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Cyberbullying

What is Cyberbullying?

Parry’s short definition of cyberbullying is: “When a minor uses technology as a weapon to intentionally target and hurt another minor, it’s ‘cyberbullying.’”

The long definition of cyberbullying is “any cyber-communication or publication posted or sent by a minor online, by instant message, e-mail, website, diary site, online profile, interactive game, handheld device, cellphone, game device, digital camera or video, webcam or use of any interactive device that is intended to frighten, embarrass, harass, hurt, set up, cause harm to, extort, or otherwise target another minor.”

With one exception, all cyberbullying must be intentional. It requires that the cyberbully intends to do harm to or annoy their target. (In the one exception to this rule, the student is careless and hurts another’s feelings by accident. This is called “inadvertent cyberbullying,” because the target feels victimized, even if it is not the other student’s intention. Since it often leads to retaliation, traditional cyberbullying and cyberwarfare, it is considered one of the four main types of cyberbullying.)

Cyberbullying needs to have minors on both sides, as target and as cyberbully. (If there aren’t minors on both sides of the communication, it is considered “cyberharassment,” not cyberbullying.) When a student harasses a teacher, it falls under cyberharassment. (Note that some new cyberbullying laws classify teacher cyberharassment as “cyberbullying” for those purposes, though.)

Parry Aftab created a checklist for law enforcement first responders (those who take the call when it comes in initially or show up to interview the victims). You can review it here and see how the nature of communications, frequency, and identity or anonymity affect the risk assessment.

How Prevalent Is It?

With our increased reliance on technology, the incidences of cyberbullying are growing. Parry visited schools around North America (primarily in the U.S.) and polled the students in each session. Over a year she polled approximately 45,000 students in middle school and early high school, as well as sixth graders in some grammar schools. She listed the kinds of things that typically constitute cyberbullying and asked the students to raise their hands if any of those things had happened to them in the last year.

She never had fewer than
85% of the students admit that they had been targeted at least once in the last year. In Westchester County, New York (an affluent county outside of New York City where most students have multiple devices with Internet connections), 97% of the middle schoolers polled admitted to having been cyberbullied. And in one boarding school in Canada, 100% of the students responded that they had been cyberbullied.

Yet, only
5% would tell their parents if they were targeted, the same students report.  Most reasons relate to not trusting their parents not to blow things out of proportion or fearing that they will take the technology away from them. The rest of theiir reasons span the traditional reasons for being reluctant to share anything about bullying with their parents.

Fifty percent have heard of or seen a website/profile/quiz bashing another student in their school, and seventy-five percent of those have visited one of them. Forty percent have either had their password stolen and changed by a cyberbully (locking them out of their own account) or had communications sent to others posing as them. (To review more statistics, click here.)

Cyberbullying begins as early as second or third grade, depending on the age when cellphones, virtual worlds, and Internet use begin. It peaks in fourth grade and again in seventh and eighth grade.

In our statistics section, you can learn more about how this breaks out and how different technologies are misused to hurt other students. Surveys often fail to disclose the true extent of cyberbullying. That is why we highlight the research conducted by our Teenangels and Tweenangels, WiredSafety’s expert young volunteers.

How Does It Work?

Cyberbullying can be conducted using most digital and interactive technologies. They misuse cellphones, handheld gaming devices and text devices, digital still and video cameras, online game sites, social networks, webcams, virtual worlds, passwords, instant messaging, e-mails, blogs, photos, iPods, and voice over IP devices. To learn more about the risks and methods, technology by technology, see  “ The Big Six – The Weapons of Choice.”

There are three different cyberbullying methods:
  1. Direct attacks (messages sent to the target directly);
  2. Posted and public attacks designed to humiliate the target; and
  3. Cyberbullying by proxy (using others to help cyberbully the victim, either with or without the accomplice’s knowledge).
Because cyberbullying by proxy often gets adults involved in the harassment (without their knowing they are being manipulated by kids), it is much more dangerous than any other type of attack. You can read, in gory detail, how these work in “ How Does Cyberbullying Work, in Detail?