What is Cyberbullying Anyway?

from the good-to-know-*before*-the-witch-hunt dept

We've been hearing a lot about "cyberbullying" lately. Cases like the Lori Drew incident have got politicians and teachers all over looking to pass vague new rules and laws (or twist existing ones) to punish behavior they feel is wrong. The problem is, no one really seems to be able to define the term, at least not in a way that really distinguishes it from simply being a jerk online, so it's encouraging to see a paper from a vice president of Stetson University, Darby Dickerson, calling on educators to slow down and define cyberbullying before creating policies about it, though I'm not sure she gets to the heart of the issue. Dickerson observes that people have been using the term often and easily, without any real consensus on what it includes and what it doesn't. In the absence of a generally accepted scholarly or legal definition, she calls on universities to take four steps before creating a cyberbullying policy:
  1. consider the types of activity that might be included within the term,
  2. consider the type of harm,
  3. consider the level of intent required by the offender,
  4. determine the extent that it will address off-campus conduct.
This is good advice and Dickerson does a pretty good job of outlining the concerns. She notes that conduct such as "cyberstalking" or "cyberthreats" might be included, while issues of fraud probably shouldn't be, arguing that "not all misconduct that occurs online should be labelled as cyberbullying." She cautions institutions to remember "free speech and related constitutional concerns." She's skeptical of extending the term to include simply being a jerk online, and she questions labeling students as cyberbullies who don't display real malice or hostility. She also raises lots of important questions about what it means to be "off-campus" in cyberspace. Dickerson concludes by urging institutions to clearly define the term before enacting policies, highlighting many important questions that must be answered first.

Yet... Dickerson ignores one major consideration: why have a separate policy for cyberbullying anyway? It seems to me that in order to consider these issues sanely, we need to stop pretending they're separate things simply because we apply a "cyber" prefix to them. What's a "cyberthreat?" How is that different from a threat in general? Is a "cyberthreat" just a threat made online? What if it's made with a cell phone instead? What about a plain old telephone? Yes, the medium must be considered ("you're going to die" is different when shouted in a playground than written in letters cut out of a magazine...), but do we create separate terms or policies for each medium? We do often need to re-examine our laws and policies in the face of new technologies, but it rarely makes sense to have separate "cyberpolicies" instead of ensuring that existing policies are adapted to handle the new technologies. Why not ensure that existing harassment policies cover real harassment that occurs online instead of creating a new "cyberharassment" policy? Without a consideration of the difference between cyberbullying and bullying in general at the heart of this discussion, people run the risk of spending their energy blaming the technology and grandstanding, creating new policies with troubling unintended consequences rather than addressing the real issue, which often may well just be plain old bullying in a new context. The new context can certainly present new challenges that might warrant policy changes, but people should be careful not to get distracted from the issue of bullying just because it has "cyber" tacked onto the front.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Carnac the Magnificent, May 11th, 2009 @ 12:52pm

    As a futurist, I like to prognosticate on a regular basis - I think the next undefinable threat will be cyberroad-rage - an example would be sending texts to a driver who cuts you off with a picture of you shaking your fist violently at them.

     

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  2.  
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    chucklebutte, May 11th, 2009 @ 1:09pm

    grow up

    seriously people are a bunch of ball-less faggots! stop crying!

    lawmakers and teachers and ignorant lazy parents....

    you guys all need your asses whooped.

    if someone calls you a name or makes fun of you you have 2 choices in my book, you either A. shut the fuck up and ignore it or B. take them out back and handle it, and if you choose option B. you either kick their ass or get your ass handed to you either way the shit is settled.

    plain and simple no need to make new laws and ruin our already shitty lives in this shitty country. damnit sometimes i wish i could be deported...

     

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  3.  
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    Derek Kerton (profile), May 11th, 2009 @ 1:11pm

    The "Cyber" Just Means Evidence

    The big difference between Cyber Bullying and Bullying is that one of the two leaves a trail of evidence, just in case anyone wants to go after the miscreants. IP addresses, user IDs, emails, SMS, etc. Hey, thanks for the evidence against you, dumb-ass.

    I suppose I'd rather be Cyber Bullied than bullied on the street on my way home from school.

    I've seen the Chicken Littles saying that the Cyber variety is anonymous and more dangerous, but I find the old-fashioned kind of bullying to be more insidious because there is normally no evidence that it happened.

     

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  4.  
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    :Lobo Santo, May 11th, 2009 @ 1:19pm

    Pish!

    Cyber-Bullying is when you program your cyborg to do the bullying for you; cause you need to study or work or something.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2009 @ 1:31pm

    Re: grow up

    Feel free to leave. We have enough assholes spouting nonsense. kthx

     

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  6.  
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    aguywhoneedstenbucks, May 11th, 2009 @ 1:39pm

    Re:

    I would love to take part in cyberroad-rage. Then I wouldn't have to stick my finger out the window on such a regular basis.

     

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  7.  
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    Lucretious, May 11th, 2009 @ 1:40pm

    gotta love parents who support this kind of garbage. They're so overprotective of their kids that by the time they (kids) turn 18 they'll be social retards with no ability to handle difficult people in real-lifeā„¢

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    TheStuipdOne, May 11th, 2009 @ 1:43pm

    Re:

    I've wanted to put displays on the outside of my car to send messages to other drivers. I on'y haven't done it because i figure somebody will steal them.

     

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  9.  
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    NullOp, May 11th, 2009 @ 1:59pm

    Cyberbullying

    The problem is with the school admins & parents of the kids doing the bullying.

    The schools rarely acknowledge that bullying goes on regularly in the schools. It does! They come up with hugely stupid responses like expelling both kids! The admins are often just dumber than a bag of hammers! Let a kid stand up to a bully and see what happens. The kid standing up for himself will get expelled.

    The parents of the bullies are either completely blind to the problem or in Egypt i.e. DeNile. The first thing out of every rotten kids parents mouth is "He's a good boy or girl." Yeah, keep telling yourself that. The fact is the kid is a manipulator of the first order and needs a serious ass kicking. I'd like you to notice this problem has gotten much worse since parents stopped spanking their kids.

    Life for the average kid is nothing but one big second chance. Never, never, never do these kids have actual consequences. My response to all this is bring back the draft, for boys AND girls. Put these kids in a situation where they are truly responsible and an ass kicking is the least of their worries! That will produce parents that understand how to handle bullies.

     

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  10.  
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    Blaise Alleyne (profile), May 11th, 2009 @ 2:16pm

    Re:

    Someone's just got to build a Digg-style ranking system so that you can vote down drivers who cut you off (or vote up driver's that let in you)... that will automatically forward your fist-shaking picture to the car you vote down.

    I'm in.

     

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  11.  
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    Blaise Alleyne (profile), May 11th, 2009 @ 2:34pm

    Re: The "Cyber" Just Means Evidence

    Interesting.

    Sure, there's more evidence, but is that evidence accessible? (Identifying an anonymous user of a site usually has to have some legal basis.)

    But, yeah, with "cyberbullying" you have lots of examples of dumb bullies who flaunt their acts online, like those four Italian kids who uploaded a video to YouTube of themselves taunting a disabled kid. Definitely some parallels, with bullies who might leave on online trail of their own stupid behaviour.

    Some offline bullying can be more anonymous though. Leaving a letter in someone's locker (or graffiti on the outside) is going for public humiliation rather than private intimidation.

    *shrugs*

     

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  12.  
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    Tgeigs, May 11th, 2009 @ 2:50pm

    Please...

    "What is Cyberbullying Anyway?"

    It's what you point to when your kid, whom you haven't spent a whole lot of time with because, let's face it, he/she really isn't that pleasant, hangs/shoots/ODs/chokes/cuts/drowns him/her-self or goes on a shooting spree/joins a terrorist org/becomes a racist/doesn't get good grades/hiels Hitler/listens to metal/plays too much xBox rather than engage in what you deem to be constructive behavior.

    It wasn't you and your parenting idiocy, nor was it your love of blaming everything on autism/ADD/ADHD/OCD/Marilyn Manson/Yoohoo Chocolate. It wasn't even all of the Ridilin/Xanex/etc. that you have stuffed down your little shit-stain's throat all of these years.

    No, it was that other boy or girl that was reewy, reewy mean to your perfect little angel that actually STARTED the bullying.

    Sigh, let's face it: there are people walking around on this earth that stemmed from loads that should have been swallowed.

     

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  13.  
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    Curious, May 11th, 2009 @ 2:56pm

    Bullying

    Did someone say Cyber?

     

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  14.  
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    The Phoenix, May 11th, 2009 @ 2:59pm

    You suggest a couple of things here that I really agree with. 1) Let's not create 'cyber' anything unless we clearly understand how it is unique to the Internet. 2) Let's be specific.

    I would suggest that an adult harassing a minor is a problem, cyber or not. Same with an adult impersonating a minor. I'm sure we already have laws for both. Let's just review the laws in place and make sure they're being used properly.

     

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  15.  
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    SupRspi, May 11th, 2009 @ 3:24pm

    Re: Tgeigs

    +1 for truth. Way to rant, I love it. And agree.

     

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  16.  
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    Kane, May 11th, 2009 @ 3:47pm

    Re: grow up

    I find the subject of your post and the content therein are...ironic.

     

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  17.  
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    net625, May 11th, 2009 @ 3:51pm

    Re: Cyberbullying

    I agree...

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2009 @ 4:07pm

    Re: The "Cyber" Just Means Evidence

    Hey Punk,

    I kindly request a CTIA Writeup.

    NOW.

    Thank you,
    Anonymous Coward

     

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  19.  
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    Derek Kerton (profile), May 11th, 2009 @ 4:57pm

    Re: Re: The "Cyber" Just Means Evidence

    Now that's funny. Send me an email with your real name and contact info.

     

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  20.  
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    Matt T., May 11th, 2009 @ 5:39pm

    I would change...

    "you're going to die" is different when shouted in a playground than written in letters cut out of a magazine...

    Should read:

    "you're going to die" is different when shouted in a playground than written in lamb's blood on your bedroom wall...

    ;)

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 11th, 2009 @ 6:32pm

    voice of reason

    "it's encouraging to see a paper from a vice president of Stetson University, Darby Dickerson, calling on educators to slow down and define cyberbullying before creating policies about it"

    The voice of reason is seldom heard by those bellowing about all the good they are doing in your name.

     

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  22.  
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    Dohn Joe, May 11th, 2009 @ 8:47pm

    Re: I would change...

    Isn't "you're going to die" just a statement of fact, not a threat?

    I haven't seen elixirs of immortality yet...

     

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  23.  
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    Lauren, May 12th, 2009 @ 7:10am

    Darby Dickerson...

     

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  24.  
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    Blaise Alleyne (profile), May 12th, 2009 @ 1:47pm

    Re: Darby Dickerson...

    Oops... thanks -- fixed.

     

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  25.  
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    Sofia, Jul 9th, 2009 @ 2:23pm

    Radical Parenting

    I am a 16 year old and I write for a blog on a parenting website called Radical Parenting and I witness firsthand the wrath of cyberbullying at my high school all of the time. Kids know exactly what to say to manipulate others into doing what they want. Many kids don't always grasp the concept of resisting peer pressure, and the bullies know this; this enables the bullies to gain control over the "good kids" and force them to do harmful things to themselves or others. For more information about cyberbullying, go to this link on radical parenting:
    http://www.radicalparenting.com/2009/04/30/guilt-bullies-8-ways-to-recognize-passive-agg ressiveness/

     

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  26.  
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    G, Aug 17th, 2009 @ 2:17pm

    I think we as teens must resist cyberbullying. And I know we can. All we need is a little bit of guidance. I am a teen writer at RadicalParenting.com which is a parenting blog from the kid's perspective there are 60 teen and tween writers run by teen author, Vanessa Van Petten. We just posted a video of cyberbullying here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lehDOuhpYRE

    and would love for you to check it out and tell us what you think or repost if you like it,

    Cheers, thanks for checking it out!

    Gokce and the Teen Team
    http://radicalparenting.com

     

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  27.  
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    Ajibike, Mar 31st, 2010 @ 10:58am

    Radical Parenting

    I am 17 and in high school, and I know that cyber bullying can be a very big issue. In recent events, in my home town, schools have taken a stance on cyber bulling and even suspended students who have been involved (if the bullying was done on school computers during school hours). I think that is a very progressive step. For another perspective, check out the Radical Parenting article on Cyber bullying. http://www.radicalparenting.com/2008/03/15/6-things-you-need-to-know-about-cyberbullying/

    Read more: http://www.momlogic.com/2010/03/cyber_bullying_schools_should_be_held_accountable_ross_ellis_love_ou r_children_usa.php#ixzz0jmIdK75i

     

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  28.  
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    Real Change, Apr 11th, 2011 @ 10:47pm

    Re: Radical Parenting

    screw u and ur "radical parenting" sounds more like a mafia than a productive website

     

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