Cyberbullying

  • "Young people are using the Internet more than ever, and most have Internet access from home. For many children, the Internet isn't simply a convenient way to research or a fun afterschool activity — it's a big part of their social life. Emailing and chatting with friends are children's most common online activities, after studying and playing games. But like many other social situations, some kids bully other kids online." — National Crime Prevention Council

    Cyberbullying is similar to other types of bullying, except it takes place online and through text messages. Cyberbullies can be classmates, online acquaintances, and even anonymous users, but most often they know their victims.

    Some examples of ways that children bully online are:

    • Sending someone mean or threatening emails, instant messages, or text messages;
    • Excluding someone from an instant messenger buddy list or blocking their email for no reason;
    • Tricking someone into revealing personal or embarrassing information and sending it to others;
    • Breaking into someone's email or instant message account to send cruel or untrue messages while posing as that person;
    • Creating websites to make fun of another person such as a classmate or teacher; and
    • Using websites to rate peers as prettiest, ugliest, etc.

    Cyberbullying victims can experience many of the same effects as victims who are bullied in person. Those effects may include a drop in grades, low self-esteem, changes in interests, or even depression. The difference is that this type of bullying happens in the child's home — the place they feel most safe. It can be harsher (kids can say things online they would never say in person), and it can be far-reaching (kids can send an email or post a statement on a website for all of their friends to see, or literally for anyone in the world to see). Cyberbullies can be anonymous, hiding behind screen names. Also, cyberbullying may seem inescapable. It may seem easy to get away from a cyberbully by just getting offline, but for some kids, not going online takes away one of the major places they socialize.

    So, what can kids and their parents do about cyberbullying?

    1. Do not keep this to yourself! You are NOT alone. Tell an adult you know and trust. It is very hard to solve such problems on your own.
    2. Inform your Internet or mobile phone service provider.
    3. Inform your local police. Our school resource officer, Officer Vandenbord, can help.
    4. Don't reply to messages from cyberbullies. Even though you may really want to, this is exactly what cyberbullies want. They want to know that they've got you worried and upset. They are trying to mess with your mind and control you, to put fear into you. Don't give them that pleasure.
    5. Do not erase or delete messages from cyberbullies. You don't have to read it, but keep it. This is your evidence. Unfortunately, you may get similar messages again, perhaps from other accounts. The police and your ISP, and/or your telephone company can use these messages to help you. You might notice certain words or phrases that are also used by people you know. These messages may reveal certain clues as to who is doing this to you, but don't try and solve this on your own. Tell an adult you know and trust. GET HELP!

    How to report abuse

    One of the most useful resources we've found is the following link to a webpage that allows you to report abuse from a variety of technologies and websites, including Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. It also includes a listing of customer service numbers and steps to take when dealing with text message cyberbullying using Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile:

    http://www.stopcyberbullying.org/reportfbabuse/index.html

    We hope these resources are helpful to you and your middle school child. One of the best tools you have at your disposal is communication with the school. The DMS school counselors are always available to work with you and your child in responding to bullying or cyberbullying. Please feel free to contact us at any time.

How Parents Can Address Cyberbullying

  • Talk to your child: Caution them about responding to the cyberbully. This is not a time for them to lash out or start a cyberwar themselves. This is not a time to "try to get even." See if they think they know the identity of the cyberbully or cyberbullies. See if this is related to an offline bullying situation, and deal with that quickly. And don't confuse the language most kids use online with cyberbullying. It may be shocking to us, but unless it is shocking to your child, it's not cyberbullying.

    Ignore it: A one time, seemingly unthreatening act, like a prank or mild teasing should probably be ignored. (If it's a threat, you must report it.) At the same time, you may want to consider using some preventive measures:

    Restrict the people who can send you communications: Consider restricting all incoming communications to pre-approved senders, such as those on your child's friend list. (If the cyberbully is someone on his or her friend list, though, this method won't help. In that case the cyberbully will have to be removed from the friend list and/or blocked.)

    Restrict others from being able to add your child to their friend list: Cyberbullies track when your child is online by using friend lists, and similar tracking programs. It will let them know when one of their "friends" is online, when they are inactive and, in some cases, where they are. This is like adding a tracking device to your child's online ankle, allowing cyberbullies to find them more easily and target them more effectively. This feature is usually found in the privacy settings or parental controls of a communications program.

    Google your child: Make sure that the cyberbully isn't posting attacks online. When you get an early warning of a cyberbullying campaign, it is essential that you keep an eye on your child's screen name, nick names, full name, address, telephone and cell numbers and websites. You can also set up an "alert" on Google to notify you whenever anything about your child is posted online.

    Block the sender: Someone who seems aggressive, or makes you uncomfortable and does not respond to verbal pleas or formal warnings should be blocked. This way, they will not be able to know when you are online or be able to contact you through instant messaging. Even if the communications are not particularly aggressive or threatening, if they are annoying, block the sender. (Most ISPs and instant messaging programs have a blocking feature to allow you to prevent the sender from getting through.)

    "Warn" the sender: If the cyberbully uses another screen name to avoid the block,otherwise manages to get through or around the block or communicates through others, "warn" them, or "notify" the ISP. (This is usually a button on the IM application.) This creates a record of the incident for later review, and if the person is warned enough, they can lose their ISP or instant messenger account. (Unfortunately, many cyberbullies use "warning wars" or "notify wars" to harass their victims, by making it appear the victim is really the cyberbully. This is a method of cyberbullying by proxy, getting the ISP to be an unwitting accomplice of the cyberbullying.)

    Report to ISP: Most cyberbullying and harassment incidents violate the ISP's terms of service (TOS). These are typically called a "TOS violation", and can have serious consequences for the account holder. Many ISPs will close a cyberbully's account (which will also close their parents' household account in most cases.) You should report this to the sender's ISP, not yours.

    If your child's account has been hacked or their password compromised, or if someone is posing as your child, you should make a formal report to your ISP as well. You can call them or send an email to their security department (NOT their terms of service report line). But before changing your password, you should scan your computer for any hacking programs or spyware, such as a Trojan horse. If one is on your computer, the cyberbully may be able to access the new password. Most good anti-virus programs can find and remove a hacking program. All spyware applications can.

    Report to school: Most cases of cyberbullying occur off school grounds and outside of school hours. In the United States, often the school has no legal authority to take action relating to an off-premises and off-hours activity, even if it has an impact on the welfare of their students. The laws are tricky, and vary jurisdiction by jurisdiction. So while you should notify the school (especially if your child suspects whom is behind the attacks), they may not be able to take disciplinary action. They can keep an eye on the situation in school, however. And since many cyberbullying incidents are combined with offline bullying incidents, your child may be safer because of the report.

    Also, while the school may have limited authority over disciplining the cyberbully, they can call the parents in and try to mediate the situation. They can also institute an educational and awareness program to help stop further cyberbullying by students, and to help educate parents about the problem.

    Report to police: Someone who threatens you physically, who is posting details about your or your child's offline contact information or harassing through a cyberbullying by proxy campaign should be reported to the police. (Although you should err on the side of caution and report anything that worries you.) Using a monitoring program can facilitate the investigation and any eventual prosecution by collecting and preserving electronic evidence. (Printouts, while helpful in explaining the situation, are generally not admissible evidence.) If you feel like your child, you, or someone you know is in danger, contact the police immediately and cut off contact with this person or user, staying offline if need be until you are otherwise instructed. Do not install any programs, or remove any programs or take other remedial action on your computer or communication device during this process. It may adversely affect the investigation and any eventual prosecution.

    Take legal action: Many cases of cyberbullying (like their adult cyber-harassment equivalent) are not criminal. They may come close to violating the law, but may not cross the line. Most of the time, the threat of closing their ISP or instant messaging account is enough to make things stop. But sometimes, either because the parents want to make an example of the cyberbully or because it isn't stopping, lawyers need to be brought in. It may also be the only way you can find out whom is behind the attacks.

    Think carefully before you decide to take this kind of action. Even if you win in the end, it may take you two or three years to get there and cost you tens of thousands of dollars. You may be angry enough to start it, but make sure that you have something more than anger to sustain the long months and years of litigation.

    Adapted from "A Quick Guide on the Escalating Levels of Response to a Cyberbullying Incident" by www.stopbullying.gov.