“If you bully somebody face to face, and they get upset, you see them cry and be hurt. When it’s over the Internet, you can’t see the emotional reaction and go along thinking it’s no big deal.”
Dr. Robin Kowalski
The advent of technology which has brought about the development of a whole new e-world aka, the Digital Age characterized by blogs, social networking sites and instant messaging, have significantly transformed the manner in which we communicate, yet threatened the very social fabric of our societies by posing unique challenges – cyber bullying being one of them. Cyber bullying is one of the fastest growing trends in the field of cyber crimes among teens, in recent times, and often leads to disastrous consequences for the victims ranging from long term psychological damage to physical and emotional distress and at times even death (Kowalski, Limber and Agatston, 2012).
The widespread reach and scope of cyber bullying among teens is apparent from various worldwide polls and surveys conducted over the years, which highlights the gravity of the issue. According to data made available by the Cyber bullying Research Center (Cyberbullying Research Center, 2011) approximately 20 of students reported experiences some sort of cyber bullying in their lifetimes, about 13.7 of them reported experiencing hurtful or insulting comments made against them; 12.9 of them reported being victims of rumors spread against them; which is incidentally one of the most common forms of cyber bullying. According to another customer research survey conducted in the U.S. in the year 2011, about 1 million children were reported to have been harassed, threatened or subjected to various forms of cyberbullying on social networking site such as Facebook during the period of one year (Consumer Reports, 2011).
Source: Cyberbullying Research Center (2011)
Meaning & Definition:
According to Trolley and Hanel, (2009) Cyberbullying is defined as any activitiy involving “the use of information and communication technologies such as e-mail, cell phones, and pager text messages, instant messaging, defamatory personal web sites, and online personal polling web sites to support deliberate, repeated and hostile behavior by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others” (pp. 33).
It has also been defined to include the use of any form of internet media, or electronic device to cause intentional harm or injury to others. It includes but is not limited to, the acts of cyber stalking, impersonating, virtual threatening and / or hacking into others’ personal accounts such as email ids or social networking site accounts etc., with a sole intention of damaging the other person’s reputation and causing mental, emotional or social distress / harm.
Contemporary technology has revolutionized the social as well as cultural dimensions of human interaction, particularly with regard to the manner in which students especially teens, interact with each other. This has completely transformed the concept of bullying from its conventional approach of in-school to online bullying, more popularly known as cyber bullying. The adolescent aggression which was so far being witnessed in classrooms and playgrounds have now ventured into more private spheres via electronic communication (Hinduja and Patchin, 2008). The internet is fast becoming one of the most inevitable parts of our social lives, and in the process has redefined the meaning and scope of interpersonal communications. The digital citizens of today, who grew up with internet around them are more exposed to the ill effects of the same, than never before (Herring, 2008).
The fact that internet has penetrated almost all aspects of our lives, is quite apparent and undeniable. The overwhelming presence of such a powerful tool, and its easy access to teens have increased the vulnerability of the victims of bullying to unprecedented levels. Furthermore, the trend of social networking sites and instant messaging as a part of our everyday lives, has opened up novel ways of communication, at the same time exposing individuals to varied forms of cyber bullying across all platforms. In contemporary society, physical spaces are shrinking and the virtual space is expanding at a rapid rate, presenting newer avenues for the youth to hang out and socialize. The sheer amount of time spent by young people and adolescents on the internet, be it social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter or on blogs, virtual chat rooms or instant messaging, has provided them with an opportunity to form virtual identities, thus giving them immense power to dictate their terms and dominate others in the virtual spheres (Kowalski, Limber and Agatston, 2008 ).
Cyber bullying includes flaming, harassment, cyber stalking, as well as denigration. Flaming refers to an activity whereby the perpetrators of the crime engage in abusive behavior towards the victims, by way of passing on rude, abusive or derogatory messages about a person and share them in an online group such as social networking sites, group chat rooms or blogs (Li, 2007). The key characteristic of “flaming” is that it occurs in virtual public settings, where the messages posted by the perpetrators are visible and accessible to everyone else (Kowalski, Limber and Agatston, 2008). The term harassment refers to repeated exchange of abusive messages through electronic means (Li, 2007). Unlike ‘flaming’ harassment occurs in a private setting such as private email messages sent to the victims, or through one on one chat, although in some cases, it may occur in public settings as well. Cyber stalking refers to repeatedly stalking people online, keeping tabs on their online activities, in order to intimidate them (Kowalski, Limber, and Agatston, 2008). Denigration refers to posting of derogatory messages or hurtful comments against a person through an online medium (Willard 2004, in Liu, 2007).
“What makes cyber bullying so dangerous … is that anyone can practice it without having to confront the victim. You don’t have to be strong or fast, simply equipped with a cell phone or computer and a willingness to terrorize”
King, (2006: 1)
Children have been historically exposed to some form of bullying including harassment, stalking and verbal and emotional abuse, in schools, playgrounds and other similar social settings. Aggressive behavior among teens and young children has always assumed the form of bullying, but these actions are now magnified to unprecedented proportions with the advent of technology. Bullying has now taken a whole new meaning, and has shifted from the closed setting of classroom environment to virtual bullying. The key problem with cyber bullying is the fact that the perpetrators of such crime are not visible or easily traceable. They are anonymous and have the power and ability to harm others discreetly, without the fear of getting caught or being punished. Such impunity has afforded them the boost to indulge in cyber bullying in an unabashed manner, with hardly any regret or remorse for their actions.
One of the most common victims of cyber bullying include young children and teens, who are known to spend more time online, and hence are highly vulnerable to such acts. Modern technology has offered a new and bigger platform for bullies to harass their victims, beyond the physical settings and carry out their threats in a virtual setting where their actions are hardly likely to be noticed and hence go unreported. The students today are highly tech savvy and this ability affords them an opportunity to use novel means to intimidate others (Patchin and Hinduja, 2006).
Finding effective solutions to the problem of cyber bullying is crucial to protect the children from potential harm. Cyber bullying is known to have disastrous consequences on the victims, who may suffer from serious physical or mental distress, loss of self-esteem due to constant verbal abuse and rumors spread against them, being mocked and ridiculed in a virtual public setting may seriously affect their self-confidence leading them to withdraw from social interactions driving them to take drastic measures.
The problem of cyber bullying is one of the key issues faced by school authorities and parents of teens and young children, in modern times. It is hence of utmost significance to ensure that effective and viable solutions are implemented to avoid such acts and prevent disastrous consequences. Some such solutions which can be implemented are discussed below:
Spread awareness through informative programs
The schools must introduce programs which help in spreading awareness regarding the gravity of the issue. Such programs can be directed towards both – the students as well as the parents. The students must be taught to be morally responsible and made aware of the ill effects and consequences of cyber bullying on the victims as well as on those indulging in it. The parents on the other hand must be made aware about the types of issues that their children might be facing and the manner in which they can help out their children and protect them from such bullying in the virtual world.
Implement internet safety rules in school as well as at home:
The virtual world is vast and has a huge outreach. It is hence of utmost significance that the students must be made aware of the potential damage that can be caused by careless attitudes of the students, and acts which seemingly appear to be innocent and harmless yet are likely to turn out to be fatal when circulated online. Today, children as young as 9 are active on the web, and comprise of the highly vulnerable segment of population which is prone to cyber bullying. They must be made aware of regarding the negative consequences of sharing private information online, and protect their privacy at all times while interacting with people online.
Use filtering and blockage software
There are various softwares available in the market that helps in preventing cyber bullying. These include: Puresight, Cyber bully and Net Nanny among many others. These softwares offer protection to children by monitoring their net usage, and forwarding alerts directly to their parents in case any unusual activity or case of cyber bullying is detected. These programs also offer the opportunity to permanently block trouble makers, and protect the victims from falling prey to deliberate acts of aggression online. The price comparison of the same are mentioned in the table below:
Children today are becoming more and more tech savvy and have an increasing presence online, than never before. Their understanding of the virtual world far exceeds that of their parents or teachers, thus giving them total power to dominate and unleash their aggression on an infinite cyber space. Such power often leads to irresponsible and risky behavior on the part of the young children and adolescents often leading to serious issues such as cyber bullying. Schools and parents must take active interest in the online activities of their students and children, and ensure their safety online by way of various means such as protective softwares and educational programs, to name a few.
Herring, S.C. (2008) Questioning the Generational Divide: Technological Exoticism and Adult Constructions of Online Youth Identity. In: Buckingham, D. (ed.), Youth, Identity, And Digital Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 71 – 95.
Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2008). Bullying beyond the schoolyard: Preventing and responding to cyberbullying. California: Corwin Press.
King (2006) cited in Kowalski, R. M., Limber., S. P., and Agatston, P. W., (2012) Cyberbullying: Bullying in the digital age. John Wiley & Sons Publication, pp. 1
Kowalski, R.M, Limber, S.P. & Agatston, P.W. (2008) Cyber Bullying – Bullying in the Digital Age. Oxford: Blackwell
Li, Q. (2007). ‘Bullying in the new playground: Research into cyberbullying and cyber victimisation’ Australasian Journal of Educational Technology. 23(4) pp.435-454.
Patchin, W. & Hinduja, S. (2006). ‘Bullies Move Beyond the Schoolyard: A Preliminary Look at Cyberbullying’ Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 2006; 4 pp.148.
Trolley, B. C., Hanel, C., (2009). Cyber kids, cyber bullying, cyber balance. Corwin Press, pp. 33
Cyberbullying Research Center (2011). [Online] Available at: http://www.cyberbullying.us/research.php [Accessed: April 12, 2012]
Consumer Reports (2011). Online exposure [Online] Available at: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/2011/june/electronics-computers/state-of-the-net/online-exposure/index.htm [Accessed: April 13, 2012]