools are required to have anti-bullying policies under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. Independent schools have similar obligations under the Education (Independent Schools Standards) Regulations 2003. These educational formal regulations include policies and processes for dealing with cyber bullying against teachers, as well as pupils.
Although cyber bullying is not a criminal offence under the 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 online.
In case of mobile bullying is concerned, the Telecommunications Act 1984 makes it a criminal offence to make anonymous abusive calls. In addition, if you are harassed persistently via mobile, it may be an offence under the 1997 Harassment Act. The police have successfully used the Protection from Harassment Act to press charges against those who send offensive emails through the internet. Such emails will also constitute as an offence under the Malicious Communications Act 1988.
Furthermore, the Communications Act 1988 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”
Cyber Bullying Law in Action: How can You Help?
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. Houghton became the first person in Britain to be jailed for the crime of bullying on a social networking site.
Cyber bullying can have numerous effects on the victim’s mentality. A victim of cyberbullying may be prone to depression, panic attacks, social anxiety and suicidal thinking. This calls for handling cyber bullying for what it actually is: a crime and not just a minor act of cruelty.
A growing body of evidence is emerging that identifies peer-to-peer cyber 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 any criminal act of cyber bullying will not be tolerated. However, it is not a good social policy to wait until bullying reaches the limit before authorities intervene. For every bully who is punished before the court, many more will succeed in tormenting their target if the society fails to engage sufficiently with the problem down to its core.
Remember that there are various types of cyber bullying that aren’t very familiar and can be easily brushed aside by parents as “regular children behavior”. As a parent you need to learn every bit of information there is on cyber bullying and how to protect your children from it. We recommend reading recent 2014 cyber bullying statistics as they highly demonstrate the severity of the torment that children are subjected to.
The truth remains that Cyber Bullying is a serious issue that might go unnoticed by parents and teachers alike. It all boils down to monitoring, reporting and counseling. Don’t let another child become a victim of bullying and learn what is cyber bullying and how to combat cyber abuse.
For more information on everything related to what is Cyber Bullying, check our Cyber Bullying Facts sheet and our Types of Bullying Guide.
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There are many definitions and legal aspects to cyber bullying. It is up to you stand up to it and raise cyber bullying awareness and be a part of the educational movement on cyber bullying prevention.
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