Cyberbullying, in which school kids anonymously spread gossip online, is an epidemic authorities find hard to stop
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
The rise of cyberbullying -- the use of new communication technology to hurt others -- is affecting more and more middle and high school students, experts say. It's an insidious new form of bullying because those who do it can harass their victims anonymously, and away from adults' notice.
Parry Aftab, director of the national WiredSafety.org, an online safety group, said 55 to 60 percent of the 1,000 students ages 9-14 she polls each month have been involved in a cyberbullying incident.
"The problem is bad and it's getting worse. It's getting worse because it's so easy, and kids are bored or angry," Aftab said from her New Jersey office. "It's growing because parents are putting powerful technology into their kids' hands and they are clueless about what that technology is. Parents don't know half the time what text messages are or that kids take pictures of other kids in locker rooms with their cell phones."
"It's like an electronic Dodge City," said Tim Drilling, principal of Lake Oswego's Lakeridge High School, referring to the brawling town in the long-running "Gunsmoke" television series. "Nobody seems to respect the behavioral norms -- it's wide open, people seem to be able to say whatever they want. You can be anonymous, and that seems to make people feel very free."
Attacks are vicious because the senders can be anonymous, said Nancy Willard, director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use in Eugene. "The social norms online seem to encourage disinhibition. Also, students often don't have any tangible feedback about how they're affecting someone."
Devin -- the school newspaper's page design editor -- taps a few keys, and up pops a Web log that depicts him as jealous, small-minded and incompetent. The same Web log also aims insults at other classmates and teachers.
Stevie Viaene, a web design teacher at Tigard High School, says "Kids have been driven to tears by some very nasty e-mails. Lots of kids spend a lot of time blogging, and putting scathing things about other students on them."
While parents have struggled to understand how cyberbullying happens, schools are only beginning to look for ways to fight it. Cyberbullying often happens off school premises and after hours, and experts say much of it is protected by free speech. If schools can identify the students who are doing it, they take measures to stop the cyberbullying, but tracking messages and Web log entries requires serious detective work.
At least one lawmaker has taken steps to help schools. Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, has proposed legislation that would require school harassment policies to prohibit cyberbullying.
In the meantime, Aftab said, schools can do a few things to help stop the abuse. They can establish an anonymous tip phone line for those who witness cyberbullying, and organize student-run awareness campaigns about cyberbullying. She also advocates awareness workshops for educators, parents and community leaders.
"They have to do something about this now. I couldn't stand it if this happened to one other child," said the mother of the Lake Oswego girl who moved to another school after cyberbullying demolished her social life, as well as her ability to focus in class. "That's the only reason we came forward. Others have to know how much it hurts."
Kate Taylor: 503-294-5116; email@example.com
Well, well. How interesting. Dear Iowa Law community, this "cyberbullying" thing seems to hit a little too close to home. One thing I disagreed with was how the article seemed to imply that kids are the most hurt by blogs. Although she did not state such a thing, the article seems slanted that way. Maybe she could have included how widespread these kinds of things are in the real world, like how people have lost their jobs because of blogs.