Time to Address Cyberbullying

Comments 22 by Rebecca Bollwitt

I have bumped up this post to ‘sticky’ status to have it featured on the front page of my site for the rest of today in order to raise awareness.

“The world would be better off without you,” read a MySpace message from a fictional teenage boy sent to 13 year old Megan Meier shortly before she committed suicide.

Photo: Paul Hillsdon on Flickr

“To think that in a few years [my niece] will probably be on a few of these social websites, potentially dealing with situations like this is an absolutely sickening thought that has lately been causing me a great deal of stress.” – Duane Storey on MatthewGood.org.

I’ve always been a nerd. I know, hard to believe, eh? It’s true. I was called names in school, I was made fun of, was verbally harassed by a parent, and some of my braver friends who stood up to bullies received death threats – and all of this happened before I was even in grade 9.

There’s an antagonist in every story; everyone’s got their Nelson Muntz and in our adult years bullies take the form of co-workers, peers, or Mr. Slate type bosses. The way I see it, a bully is someone who has nothing better to do than make someone else feel like something that should be picked up in a plastic baggy and thrown into the garbage can at the dog park.

Every morning on the radio (yes, I still listen to the radio) there are public service announcements asking if your child is a bully, however these are directly targeted at a new breed of Brutus, the Cyberbully.

In the past, youth could find safety from bullies at home, but with personal computers, the bully is present in the victim’s own bedroom. And rarely, if ever, are there adults around to watch, intervene, or protect. [The Tyee]

Unfortunately these malicious acts don’t stop after childhood and the practice of seeking joy by belittling and intimidating someone has changed since I was in school. The new forms of communicating these ill-willed attacks are through blogs, Facebook pages, MySpace, text messages, and forum posts. Probably one of the worst parts is that you might not even know who the aggressor may be.

Blogger Kathy Sierra: In a statement to the BBC she referenced posts on her own blog and site Meankids.org which she found threatening and sexually graphic. She stated this made her afraid to leave her house.

Alan Herrell, a well-known US blogger who had posted some of the Meankids.org content, stated that he was a victim of identity theft by an unknown hacker. Two other individuals who had been revealed as authors of threatening content on Meankids.org, including the noose picture cited by the BBC, also publicly stated they had no plans to harm Sierra. The identities of at least two other commenters remain unknown. [wiki]

When it comes to blogging one of the great things about the medium is that it’s your voice, it’s your piece of real estate on the internet to do with as you please. You want to write about cats? Go nuts. You like Star Trek TNG but not Enterprise? Tell us why. You want to tell the world about your freak accident with the hedge trimmer? Sure, although use discretion when posting pics. A blog is your own expression, your own content, and it allows the public to publish. But at what point do we say, hey – that’s over the line?

Photo credit: winning-information

You are liable for things you publish online, especially defamatory commentary that could damage the reputation or business of another. It’s not just Facebook wall posts and anonymous blogspot sites that do damage. If you leave comments on someone’s site telling them they’re a “stupid head,” (instead of simply expressing disagreement if such is the case) chances are they recorded your IP address and know exactly where you were when you left that comment, and where you came from. Although even though they can probably track you down, it doesn’t take the sting away from the insult.

Cyberbullies can create web sites that mock, torment and harass others. If these are published on a local/regional Internet Service Provider (ISP), you should copy and print out these Web sites and then contact the ISP. Give them a chance to respond and address the situation. For most responsible IPSs in Canada, this is likely a violation of the Terms of Use or Acceptable Use Policies (AUP). [Cyberbullying.org]

There is a line and within the blogging realm some folks have worked to create a Code of Conduct.

Unless in real life you would face physical intimidation, whereas online you could avoid it. There is a basic understanding for freedom as well — your right to swing your fist ends where someone else’s nose begins. We must be as responsible and civil we are in the real world. And for criminals in virtual world, well that’s a real law enforcement issue. But as civilised citizens we should follow some rules. [Code of Conduct: Things We Wouldn’t Say in Person]

The concept of “do no harm” and using our communication tools for good is actually a pretty tough pill to swallow for a lot of people. Ever stumble across that one blog post that makes you wonder what the heck the author was smoking when they wrote that? Facts are wrong, there are spelling mistakes and they just sound completely uneducated about the topic? What compels you to leave a destructive comment? Admittedly, I’ve been there and you have every right to voice your opinion but the author also has rights. There’s always an alternative to smashing someone down in a comment thread such as publishing your own blog post, sharing your own (constructive) views on the topic of the original.

“If you want to do something about it, do not tolerate the kind of abuse that includes threats or even suggestions of violence (especially sexual violence). Do not put these people on a pedestal. Do not let them get away with calling this ‘social commentary,’ ‘protected speech,’ or simply ‘criticism’.” – Kathy Sierra.

I know it’s a lovely concept; let’s all play nice and share our toys and no one will get hurt. The fact of the matter is cyberbullying is real for children and adults alike. We need to step up and take responsibility for our own words in the online realm just as we do in real life. Take a breath, back away from the keyboard, shut off your screen, or close the laptop lid. Look around your room, call a loved one, go for a walk, pick up a book. There is more to life than bashing other people and making them feel small. We all have a voice, and there will always be someone there to watch, read, or listen.

Photo credit: Derek Miller on Flickr

Every morning when I hear those radio PSAs asking if my child is a cyberbully and if they post content on the internet that could hurt someone else’s feelings, in my head I can easily reference one of the dozens of comments, Twitters, or emails I’ve received because of this blog that were less than complimentary. It makes me wonder how we’ve allowed these childish tendencies to overwhelm our adults lives, mostly helped by the veil of ‘privacy’ provided by the computer monitor. If children are expected to behave online, why don’t adults?

Supplemental Reads: StopCyberbullying.org, Be Web Aware, Cyberbullying.org, MySpace Anti-Bullying, Kids Help Phone.

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22 Comments  —  Comments Are Closed

  1. Keira-AnneWednesday, April 23rd, 2008 — 10:45am PDT

    Thanks for posting this, Becky. Everyone’s been a target of bullying at one point or another (and I’m sure we’ve all be perpetrators too), but the term “bully” normally conjures up images of bratty kids on the playground, throwing rocks. Unfortunately, this behavior is carried on into adulthood by some and why that is, I’m not sure.

    What I do know is that it’s not acceptable. Thanks for spreading awareness.

  2. Miss604Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008 — 10:48am PDT

    Thanks Keira, and also thanks for helping me with my grammar 😀 You are the semi-colon queen.

  3. Duane StoreyWednesday, April 23rd, 2008 — 11:00am PDT

    Yah bullies suck. As do people who hide behind anonymity while bashing others.

  4. RaulWednesday, April 23rd, 2008 — 11:14am PDT

    Bullying in any of its forms is totally unacceptable. However, one of the biggest problems with bullying is that unless the society where this behavior occurs does not condone it, then you get harassed by groups of bullies (the network effect or copycat effect).

    The great thing about cyber-bullying is that, once you recognize one of those cyberbullies, the rest of the people around you will be quick to come together to protect you from the cyberbully.

    Great job, Rebecca, as always.

  5. Barbara DodukWednesday, April 23rd, 2008 — 11:59am PDT

    I wrote about that MySpace case quite a bit when it all came out. I was shocked… but in truth not that shocked since so many people hide behind the computer to attack people, thinking they are hidden.

    I read Keira-Anne’s site and know what this post is about, good on you for bringing this to light. What is sad is it is all too often someone we know that is secretly attacking us behind the computer screen.

    Thing is it isn’t as “secret” as the bully would like, IP tracking and various methods can indeed expose the real person behind the fake id. Real threats can be reported to the authorities.

    I hope everyone plays nice online, and gives up their petty hatred. Hate is easy path, Love is the hardest path, choose love people, it is also the greatest reward.

    B @ The Love Blog

  6. RossWednesday, April 23rd, 2008 — 1:09pm PDT

    Kathy Sierra is a personal hero of mine and what she went through was disgusting. Though I never read meankids before it was taken down, I did make a point of finding out who was involved and will have nothing to do with any of their online ventures/blogs/companies etc.

  7. Tyler IngramWednesday, April 23rd, 2008 — 4:37pm PDT

    I guess my age group wasn’t part of cyber-bullying as I don’t remember it being done while I was in school. I forgot where I read it but it seemed like people who cyber-bullied were those who could no physically stand up to the physical bullies. Like someone posted above they tend to ‘hide’ behind their computer and get back at those who pick on them.

    Now I might be a bit out of the loop with schools and bullying but are they being watched out for still? If someone is caught for cyber-bullying, do they find out the reason why they started it? Where they picked on relentlessly? I was picked on a lot through out school life, though if I thought about resorting to doing anything online it would be pretty mute since the majority of the people at that time were not online.

  8. Barbara DodukWednesday, April 23rd, 2008 — 10:07pm PDT

    Did you hear about the story I published a post about recently, regarding the girls in Florida that video taped a beating of another teen girl as retaliation for her alleged negative “comments” on MySpace?

    Fact is, we all have to be careful what we state in public, online now more than off.

    There is something called ‘web-rage’. This is an interesting article about it here called Web Rage: Why It Happens, What It Costs You, How to Stop. I recommend it.

  9. Johan CyprichWednesday, April 23rd, 2008 — 11:12pm PDT

    The best way to stop cyberbullying is by monitoring the activity of your child’s computer. While there is software to do this, the best way is to setup a central server where all Internet traffic passes through it before going to machines networked to it. All Internet activity can be logged on the server and there is no way that your child can affect the data stored there unless they get on the server.

  10. PamelaThursday, April 24th, 2008 — 9:59am PDT

    For so many reasons, I am terrified of bringing new lives into this world.

  11. fotoeinsThursday, April 24th, 2008 — 11:19am PDT

    Beck, thanks for your candor and for bringing this up.

  12. Nancy (aka money coach)Thursday, April 24th, 2008 — 2:13pm PDT

    R – thanks for putting this on the table for discussion. Thanks too for being a great role model in intelligently stating opinions while being respectful. Have I told you lately that you rule? you rule!

  13. JenniferFriday, April 25th, 2008 — 11:22am PDT

    This is an excellent entry, Rebecca. I also agree with Duane about people who hide behind anonymity while bashing others. Bullying of any kind is certainly not acceptable. Awareness about this topic is so important.

  14. A Vancouver Island Girl’s Blog – Keira-anne.com » Blog Archive » BLAH, BLAH, BLAHFriday, April 25th, 2008 — 2:45pm PDT

    […] Miss604 (aka the Thelma to my Louise) wrote a must-read article on cyber-bullying. [article] […]

  15. Stephen ReesThursday, May 1st, 2008 — 1:02pm PDT

    You are right that it must be stopped – but the time to do that was long ago. Five years ago, when she was still in elementary school, my daughter was the subject of organised cyber bullying by a group of girls at her school. Fortunately at that time it was possible to track who the bullies were. The school had an RCMP liaison officer – who was sympathetic but powerless – until a crime is committed. And girls using ostracism and villification are seemingly not committing any crime. The school principal was not only obviously illiterate in terms of information technology but also in denial about the effects of bullying. I managed to get the web sites and message boards taken down, and secured undertakings from the site owners that they would co-operate – but there was nothing for them to co-operate with. The police could not act and the school had no interest in acting.

    The bullies also know that they can effectively intimidate anyone with knowledge of this activity, since the fear of the onlookers is that is they do not join in – or at least say nothing – the same treatment will be turned on them. And while we think of boys as the typical bullies who use violence to gain their ends, girls are, if anything, even more effective in manipulating groups.

    While the bullying of my daughter was stopped, the fact that the perpetrators were not even sanctioned let alone punished meant that everyone knew who had “got away with it”. Which sends a message of intimidation to the entire school, and has a very dangerous effect on the triumphant bully.

  16. Statistics Tracking Tools Reviewed » Vancouver Blog Miss 604Wednesday, May 28th, 2008 — 3:35pm PDT

    […] we live in a world where cyberbullying is becoming more prevalent each day and individuals hide behind their computer screens to spew […]

  17. Thursday Morning Link Fest: Theoretically Speaking » Vancouver Blog Miss 604Thursday, August 28th, 2008 — 11:50am PDT

    […] the other hand, maybe once a month, I’ll be reminded of the negatives. Folks hiding behind their computers and fake names, simply with nothing nice to say. Sometimes […]

  18. SamMonday, October 20th, 2008 — 5:37pm PDT

    i read somewhere that cyberbullying is even worse because victims can’t hide from it. There’s no nelson muntz in your bedroom.

  19. SMLoisMonday, December 1st, 2008 — 1:21pm PST

    As a former victim of cyber-bullying in both exceedingly personal (people that I knew from school taking very personal attacks on me) and in exceedingly impersonal settings (I was the admin for a popular music group’s bulletin board back when BBS was cool) but it certainly made me leery to post online for a while.

  20. JennyMonday, December 1st, 2008 — 2:54pm PST

    Cyberbullies are even more cowardly then traditional bullies because they hide in their homes or offices behind computer screens and enjoy anonymity. They aren’t even tough enough to face someone in person.

  21. Miss604Monday, December 1st, 2008 — 2:59pm PST

    @ Jenny – or sometimes even properly name their victims – only impersonate, mock or quote. No difference really.

    The beauty of blogs is that if you disagree with something you can post about it on your own site, link back, and enjoy a discussion with various sides of the story or argument. But like you said, some just hide and take pot shots…

  22. 2008 in Review: January to June » Vancouver Blog Miss 604 by Rebecca BollwittWednesday, December 31st, 2008 — 11:25am PST

    […] I met Pauline for the first time, took a trip to Osoyoos with John (where I wrote about Golden Beaver and Burrowing Owl Wineries), I watched Trevor Linden play in his last NHL game, and I took the time to address Cyberbullying. […]

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