6 Things You Need to Know About Cyberbullying

This post is from our series on Virtual students and how school has become more and more online.  See our other posts from the Virtual Student series here.

Hi Vanessa,

I am very concerned about cyberbullying and have read so many recent news summaries about how bullying has changed, can you talk about how bullying has changed so I can talk to my kids about it?

Thank you, Terry

cyberbullying-and-bullies-online.pngThe Internet has changed the playground-bully into the in-my-bedroom-bully. It’s true, the line between school life and home life is gone. Kids can no longer leave the social pressures, cliques, bullies, snoodiness and the other highlights of adolescence at school.

Now the social scene follows students home, into their bedrooms, and can be turned on at any moment. No, in fact it is never turned off, because you never know who is going to post something mean on your wall next. Here, I want to give a brief overview of how bullying has changed for the net-generation so parents are more equipped to handle it and help their kids deal with it. Today, bullying/cyberbullying is:

1) Creative

Options for a bully circa 1980:

-steal lunch money
-call someone names/say mean things to their face
-call someone names/say mean things behind their back
-punch them in the face/kick them/pinch them/ physically assault them
-punch them in the face/kick them/pinch them/ physically assault their friend or usually younger, relative.
-write a nasty note and pass it around class, leave it on their locker
-stick your tongue out at them

Options for a bully today: (just from the news stories I found on bullying alone, I could think of many more that have not been reported on)

“” Everything from above, plus
-write a nasty note or rumor on their facebook wall for everyone to see
-put up embarrassing pictures of the person on your school’s social network
-digitally impose the person’s head onto a naked body and pass it around like it is real
-submit their name/picture to a site like “Hot or Not” for strangers to rate how ugly the person is
-create a website dedicated to how much you hate that person
-bate them into writing a mean/weird IM chat and post it all over MySpace or the school.
-Create a fake user, pretend to be hot, flirt with the person and then break up with them/tell them you hate them/ tell them they are too ugly for you.
-Send mean text messages
-harass their avatars or video game players on gaming websites
It is incredibly sad, but the Internet has brought thousands of ways to bully someone without ever being caught. Parents need to know that their child could be bullied in a number of ways online, through phones and even through video games.

2) Instant

Before, if you got in a fight at school, or found out you were not invited to a party, you were able to come home and vent about to mom/ dad/ sister/ brother, get a snack and cool off. Now, if you are mad at someone, you can instantly send a text message to your social networking profile to post a mean comment. Now there is no ‘off’ time and the second something happens, everyone knows about it because they all get alerts or texts from automated news feeds or plugged-in friends. Teens are checking these services CONSTANTLY, so before what took a few days to spread, now can take a few minutes.

3) Permanent

Some things, like postings on your wall, video, a text message or email, you can delete. Other things, such as photos or social network announcements can be up there forever or until the writer removes them.

Also, even if they post a superimposed picture for five minutes on a school network before it is removed, others can easily download it and repost it or pass it around by email undetected—and as with all gossip, even the most factless based rumors hurt a reputation.

4) Accessible

The whole point of many social networks, texting and websites is to be connected to people you would not normally be connected to. I always say that ‘privacy settings’ should really be called ‘lace curtain settings’ because you never know who is going to get into your profile the back way (MySpace Pedophiles). Before, nerds, jocks or drama queens went to different parties and traveled in different circles. Now, the ‘great connector that is the Internet makes everyone’s personal information and attention accessible on the same sites.

5) Cool

The more popular kids have always made fun of the ‘uncool’ kids, but now bullying is easily made ‘fun’ for everyone. At Juicy Campus, a website all about spreading gossip and rumors, or Hot or Not.com, users can vote on the attractiveness of submitted pictures and make students who would not normally ‘bully’ or gossip attracted to the idea. Hot or Not makes it cool and fun to judge people based on their appearence and is very popular with my generation.

Even Gangs are now using Social Networking Sites to recruit and organize activities…seriously.

6) Buffered

It is really hard to walk up to someone and say to them: “You are a fat slut.” It is much easier to write that on someone’s Facebook wall—which someone did. Technology provides a way for students to be mean even more ‘behind the back.’ Many times, you can even post pictures, videos or send messages anonymously! This has changed the face of bullying because it allows people to be mean and not face the consequences—they can’t get punched back, they can hide it from parents and teachers by posting anonymously and do not have to say it to people, they can simply type a comment in a moment of passion when they are alone in their room!

It is really important to talk about these new aspects of bullying. I bring these issues up with all of the kids I mentor and teen groups I speak to. Make sure to discuss with them the ramifications of letting a friend take a sexy picture, disabling the Facebook wall or what would happen if they got in a fight with a friend.

Also give them resources if they know another student is being bullied. With the recent school shootings, it is important for kids to have a place to anonymously report bullying of any kind. They can do this at: ancomm.com.

I hope that this post has been relevant and informative, be sure to send it to any families or teens who you think might need it.
Stay informed,

Submit your Saturday Advice question to: manager@scienceofpeople.com

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16 Responses to “6 Things You Need to Know About Cyberbullying”

  1. Amy Strecker
    March 17, 2008 at 4:52 am #

    On our blog we’ve posted 4 steps to combat the cyberbully that might be helpful to readers dealing with cyberbullying.


  2. Vanessa
    March 17, 2008 at 1:50 pm #

    great! thank you I read it and agree. I submitted it to my parenting teens group on stumble upon as well, this should help spread the word


  3. Dr. Robyn Silverman
    March 21, 2008 at 11:00 am #

    Hi Vanessa-

    I’d like to add, “duplicated” to the list– and what I mean by that is that one comment on a single site can be duplicated instantaneously on multiple– or even hundreds of sites making the idea of deleting the comment or picture even more impossible.

    As a victim of bullying when I was a child, cyber-bullying is very scary because of it’s broad reach. You can’t move schools and have it go away.

    The internet and world of social networking can be confusing for parents. I have a popular article for parents on my site on internet safety that might interest your readers-

    Have a glorious weekend!

    Dr. Robyn

  4. Amy Jussel
    March 21, 2008 at 12:41 pm #

    Great primer piece, Vanessa! Would love to crosspost on Shaping Youth if you’re game as it’s important stuff, and I realize that all too often I end up writing WAY too much analysis of the nuances before explaining and defining what it even means!

    Couple more resources for you:
    The Stop Cyberbullying site on ning has a filtered RSS feed to specific articles/updates (run by Andy Carvin of pbs teachers)
    See: http://stopcyberbullying.ning.com

    And http://adinasdeck.com/
    A dvd/film effort to educate teens on same

    At Shaping Youth we love the ConnectSafely.org forum to see what’s actually happening with imposter profiles that need removed and such, as it’s always got straightforward, balanced reporting on same. (Anne Collier’s NetFamilyNews)

    Looking forward to connecting, found you via our mutual gal pal Dr. Robyn!

    Amy Jussel
    Founder/Exec. Dir.

  5. Vanessa
    March 21, 2008 at 2:50 pm #

    Dr Robyn,

    You are absolutely right to add duplicated, thank you for that! I will also check out your article, hopefully my readers will too


  6. Rebekah
    May 1, 2008 at 10:40 am #

    Are we seeing any sort of gender divide with cyberbullying? I know girls, historically speaking, are more likely to use relational bullying, a sort of passive aggressive bullying-style, and I’m wondering if that applies to cyberbullying as well.

    Education IT Safety Specialist
    Texas School Safety Center

  7. Vanessa
    May 1, 2008 at 4:09 pm #

    Hi rebekah
    What a great question. Surprisingly I think that both boys and girls are doing it. Girls tend to make the cyberbullying more undercover in the sense that they will leave people out of forums, trick people into thinking they are someone else, write anonymous emails. Yet, boys I think are more overt about it, writing mean comments, attacking someone to their face, engaging in flaming…

  8. Lara
    April 27, 2009 at 7:12 pm #

    What a great post! I wanted to comment to Rebekah that she asks an important question that we (the scientific community) just don’t have the answer to yet. Good research on cyberbullying is just getting started, but stay tuned–I think we’ll know more about gender issues in cyber aggression soon. There are good research studies underway already.

    Lara Mayeux, Ph.D.

  9. Vanessa Van Petten
    May 3, 2009 at 5:30 pm #

    Thanks Lara!

  10. Tom Krieglstein
    July 16, 2009 at 8:18 pm #

    Thanks for the post and tips. I think a critical bit left out of the post is that the majority of cyberbullying happens in chatrooms and IMing > http://adjix.com/si7y

    I’m working on a post about why that is and would love to hear your thoughts as well.


  11. Justine
    September 30, 2009 at 6:04 pm #

    trying to end all kinds of bullying!!! check out http://www.teentruthlive.com
    i think you would really enjoy the video on the main page!!! :)



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