Most of us can give a pretty clear definition of what it means to bully someone. Many of us have been teased or made fun of by someone in our youth and maybe even into our adulthood. We know a bully as someone who tries to spread rumors, harm us physically or recruit others to join in picking on a specific individual. Schools and our definition of bullies have changed some in the last 10 and even 15 years. Now we have a potentially bigger problem to deal with, cyber bullies. A cyber bully is much like a traditional bully. A cyber bully aims to victimize someone by posting online information that would be considered offensive by the subject of the abuse.
Cyber bullying can include threats sent or published online via e-mail, text, instant messaging or by another technological means. Cyber bullies have many resources for distributing harmful information. Cyber bullies can post or rapidly distribute rumors that can then be forwarded to countless numbers of people. Cyber bullies can create fake profiles using their victim’s identity and can pose as that individual online. These fake personal profiles can then be used to write embarrassing comments all the while the cyber bully is pretending they’re from you. Additionally any accessible online photos of an individual can be used by a cyber bully to share personal information or misleading information that is meant to humiliate and ruin the good name of innocent people who are shamelessly targeted.
This kind of Internet abuse is not just something that is confined to a computer at home. A cyber bully can cause harm anywhere that there is an Internet connection, including while your child is at school. In a 2005-2006 survey of 13,000 students in grades 5-12, 22% of students reported having known someone who has been bullied online. A shocking 19% of students have admitted to saying something hurtful to others online.
Cyber bullying is such a problem because online slandering is so easy to do. An individual can say something completely untrue or hurtful to someone else and it is very easy to do so with a strong sense of anonymity. Even threats to do physical harm to someone are not unheard of. Educators, parents and all concerned people of the community are looking for ways to stop such abuse.
The best source of prevention that we have is to cut off the problem at the source. We may not be able to stop every online predator but we can make sure that own children are not involved. It is important to talk to children about the harm that an unkind or untrue instant message can be. Even forwarding such hurtful messages makes you a pawn in the hands of a cyber bully and you are partly at fault. We also need to make sure that we do not make ourselves to look like easy targets. Make sure that you never communicate with individuals online that you do not know and trust personally. Many anonymous cyber bullies are those people who we know as mere acquaintances or who are complete strangers to us. Make sure that you closely guard any information that you post on Internet personal profiles and that you do not say something that you would not want shared with a larger group.
As cellphones, PDA’s and other hand-held devices grow in use, it is predicted that problems with cyber bullies will only become more frequent. Make sure that you talk to your children and that they feel comfortable coming to you if they victimized by a cyber bully.