In doing research on cyber-bullying it became obvious to me that any discussion of cyber-bullying must start with origins and definitions. First, the origin of the word “bullying”, as defined by The Oxford Dictionary, comes from the word “boel”, which means “lover of either sex”. At that time, the 1600s, it was considered a term of endearment. Over the next three centuries the word evolved. Shakespeare used it as a title that implied teasing and joking among friends. By the late 1800s though, British coalminers were using the word to describe negative characteristics such as cowardice, weakness, tyranny, and violence. Later in the 1800s the definition became “to treat in an overbearing manner, to intimidate, or to frighten into a certain course” (Shariff, 2008). History aside, it has only been for the last thirty years or so that bullying has come to not be an acceptable form of treatment. Prior to that, dealing with a school bully was thought of as “an unavoidable part of growing up”. It was only through the English translation of Aggression in the schools: Bullies and whipping boys, research performed by Norwegian bullying expert Olweus, that people began to stop accepting bullying as an inevitable part of growing up. Until the bullying in the playground was accepted by teachers because it forced quiet children to become assertive to survive (Beran and Li, 2005).
Cyber bullying, also known as Internet bullying or digital bullying, is a phenomenon of the “Internet Superhighway” (Internet bullying, 2009). Cyber bullying is a form of an attack that uses threats, pressure, and intimidation over the Internet. The bullying takes place through hateful test messages, abusive emails, and cyber-gossip (Fox, 2007), using instant message sites, blogs, online forums, email, telephones, and other forms of cyber technology (Belsey, B. 2004). The attacks can be direct, where the person knows who the perpetrator is, or indirect (Internet bullying, 2009). The most insipid part of indirect cyber bullying is that it is anonymous, which makes it very hard to track or prosecute (The IndyChannel.com, 2004). Studies have shown that the purpose of cyber bullying is to force into a position of submission by putting the victims in a position where they experience anxiety, low self-esteem, and loneliness (Beran and Li, 2005).
In my research I found that there are many slight differences in the definitions of cyber bullying that are being used. Although I have chosen the one above, it is important to also discuss other commonalities of all the definitions. Cyber bullying is a twenty first century version of bullying, taking into account the use of today’s available communication tools, being used to engage in online bullying, and that the communication is, as with normal bullying, deliberate and willful, repeated and exclusionary (Shariff, 2008).
Cyber bullying can take many different forms, from teasing to death threats and all other levels of intimidation, to attack the victim. Although the attacks are most often indirect, they can be direct. Besides anonymity, there are other factors which are of major importance. First, the ease and quickness of posting an embarrassing photo or comment on the internet makes the bully’s work little more than a passing thought and a click away. It doesn’t take much planning or thought to carry out. Additionally, once something is posted on the Internet the sheer number of people that might see it is infinite (Shariff, 2008). Therefore, the bully’s audience and his ability to revel in his success are limitless. Where bullying used to revolve around a small group of people being aware of the victim’s embarrassment, now it spreads much faster and potentially throughout the world.
While much of cyber bullying can be called a minor nuisance, it has clearly grown to more than that. Reports show that from 2000 to 2005 online harassment of children aged 10 to 17 grew by more than fifty percent (Fox, 2007). Cyber bullying can also have significant consequences. Often the cyber bullying occurs when a relationship ends and one person, usually the male, posts pictures on the Internet that have been doctored using photo-editing software (Paulson, 2003). In one instance, a video of a teenager masturbating for her boyfriend was uploaded and emailed to her entire class (Shariff, 2008). While being ostracized or laughed at by one’s peers is the initial result, it can lead to more significant results. Sometimes the distance between the bully and the victim on the Internet leads to an unprecedented, and often unintentional, degree of brutality. This is especially true when combined with a typical adolescent’s lack of impulse control and underdeveloped empathy skills (Harmon, 2004).
The most tragic individual one of these occurred in Missouri in 2008. Lori Drew, a 49 year old mother, created an online hoax about her daughter’s friend, Megan Meier. Drew posed as young boy who was interested in Megan. She apparently was unaware that Megan suffered from depression and ADHD. When Drew began posting negative things on a MySpace website, Megan hung herself. This led to minor convictions for Drew because there were no laws on the books anywhere in the United States regarding cyber bullying. Missouri now has the dubious distinction of being the first state to enact laws regarding cyber bullying (Pytel, 2008). It was too late for Megan, and Drew will most likely escape with a much lesser penalty than the twenty years in prison she would have received after the law was passed.
Bullying in general, and cyber bullying specifically, have played a major role in some of the biggest stories of the last ten years. The Columbine shootings can be tied directly back to bullying and exclusion of children that are “different”. The random shootings at Virginia Ploytechnic University were also related to bullying and events that occurred using today’s technology. Experts believe that the United States is particularly susceptible to this kind of violence due to the large population and the easy access to guns in this country (Shariff, 2008).
So what can be done about cyber bullying?
As with most problems that are relatively new, education is often the most important weapon authorities have to combat them. Although initially this began by educating students, in Canada this has been taken to a higher level. Teachers and administrators are being trained to recognize bullying and especially, cyber bullying, as a threat, not a rite of passage, as it was thirty plus years ago. One way this is happening is through Internet training. Teachers are being taught how to identify and handle cyber bullying through on-line classes specifically designed for them. One of these classes is put on at www.bullyingcourse.com. This site is linked to the originator of the identification and education of cyber bullying, www.cyberbullying.ca, a Canadian website that has been the most proactive in educating the public and attempting to stop cyber bullying. In fact, it bills itself as “the world’s most visited, referenced and awarded free, educational resource about bullying”.