Reporting Bullies Online: Helpful Or Not?

from the bullies-will-be-bullies dept

For years, there are a group of folks who regularly raise a stink about the rise of cyberbullying and how something needs to be done to "protect the children." Of course, the solutions never make very much sense. At one end, you have things like people dressing up as Spiderman and telling kids to stop bullying each other, and at the other extreme, you have people saying that there should be laws outlawing cyberbullying.

But what about relying on the same technology that enables cyberbullying to potentially be a part of the solution? The AP is running a story about a website that lets kids anonymously report bullying activities (beyond just cyberbullying) to school officials, so that they can take care of it. It's an interesting idea -- and to be honest, my first reaction on reading it was more surprise that such things hadn't existed for years. How hard is it to set up a form on a website that doesn't require logging in and identifying yourself?

However, I wonder how well it actually works in practice. Perhaps it is effective, but it's difficult to see how this actually solves the problem the article claims it solves: which is that whoever reports the bullying will be called a "snitch." In plenty of cases, I would imagine that the bully would simply blame the bullied. And, depending on the situation (i.e., depending on how scared the bully is of further retaliation), it could just get them even more riled up against their victim, naturally assuming that's who reported them. However, if it can be shown to be an effective solution to help stop bullying, then perhaps it does make sense. I certainly wouldn't condone any kind of bullying, but at some point you have to realize that there are always going to be bullies of some kind, and while any solution that can alleviate the suffering of bullied individuals sounds good, they need to be grounded in reality.


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  1.  
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    Jamie, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 8:12pm

    What about abuse

    I think you missed another potential issue with the whole system. How can schools keep the system from being abused? An anonymous bullying report seems like an easy target for abuse. In fact,it seems to me that it could easily be used as a new bullying tool to cause unpopular students to be harassed by school staff members.

     

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    alex Minkin, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 8:13pm

    uh...yeah right

    laws outlying cyberbullying? when they cant even deal with it face to face? its ridiculous. what are you going to do, have jury trial every time theres a he-said-she-said bullying case? our teachers and administrators are so inept half the time they'd rather punish both kids involved instead of doing any work to determine the truth, and you want them to investigate bullying ONLINE?

    good luck, i'm sure itll be as effective as asking the pedophiles not to use unregistered emails.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 8:47pm

    Re: What about abuse

    Thats exactly what I was thinking. How easily could somebody just claim that someone is bullying them and while this is just for cyber-bullying how can you actually have much proof without getting in depth information which, lets face it, would cause far too much trouble. A middle schooler could easily edit some IM's claim they are from a "bully" and submit this and unless the school is going to get the computer of the suspected "bully" check through IM logs which may or may not exist and a row of other things to verify the accuracy its just not going to happen.

    It sounds like a good idea in theory but in practice, not so much.

     

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    Jake, Oct 15th, 2008 @ 11:06pm

    Re: What about abuse

    Agreed. Anonymous tip-offs of something that happened without independent witnesses or solid corroboration are pretty much worthless. No teacher can or should impose sanctions on that basis alone.

     

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    hegemon13, Oct 16th, 2008 @ 7:26am

    Huh?

    Will you not be happy until the world throws up its hands and says "let bullies be bullies"? I think it is quite obvious how this solves the "snitch" problem. The online report is likely to be anonymous. Not just the school administration promising anonymity, but you being anonymous even to the administration. That's a major hurdle solved.

    As far as bully retaliation to the victim, I don't see how this would change anything. Bullies already tend to pick on the same person or people repeatedly. No matter how the bully gets caught, he is likely to take it out on the victim. So, are you saying we shouldn't discipline them because they might retaliate? I guess I just don't understand your arguments, Mike.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2008 @ 7:29am

    the whole thing is a joke

    add in to the equations that Teachers and School faculty (at least in my area) are NOT able to punish kids for things that happen off campus unless it happened as part of the normal travel to and from school (like riding the bus or while walking). considering that cyber "bullying" most likely won't be happening on campus and almost definitely won't happen while on the way to and from it that means it would be a actual legal issue, which opens a brand new can of worms.

    but all this ignores that fact that you have to be really stupid to get bullied online. on nearly every social site there are ways to block messages from those you don't like. and really if this became law, how many of the internet message boards would implode because the average user is hateful and abusive towards a percentage of the user base?

    Internet "bullying" is just words, when I was in school it wasn't words that we had to worry about, it was fists. if we got called names and the staff couldn't do anything our parents taught us how to have a thick skin and that words only hurt us if we let them.

    please, stop making kids believe words can hurt them. teach them how to ignore/block people online and don't try to blow this out of proportion.

    oh, btw, I was bullied when I was in school, and some thought I was a bully, both me and the guy who bullied me are living normal, productive, lives but if these laws existed back then both he and I probably would have ended up in Juvy and definitely kicked out of the school which would have severely decreased our chances to lead a good life. I don't condone bullying (I have, in fact, grown to have a respect for all life; I won't even harm/kill flies or spiders) but I think it should be handled civilly and only as a very very last resort should the expulsion or police be the answer.

     

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  7.  
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    hegemon13, Oct 16th, 2008 @ 7:30am

    Re: What about abuse

    I see where you're coming from, but isn't that abuse already available? Just because it is online does not mean that false reports are something new. Clearly it is the responsibility of the administration to verify reports before they discipline. And the administration usually isn't stupid. They know who is and isn't prone to bullying behavior. The problem is that the victims rarely come forward. Will this make a difference? I don't know, but it is quite possible that anonymity could help.

     

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    hegemon13, Oct 16th, 2008 @ 7:32am

    Re: uh...yeah right

    Agreed. Laws are stupid in this regard until it rise to the level of physical assault or harassment, in which case applicable laws already exist. However, school policies that help the school to identify and intervene in situations of bullying are perfectly valid.

     

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  9.  
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    hegemon13, Oct 16th, 2008 @ 7:33am

    Re: the whole thing is a joke

    Um, generally cyber-bullying does not refer to mean messages sent to the victim, but rather humiliating content posted elsewhere for other students to see.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2008 @ 8:06am

    Re: Re: the whole thing is a joke

    fair enough, I have always seen people talking being abusive and holding the suicide incident up as a flag.

    many of my point still stand however.

    1: it happens off campus. if my kids acts like a dumbass off campus by all means bring it to my attention, but the school doesn't get to punish him for that. the school it only responsible mon-fri, 8-3 and the rest is my turn. it is pure foolishness for the school to punish a kid for something that happens on saturday.

    2: it is still a matter of words, if you want to stop abusive photos, stop everything else too, what about the starwars kid or the numa numa guy or the special Olympics pictures or any of the other thousands of photos that have been photoshopped to hell and beyond. if the photos are worse than those (say, like, tub girl, 2girls1cup, goatse and so on {and for the love of god, please do NOT search for them if you don't know what those are yet, you don't want to know, trust me}), ask the site administrator to take it down.

    I'm having trouble imagining what would be a humiliating photo that didn't fit under existing rules. either it is just a standard photo like from the school that has been photoshopped or it is the kid in an embarrassing situation that the the "bully" put him in, or they are attempting to make fun of him based on something true.

    the first issue is not a problem, it happens all the time and is not really hurtful, it also applies a double standard if in some cases we punish it and in others we don't.

    the second issue is not a problem because you don't punish for posting it online, you punish for the act in the first place just like in real life. (you don't arrest people for talking about how they beat people up, you use it to prove that they did beat someone up which is against existing rules)

    as to the third, it is, again, just words. words accompanying pictures yes, but words only. if it is becoming an issue at school it is time for the faculty to step in and stop the kids from actively teasing the victim at school.


    I once again point out that if you start bringing the police in on this kind of thing then those same laws can be used to put a large percentage of the general public in jail because nearly everyone has acted like an asshole online. up until now atleast, being an asshole hasn't been against the law and I think there are too many assholes to try trying now.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2008 @ 9:42am

    I would like to report that Mike is a bully, because I said he was.

     

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  12.  
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    gyffes, Oct 16th, 2008 @ 10:16am

    The difference is...

    anonymously reporting cyberbullying has the potential to be supported by evidence: logs, screenshots, etc.

    Reporting a bullying event in the schoolyard lacks that.

    While I'm not sure this is fixable (anonymous e-bullying would require some serious ISP interaction, which I don't see them rushing to provide), SOMETHING needs to be done: today's kids spend an astonishing amount of time online and this one-time refuge for the geeky and underfriended has become a battleground that's reduced several to suicide.

     

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  13.  
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    Brutus, Oct 16th, 2008 @ 11:10am

    Do you people read? This isn't about "cyber-bullying", it's about REAL bullying. Kids can anonymously report bullying incidents which happen at school. That way, school officials can be aware that such incidents might be happening and keep watch for them. No one is suggesting that everyone reported is guilty, or will be subject to some sort of discipline, but isn't it better that school officials are aware this might be going on rather than just turn a blind eye toward it? Those being bullied aren't likely to come forward if they think their identities might be exposed, for fear of reprisal. Being able to report incidents anonymously is their only viable choice. Those who think that bullying is limited to being called names are dead wrong.

     

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  14.  
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    Joe, Sep 30th, 2009 @ 11:01am

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