For Teens & Tweens: Cyberbullying

What is it?

Cyberbullying is “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices.”

  • willful: the actions are deliberate, not accidental
  • repeated: there is a pattern of behavior, not just one isolated incident
  • harm: the target feels hurt or humiliated
  • computer, cell phones and other electronic devices: this is what makes it cyberbullying and not bullying††

Students use technology to bully through personal web pages; social networking sites such as MySpace, FaceBook or Flickr; YouTube; cell phone, text, picture and video messages; email and IM’ing; and blogs and forums. Some examples of cyberbullying include:

  • “Hot or Not” websites where students rate each other
  • setting up insulting or hateful websites specifically to hurt, tease, embarrass or humiliate someone
  • hateful or racist email, IM or text messaging
  • threatening email, IM or text messaging
  • uploading embarrassing or harmful videos or pictures to YouTube, social networking or other photo-or video-sharing sites without the knowledge of the person or people in the video or picture
  • creating a fake person to carry out embarrassing or hurtful communications or acts on the Internet
  • sending repeated messages to a cell phone
  • “borrowing” someone’s screen name and pretending to be them while posting a message
  • forwarding private messages, pictures or video to others

How Common is it?

A 2008 study (PDF) found that 72% of students reported being bullied online in the past year. Most knew the perpetrator.

  • Most often, cyberbullying was done through IM.
  • Students who frequently used webcams were the most likely to be repeatedly bullied.
  • Insults were the No. 1 reported problem.
  • Password theft was the No. 2 reported problem. This involves someone stealing a password, logging onto an account, and sending or uploading content that makes the account owner look bad(Juvonen and Gross, Extending the school grounds?—Bullying experiences in cyberspace, 2008)

Types of Cyberbullying

Cyber Stalking: Repeatedly sending messages that are threatening or intimidating. Engaging in other online activities that make the victim afraid for his or her safety. Cyber Threats: The use of a computer, cell phone or other electronic device to threaten a person’s physical safety and well-being (Hinduja & Patchin 2009). Defamation: “Dissing” someone online. Sending or posting cruel gossip or rumors about a person to damage his or her reputation or friendships. Exclusion: Intentionally excluding someone from an online group, like a buddy list. Flaming or Trolling: Online fighting using electronic messages with angry and crude language. Happy Slapping: A phenomenon that links traditional bullying with cyberbullying where an unsuspected person is recorded being harassed or bullied in a way that usually includes some type of physical abuse.  The digital photo or video is uploaded to the web (Hinduja & Patchin 2009). Harassment: Repeatedly sending offensive, rude and insulting messages. Impersonation: Pretending to be someone else and sending or posting material online that makes the victim look bad, gets the victim in trouble or danger, or damages the victim’s reputation or friendships. Outing and Trickery: Sharing someone’s secret or embarrassing information online. Tricking someone into revealing secrets or embarrassing information that is then shared online. Photoshopping: The modification or alteration of a photo or image.  This becomes cyberbullying if the image is altered in a humiliating or obscene way and uploaded to the Web (Hinduja & Patchin 2009).

What you may think is funny or a simple prank may not be funny to the victim. The victim may respond very differently than you expect. If you are not sure how the victim of your prank or joke may respond, or if you wouldn’t do it to that person’s face, then don’t do it online. What if you send an embarrassing picture of your girlfriend or boyfriend to a friend, thinking it won’t go further than that? The fact is, you have no idea what a friend might do with something you send. Once you have sent it, you have lost control of where it might end up and any harm it might cause. You can get into serious trouble for cyberbullying. Under Montana and federal laws, a cyberbully might be charged with:

A Criminal Offense: depending on the specific circumstances of a case, cyberbullying in Montana could lead to a number of criminal charges, including:

  • Violating privacy in communications: 45-8-213 of the Montana Code Annotated (MCA)
  • Stalking: 45-5-220 MCA
  • Malicious intimidation or harassment relating to civil or human rights: 45-5-221 MCA
  • Surreptitious visual observation or recordation: 45-5-223 MCA
  • Obscenity – 45-8-201 MCA
  • Public display or dissemination of obscene material to minors: 45-8-206 MCA
  • Sexual abuse of children: 45-5-625 MCA

Defamatory Libel: written communication that can severely harm an individual’s reputation. Defamation/Slander: communicating a false statement that harms another person’s reputation. Both libel and slander could result in the victim filing a lawsuit against you. So think, before you post.

What to Do

To Prevent Cyberbullying
  • Don’t give out private information (passwords, pins, name, address, phone number, school name, or family and friends’ names).
  • Don’t share your password, even with your friends.
  • Don’t exchange pictures, videos or give out email addresses to people you meet online (ask for permission from an adult first).
  • Don’t share buddy lists.
  • Don’t send a message when you are angry.
  • Don’t use profanity or insulting or rude language.
  • Delete messages from people you don’t know, especially if they seem angry or mean.
  • Get out of the site or chat if something doesn’t seem right.
  • Realize that online conversations are not private.
  • Be aware that whatever happens online can be reproduced and spread very easily, by anyone.
  • Do not say anything online that you would not say face-to-face to the person on the other end.
If You are Cyberbullied
  • Speak with a trusted adult.
  • Speak with your teacher or principal if it is school related.
  • Remember that cyberbullying is not about you, it is about bullies who:
    • want to feel powerful
    • are looking for attention
    • probably are victims of bullying themselves
  • Don’t open or read messages by cyberbullies.
  • Don’t react to the bully (ignore them).
  • Walk away from the computer.
If Ignoring the Bully Doesn’t Work?
  • Again, speak with a trusted adult or your teacher or principal if it is school related.
  • Don’t meet with the bully.
  • Block the bully.
  • Don’t erase messages or images from the bully. Instead, save them to a folder as evidence in case the bullying escalates and law enforcement gets involved.
  • Contact the Internet Service Provider (ISP) to report the harassment.
  • Inform the police if you are threatened with harm.

Contact the CyberTipline if:

  • You receive unsolicited obscene material (pornography).
  • You are directed to a misleading domain name (website).
  • You are tricked into viewing harmful material.

Get Involved

  • Develop a Youth Internet Safety Team at your school.
  • Become an iMentor and teach your peers or younger students about Internet safety (see www.isafe.org to get involved in an iMentor program).
  • Teach your parents about what you do while online.
  • Teach younger siblings about cyberspace.
  • Reach an agreement with your parents about Internet rules.
  • Consider a Family Internet Use Contract (PDF).

Speak Up!

Provide support – be a friend. For example, make positive comments on a friend’s Facebook page, especially if others have made negative comments.  And let others know that it is not cool to be cruel, to harass someone or to spread rumors about others.  Check out the That’s Not Cool website for ideas. Educate your peers and community members about cyberbullying.  Here are some ideas from i-SAFE’s Student Tool Kit (PDF)

  • Organize a Cyber Safety Week at your school.
  • Create PSAs (Public Service Announcements), television or radio advertisements intended to educate or alert the public on important social issues.
  • Set up an information table at lunch, during study hall, at a school sports event, after school, or at the mall or local grocery store to let students, teachers, parents and community members know about the dangers of cyberbullying.
  • Organize a community or school play.  This is an ideal activity for school assemblies or a presentation for the class next door or for younger students.
  • Organize a Speak Out! (a panel or round table discussion) and ask people to share their experiences or brainstorm strategies for responding to cyberbullying.
  • Organize a Pledge Wall for others to write down their pledges to cyber safety.
  • Organize a contest for a poster, video, songwriting, poetry, website or PSA.
  • Organize and facilitate a parent training.
  • Inspire others to join your efforts by creating media alerts.  Start with press releases.  Remember, there is strength in numbers.

More Information

To learn more about how to stop bullying and how to help your friends or younger brothers and sisters, take a look at these websites.