What is Cyberbullying?

Bullying Comes Home

Bullying is not new but thanks to the Internet teens are now being bullied at home. Online harassment, more often called cyberbullying, is a serious problem. When bullying comes home via the Internet it can leave victims feeling helpless and overwhelmed.

 

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is any harassment that occurs via the Internet. Vicious forum posts, name calling in chat rooms, posting fake profiles on websites, and mean or cruel email messages are all ways of cyberbullying.

Examples of Cyberbullying

A student is bombarded by anonymous threatening and taunting emails at home, even though there is no direct harassment at school. The victim has no idea who is sending the messages and starts to feel like everybody is against them. That student is being cyberbullied.

A school bulletin board is spammed with name-calling posts that spread vicious rumors about a specific student. The rumors aren’t true but kids at school see the posts and believe them. The student is then ostracized by peers. This student is the victim of cyberbullying.

A nasty fake profile is posted at a social networking site using a student’s real name, photo, and contact information. That student starts getting weird email messages from strangers who think the profile is real. Some of the messages are crude. Some of the messages are mean. This is another example of cyber bullying.

These are just a few examples of cyberbullying.

If you are taking part in things like this it is not harmless fun. You are being a cyber bully. If you are the victim of this type of treatment you are being cyber bullied and there are things you can do to stop the harassment.

 

Why Do People Cyberbully?

Bullying has been around forever but cyberbullying is different because it lets a bully remain anonymous.

It is easier to bully in cyberspace than it is to bully face to face. With cyber bullying, a bully can pick on people with much less risk of being caught.

Bullies are natural instigators and in cyberspace bullies can enlist the participation of other students who may be unwilling to bully in the real world. Kids who stand around doing nothing in a real life bullying incident often become active participants in online harassment.

The detachment afforded by cyberspace makes bullies out of people who would never become involved in a real-life incident. The Internet makes bullying more convenient and since the victim’s reaction remains unseen people who wouldn’t normally bully don’t take it as seriously.

 

What Can Be Done About Cyberbullying?

There are many things that can be done to combat cyberbullying. The most important thing a victim of cyberbullying can do is not respond to the bully. Do not play into the bully's games. Do not answer emails, do not respond to posts, do not engage in a chat room exchange, and do not copy what the bully is doing. Ignore the bullying and get help from parents and teachers.

While ignoring the bully be sure to save the evidence so that school officials, Internet providers, and even the police can properly deal with the bully.

Cyberbullying may give bullies anonymity but it always leaves evidence.

 

Can Cyberbullying Be Stopped?

Schools take all types of bullying seriously. As soon as the cyber bullying starts go to school officials for help. Cyberbullying is often an extension or escalation of bullying that is already happening at school. Parents should also be told what is happening.

The police are unlikely to become involved if the bullying is limited to a few isolated incidents or a couple of mean emails or instant messages. However, if you get even one communication that includes a threat of bodily harm or a death threat the police should be alerted. Be aware that urging suicide is considered a death threat and the police will treat it accordingly.

 

When Should the Police Become Involved?

Repeated or excessive harassment via email, forums or chat rooms is harassment and should involve the police.

Threats of violence should also be reported to the police. Try to save all messages as evidence. The police will know what to do from there.

You do not need to put up with cyber bullying. You can get help. Cyberbullying leaves a clear trail of evidence and this can work to the advantage of the victim. Cyber bullies are just bullies with a new weapon in their arsenal of harassment; treat them like you would any bully and they lose their power.

What can be done about it? How can it be stopped? What can be done about it? How can it be stopped?

There are many things that can be done to combat cyber bullying. The first and most essential thing a victim of cyber bullying must do is NEVER RESPOND TO THE BULLYING. Do not answer emails, do not respond to posts, to not reply to texts, do not engage in a chat room or IM exchange, and do not post a fake profile of the bully in retaliation for the one they post about you.

But while you’re ignoring the bully be sure to save the evidence so that school officials, ISP providers and even the police can properly deal with the bully. If the cyber bullying involves fraud, such as in the posting if false profiles with real email addresses, the crime is even easier to prosecute.

Dealing with email bullying:
Save the threatening emails in a specific file. You can set the preferences in your email client so that you never even have to see the email messages by making a rule that automatically sends the messages to the specified folder when they are downloaded so you never have to see them. While it may be tempting to just block the sender this is usually ineffective since cyber bullies will just start sending messages from a different email address. Also, by saving multiple messages from one address your case for harassment is made stronger. You don’t want to do anything to drive the bully to use many different freemail accounts.

Even though most freemail accounts can eventually be traced to the user it is another step that law enforcement will have to navigate while looking to prosecute. Go to parents and school officials immediately. You may want to consider having your principal and parents set up mirror files for your harassing emails and automatically forward those messages to them as part of your email download preferences.

This gives you a back up and makes the school aware first-hand of how serious the harassment is.

Dealing with forum and chat room bullying:
Do not ever respond to the bully. Ignore them without putting them on ignore. In a chat room the fastest way to end the bullying is to leave the room. Consider setting up private invitation only chat rooms for you and your friends, that way if a bully gets in you will have a very easy time identifying them. On a bulletin board you should immediately alert the board monitor or owner (sometimes called wizard, moderator or master). Forward a copy of the post and any replies to yourself using the bulletin board’s ‘email this message’ feature or save a copy of the post using a web page capture program. After you have done this ask that the moderator remove the offensive posts immediately. If they do not remove the posts within a reasonable time, say 48-72 hours (2-3 days), go to the board host or server and ask that the bulletin board be closed or suspended until the posts are removed. Once again be sure to alert your parents and/or school officials if the bullying persists, escalates or is an extension of schoolyard harassment.

Dealing with web site bullying:
This is the most heinous form of cyber bullying as all too often the victim is unaware of what has been done using their name and/or image and has no idea where to go to make it stop.

In some cases the victim isn’t even sure where the fake profile has been set up or what user name they have been given by the bully. This can make it difficult, but not impossible, to fight. If you know web site where the profile is listed there are two things you can try. First use the website’s password forgotten system to try to get the profile password. If the bully has used your email address to set up the profile this should be relatively simple; most password retrieval systems email the new password to the address listed in the profile. Once you have the password you can delete the file yourself. Some websites only allow one profile per email address, if this is the case you may want to consider keeping the profile active but changing the relevant fields and/or removing any photos and listing it as a private or no-contact profile, this will stop the bully from opening a new one once you have removed the old.

Oh, and don’t forget to change the password! If this doesn’t work or if you can’t get the password contact the website administrator and ask that the profile be removed and that no new profiles be permitted with your email address. If you are under 18 inform the web administrator that you are a minor, this usually prompts a faster response. You may also want to consider having your parents make the request as well. Again, make sure you save a copy of the profile before making changes or having it removed, preferably with a web page capture program or by saving it to your hard drive, and document all communications with the web administrator. Unlike other forms of cyber bullying which can be hard to prosecute criminally, this type of bullying involves fraud and aggravated harassment, which are crimes in most jurisdictions.

How can the bullies be caught? What can happen to them? How can the perpetrators be caught and dealt with, and what exactly can happen to them if they are caught?

Schools take bullying seriously. The first place you should go in search of justice is your school as cyber bullying is often an extension or escalation of bullying that is already happening at school. The police are unlikely to become involved if the bullying is limited to a few isolated incidents or a couple of mean emails or text messages.

However, if you get even one communication that includes a threat of bodily harm or a death threat the police should be alerted. Be aware that urging suicide is considered a death threat and the police will treat it accordingly. Obviously, repeated or excessive harassment via email, forums or chat is harassment and should involve the police. As discussed earlier, posting a false profile with a target’s real email address is fraud, some jurisdictions even consider it identity theft, and a police report should be filed. As for harassing text messages, save them and contact the sender’s cellular service provider. Text messages cannot be sent anonymously, the phone number always shows up even if you don’t know whom it belongs to. Once you have the phone number you can easily find out who the cellular service provider is and ask that the number be suspended or that at least the text messaging function be disabled on the account.

You may have to go to the police with a harassment complaint before the cellular service provider will respond but you will find that no company wants to be labeled as cyber bully friendly.

What can happen to cyber bullies depends on the extent of the harassment, the evidence at hand and the laws in your area.

Taunting and teasing is not always criminal but it is always against school policy. If a school email account or school bulletin board is used to bully then the school is your first line of defense. They will be able to trace who the bully or bullies are and take appropriate punitive action. The school may even decide to go to the police if the harassment is excessive or if threats of harm are made. At the school’s discretion they may give detention, suspend the students, suspend or rescind the student’s computer privileges, expel the student or students, go to the police, or any combination of these. If the acts are clearly criminal you should save the evidence to the best of your ability, alert your parents and go to the police. The harassment is definitely criminal and should be brought to the attention of the police if it involves any of the following:

  • Repeated or excessive harassment with or without threats of harm.
  • Encouraging or suggesting that a person kill themselves.
  • Threatening to harm to a person, a person’s property, a person’s pet or anybody else.
  • Threatening to kill a person, a person’s pet or anybody else.
  • Threatening to commit a crime.
  • Fraudulently posting private information in a public forum.
  • Posting private information such as names, addresses, phone numbers or email addresses in a public forum, chat room or on a web site when a reasonable person would know that doing so will put the target at risk or open them up to new harassment.
If it is determined that a crime has been committed it will be up to the courts to decide punishment. You will likely be expected to participate in any prosecution. It is important that cyber bullies not be allowed to go unchallenged. While it may be tempting to keep the bullying to yourself this is not wise. Bullying has been proven to stop when exposed and dealt with by people in a position of authority, be they parents, teachers or police. Incidents in which exposure leads to an escalation of harassment are sensationalized in the media but they are the exception NOT the rule. Never let fear of retaliation stop you from protecting yourself, while it is always a risk it is not the norm. Cyber bullies are just bullies with a new weapon in their arsenal of harassment; treat them like you would any bully and they lose their power.