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Identifying wolves among sheep in the age of student cyberbullying

In order to prevent cyberbullying among students, it's important to first identify the many types that exist.

It’s sad news when research centers can’t agree on whether cyberbullying affects one-in-three, one-in-four, or one-in-five teens.  It isn’t the specific number that’s important; it’s the fact that the number never goes below 20 percent. Imagine being in a classroom of 25 people, knowing that this classroom is not “normal” unless at least five of those students are being bullied.

There are as many ways to cyberbully someone as there are ways to create content online. Social networks? Check. Forums? Check. Blogs?  Check. You get the picture.

Still, most cyberbullies love email, text and IM. They go to great lengths to remain anonymous and most of all get a reaction. The worst effect in my opinion of cyberbullying is well put by a ten-year-old girl from California. “Being bullied isn’t great because after a while you start to believe the stuff that they said to you. I still cry whenever I think about what they said.”

Here are some of the basic methods of cyberbullying:

Harassing Someone Directly

The most obvious and common method of this is posting rumors about someone on a social network or a blog, but cyberbullies get creative. They:

  • Use the “warn” feature on the victim’s social network to get that person investigated or banned from the site.
  • Post the victim’s personal information on the internet, putting them in danger of identity theft or other predators.
  • Create an internet poll that is harmful. For example, asking if he/she is fat or ugly.
  • Using malware or other applications in order to spy on the victim or take control of the victim’s computer.

Did you know that it’s Digital Citizenship Week? Click here to learn more!

Impersonating Someone

This common technique leverages free email accounts offered by Gmail, Hotmail, etc., where cyberbullies create a name similar to the victims. These imposters then go online and act in awful ways while pretending to be the victim, with the goal of ruining their public perception and creating embarrassment and shame. Other attacks that fall into this category are:

  • Stealing the victim’s password (or device) and pretending to be the victim while chatting with others.
  • Changing the victim’s profile in social accounts so that it is offensive.
  • Setting up social accounts in the victim’s name.

Photographs & Video

This is where cyberbullies become truly diabolical. Nobody wants and unguarded moment to be photographed and published, and attackers leverage this to the hilt. Photos are taken without the victim’s knowledge at the gym, locker room or bathroom and shared publically. Theft of personal photos and videos are common as well, and the threats ensue. If the victim doesn’t adhere to the blackmail, they are posted on the internet and it’s viral.

The Truth in Numbers

The statistics on cyberbullying are more than disturbing. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center in a 2016 study of 5,707 students between twelve and seventeen years old, thirty four percent of students had experiences with cyberbullying. Even more ominous, over twelve percent were threatened with being hurt online, and twelve percent over a cell phone text.

What Can be Done?

It’s imperative that teachers and parents know that their students and children are protected by state and federal law from acts of cyberbullying. In all states except Maine, Wyoming and New Hampshire, cyberbullying is considered a misdemeanor carrying a hefty fine and even a jail sentence. In addition, schools have the right enforce punishment for cyberbullying both on and off campus. Students should not take matters into their own hands or stay quiet and abide by the bully’s demands. Leave it to law enforcement to help educate students that something can be done.

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