Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cyberbullying: Inside a Growing Epidemic, and What We Can Do To Stop It

“Rachel Ehmke, 13-Year-Old Minnesota Student, Commits Suicide After Months Of Bullying”

Phoebe Prince, 15, Commits Suicide After Onslaught of Cyber-Bullying From Fellow Students”

“Rutgers Spycam Suicide-Cyberbullying Case Goes to Trial”

“Teen's suicide raises long-standing concerns about cyber-bullying”

  These are the alarming, and terrifyingly real headlines of teenagers who have chosen suicide as their only way out of being cyber bullied.  Today access to social networking sites, cellular phones, chat rooms, and other online sites such as YouTube is at an all time high.  However, with the increased access to these resources comes an increased risk to be bullied online, also known as cyber bullied.  Cyber bullying is a growing epidemic in America.  In order to stop headlines like those above, we must change the way our nation acts towards one another online.  However, before we can prevent it we need to have a better understanding of what cyber bullying really is, what causes it, the effects it has on the victims, and finally prevention methods.
What is cyber bullying and how is it different from “traditional” bullying?
Cyber bullying has numerous definitions, due to the fact that it has countless distinctive mediums.  Internet Safety 101 defines cyber bullying as, “…willful and repeated harm (i.e., harassing, humiliating, or threatening text or images) inflicted through the Internet, interactive technologies, or mobile phones”. Some different mediums cyber bullying takes on are social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, or Xanga; instant messaging sites like AIM; chat rooms; cell phones; and in some cases the medium is email.

Unlike “traditional” bullying, cyber bullying does not end when the school day does.  The victims can’t escape from being cyber bullied since it is being directed at them with every different type of technology available.  When they log onto the computer to do homework, or play a game, a bully is there waiting for them.  When they turn their phone on to call or text someone there is an abundance of hurtful voicemails and texts.  Cyber bullying can have so many different schemes that traditional bullying does not.  There is gossip, which reaches many more people when it’s being done online.  There is impersonation, which is when the bully breaks into the victims accounts (email, Facebook, Skype etc.) and sends messages that knowingly will hurt, or embarrass that person.  Another is cyber stalking, when someone sends unsolicited messages, which can turn into another type of cyber bullying, which are cyber threats.

With all of these schemes available for cyber bullies it raises the question of statistics of cyber bullying…

Statistics of cyber bullying

Statistics from the i-SAFE foundations, the Harford County Examiner, and Cyberbullying Research Center have found similar, and shocking statistics relating to cyber bullying in 2011.  More than half of adolescents have been cyber bullied; around 10-20% of those are being continuously cyber bullied.  Of those being cyber bullied, only about 1 in 10 tell a parent.  And fewer than 1 in 5 report to law enforcement.  The two most common forms of cyber bullying are rumors started and spread online (13.3%), and hurtful comments online (14.3%).

These are alarming statistics of how often cyber bullying occurs, it leads to concerns of the effects cyber bullying has on the victims.

Effects of cyber bullying

There are many psychological effects of cyber bullying. A reported number of about 160,000 children skip school everyday due to being bullied physically and through the use of technology. One study found that cyber bullying causes high levels of anxiety, with many of the participants saying that they became less confident, were timid at school, and had to see a therapist for depression (Hoff, and Mitchell 658-659).  One of the reasons victims stated anxiety as their main effect was because in many cases the bully was anonymous, making it nearly impossible to stop the bullying.  Other people from the same study reported high feelings of anger.  They stated that they became mean; they started spreading mean rumors, and became threatening to others. For some male victims who felt predominately angry with the cyber bully, they chose to assault the cyber bully in order to stop the harassment.  For the females who felt predominately angry, they chose to fire back with mean words.  Some, however, felt the only way out was to delete their account, or change all of their passwords and account names.

But what about people who are so relentlessly bullied that they feel the only ways out of their hell and anxiety are by taking extreme measures?  

We have all heard about someone who was cyber bullied that chose suicide as a way out.  Like Ryan Halligan, whose father found him after he committed suicide. He chose suicide due to being relentlessly bullied online by girls who thought it would be funny to pretend to like him. Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after his roommate posted a video of him having a sexual encounter with another male online.  Phoebe Prince, who after moving to the United States from Ireland found herself a constant victim of cyber bullying, ultimately leading to her suicide.  Or Megan Meier who committed suicide after the boy she was talking to through her MySpace account turned hateful and began bullying her. (It was found out later that it was not even a boy, but only a neighborhood mother trying to find out if Megan was gossiping about her own daughter).   
          There are also those who choose to act upon their anger and go on a rampage of shootings.  A study found that 75% of all school shootings take place because the shooter was relentlessly harassed and bullied (either cyber bullied or traditionally bullied)...
Image combination from komonews, msn, rawstory

For example, we all have heard the infamous true horror story of Columbine High School shooting when two boys, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, walked into school one day and committed the most deadly High School shooting to date.  Both boys were said to have been victims of continuous bullying, both online and in person.  Then there was Seung-Hui Cho who shot 32 people to death, before shooting and killing himself on the Virginia Tech campus due to being bullied. The most recent of the school shootings is the Chardon High School shooting, when Danny Komertz shot and killed 3 students. He is said to be a victim of cyber bullying (although it has not been confirmed).  These rising numbers of people dying due to the direct correlation of being bullied predominantly online is climbing everyday.  Which leads us to the question...
                       What causes someone to be a cyber bully, and how can we prevent it?
 Becoming a cyber bully is often not a choice.  There is an idea that many times children begin cyber bullying because of the environment they are in on a daily basis.  If a child grows up in a household where people make fun of each other, and are rude to each other, that becomes the norm to a child, and it becomes justifiable to do the same to others.  Some children act out because of their friends.  If their friend is bullying people through a medium of technology the other child will join, in order to fit in.  But there are some reasons more serious.  Some children have low self-esteem and in order to build themselves up they tare others down.  Ronald Alexander, author of, “Cyber-bullying: It’s Not Cool to be Cruel”, says that it is a lack of parents teaching their children empathy for others.  Another factor Alexander says contributes to it, is the ability for someone to become anonymous online.  It makes them feel more powerful, and is easier to bully behind a mask than it is when you can’t hide who you areSome children don’t have a daily structure, and becoming a bully happens because of too much free time to spend online and dedicated to using technology.  Whatever the reason may be for someone to think that cyber bullying another person is ever okay, there needs to be a way to prevent it.
So how do we prevent someone from becoming a cyber bully?  Alexander says that when he councils families whose children may be on the wrong path he tells them to take any opportunity they have to talk to them about compassion and empathy for others, and how being cruel can “destroy lives”, it can be as simple as talking over the dinner table, or on the way to soccer practice.
In a survey from Pew Research Center 90% of adolescents (age 12-17 years old) are online daily, in that same survey more than 50 % of those adolescents have cell phones (Gabel, Snakenborg, and Van Acker 89). Since some children do fall into the habit of cyber bullying because of misdirected energy (from the same source above, a study by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundatition found that in the past 2 years people are now using a type of media or internet 2.25 hours more daily than before) , we need to make sure they have the right daily structure.  Whether it's that they’re involved in sports, music, art, or any other extracurricular that will take time away from their being “plugged in”.  In this case, the less time children have to dedicate to the use of technology, the better.  Stopping a child from becoming a cyber bully could also be as simple as changing the way the family acts at home.  Spend less time being negative, have a routine where you say something good about another family member every night, and make sure to reinforce that making fun of someone is never a respectable thing.
Although those are ways to prevent a child who has not yet engaged in cyber bullying, it raises the question, what do we do to prevent ongoing cyber bullying?
How have key members in society society helped prevent cyber bullying, and what can  we do?
Congressman Mike Honda (D-Calif.) supports the new movie, “Bully”, as a way to teach children why cyber bullying is bad.  He and thirty-five other congress members helped petition through a letter to get the controversial movies rating from R to PG-13 so it can be viewed in schools and reach children who may be at risk to becoming cyber bullies.  Honda thinks that the more public awareness that can be brought to the eyes of people, the more chance we have at ending this epidemic.  
Other celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Meryl Streep also supported changing the rating of “Bully” through the petition....

The government is also doing something about the new epidemic of cyber bullying.  A bill that has just passed into Delaware’s senate would allow Attorney General Beau Biden's office, and the state Department of Education to collaborate to make a cyber bullying policy for Delaware’s schools.  If this goes through there would be a way to punish children in school for cyber bullying they do when they are done with the school day. Currently a chart shows that 49 of the 50 U.S. states have laws against bullying and only 14 of those laws include cyber bullying, and only 6 other states have proposed for it to be added to the law. 

But what can we do to help prevent cyber bullying? Many people think that because they aren’t in congress, or because they aren’t a big named celebrity that they simply can't make a difference, that couldn’t be more false. The biggest way you can help is by not being a bystander.  If you see that someone is being cyber bullied don't stand by and assume it will end with time.  Being a bystander is one of the worst things to do in that situation, take action.  If you can, and feel confident, stand up to the person cyber bullying.  Tell them that being cruel to someone is never acceptable, even if you dislike them.  If you don't feel comfortable standing up to the cyber bully, tell a teacher, a parent, a guidance councilor.  Tell anyone that will listen, and help respond to the problem.  Being a bystander can kill.  All it takes is for one courageous person to stand up and say, "this is never OK", it can change a persons life.
Another prominent way to take action, and make a stand against cyber bullying, is to sign a petition.  Websites, like have numerous petitions against cyber bullying available for anyone with an account to sign.  It is simple, and free to sign up, and empowering to see a petition you have signed win, and have amazing results.  Here is a petition against cyber bullying that you can sign, Cyber Bullying
  STOP cyberbullying, an organization whose goal is to put a complete end to cyber bullying believes that everyone can take action. They have tips on how ordinary people can do extraordinary things.  Some of their tips include:

  • Education Campaign: The best way to stop it is to educate people about it
  • Take 5!: Before you respond to a cyber bully's hurtful words take 5! put the mouse down and take a step back
  • Stop, block and tell!: If you find yourself in a situation of being cyber bullied stop, take 5!, block the bully from all resources, and tell someone you trust and know can help (there are also hotlines)

This epidemic is claiming innocent peoples lives.  The number of people who choose everyday to end their life due to this is rising.  We as a nation need to take a stand behind these victims and put and end to cyber bullying.  The statistics are alarming.  The emotional and psychological effects are endless.  The possibility for change is real.  And the ways to help prevent this epidemic are endless.

1.) The background of this blog is from voanews

Printed Works Cited

Hoff, Dianne L., and Sidney N. Mitchell. "Cyberbullying: Causes, Effects, and Remedies." Journal of Educational Administration 47.5 (2008): 652-65. Print.
Snakenborg, John, Richard Van Acker, and Robert Gable. "Cyberbullyin: Prevention and Intervention to Protect Our Children and Youth."Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth 55.2 (2011): 88-89. Print.