Time Covers Cyberbullying Issue

Posted on August 12, 2005

Time has a new article on the rise of cyberbullying, where kids use the anonymity of the Internet to harass and ridicule other kids. Time cites a study by Clemson University that found 18% of 3,700 middle schoolers had experienced cyberbullying of some kind in the last two months. Time also says that most of the online perpetrators and victims are girls. Kids often use web communication tools like blogs and instant messaging in cyberbullying attacks.
"Anonymity emboldens the person doing it -- and it increases the fear factor for the victim," says Kowalski. Parry Aftab, founder of an online nonprofit called WiredSafety.org says teens "are exploring who they are -- and they role-play by being mean, horrible and hateful in ways they would never be off-line." Aftab recalls meeting a New Jersey 13-year-old with a preppie-perfect appearance--khakis, button-down shirt, penny loafers complete with pennies--and a creepy hobby of making online death threats against strangers. He would gather information from chat rooms or people's websites, then threaten them as if he knew them. Says Aftab: "He said to me, 'I would never do anything in real life. I'm a good kid. But I can do it online because it doesn't matter.'"

Actually, it does. When a cyberbully lashes out, it can be a sign of emotional or psychological problems. And cyberbullying is viral. The Clemson study found that kids who are victimized "seem to be heavily involved in bullying others," says psychologist Sue Limber. In the real world, physical intimidation may keep those who are bullied from retaliating, but that's not a problem online. "Cyberbullying can also lead to other forms of victimization," Limber says. If someone insults a classmate on a Xanga, the effects could include ostracization at school. "Passing notes or writing on lockers was nothing," says Limber. "This takes public to a whole other level."
Cyberbullying is a serious problem despite the fact that a few blogs downplay and/or even mock the issue. The Wired Safety Group has more informaton about the problem and how to try and prevent it at stopcyberbullying.org. And another recent cyberbullying article can be found here.