Cyberbullying: Can we just blame the kids?

Summary:Most of Generation Y have come in contact with cyberbullying. We often blame the problem on teenagers alone - but is this actually the case?

The prospect of cyberbullying is becoming an ingrained part of the Generation Y online experience.

Anyone can be targeted -- whether the high school student, public figure, or online blogger. It can range from a snide comment on a Facebook page, to private video footage released online without consent.

But are we doing enough to limit the damage of cyberbullying, and educate younger generations in how to copy with it?

A recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life project stated that 95 percent of teenagers aged between 12-17 are now online, and 80% of those online teens are users of social media sites. Furthermore, 41 percent of those surveyed revealed that they have witnessed cruel behaviour online either 'frequently' or 'sometimes'.

A comparative infographic produced by Check Point suggested that teenagers are the main demographic that experiences 'unkindness' online (up to 31 percent). 88 percent stated they had seen examples of cyberbullying.

With such a high predicted rate of bullying online, why is it becoming such a problem?

The consequences of online abuse can be severe. From knocking a teenager's self-confidence to professional reputations being damaged, it can have terrible after-effects.

Student Tyler Clementi jumped to his death after his roommate used a webcam to broadcast his sexual encounter with another man. Another student committed suicide after suffering online abuse. Others end up in court facing charges of Internet slander and libel.

You can be convicted of 'trolling' in the UK -- labelled under 'offensive communications' -- and this can apply to anyone. An example is that of Sean Duffy, who was jailed this year after posting abusive messages and videos about dead teenagers to their grieving families.

It's not only the younger generation that may not understand the consequences of abusing others online. An ISP address works as a fingerprint -- and can be used against you.

There is no true level of anonymity (unless you delve into systems and circumventors that most of the general public don't pursue).

However, it is easy to create a fake profile online and disguise yourself -- an exploit used by both children and adults alike.

It must be taken in to account that bullying online can be accidental in some scenarios. You lose the use of tone and expression, and without those kinds of body language pointers some commentary online can be misconstrued.

It may also be 'ego-based' -- the 'I am right, you are wrong, and I am going to prove it until you give in' mentality. This kind of 'abuse' you see on a regular basis online -- and sometimes it is through word choice alone that defines whether it is considered a discussion or abuse.

Throughout my research I discovered a great of online abuse seems to stem from crowd mentality; not so dissimilar from real-life situations. In the same way a group attacking one individual can form ‘traditional’ bullying, a crowd mentality can also be imposed on Internet networks.

This, in turn, can escalate situations of abuse. Once others get involved, levels of attention attributed to the act rise, and generally won't die down on its own.

In a recent survey it was discovered that only 26 percent of K-12 teachers surveyed have taught kids how to handle cyberbullying.

It's unlikely many of the younger generation understand the legal consequences of what they're doing -- in the same way that we need to educate in the changing values of privacy, we also need to let children know how to cope with online abuse.

Some kids might be unaware that there are support networks, and something can be done about it.

Teachers should have children understand that online networks are not separate from reality. It is an extension of it. In the same manner, it is governed by a set of social rules.

It's not only the kids that are to blame. Take to the Internet for research, and there are countless examples of adults seemingly leaving their manners in the physical world and indulging themselves in abusive behaviour. Apart from people that should know better, this sets no good examples for children growing up in a world of online networks.

Social networking sites do attempt to regulate and keep the stem of abuse down, from groups and image captions to wall posts.

But it's not enough.

Further legislation needs to be put in place to both protect individuals online, and parents themselves need to take a look at their reflections and wonder if they're teaching their kids bad values.

After all, it's only online. I'm not abusing that person to their face.

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Topics: Collaboration, Social Enterprise

About

Charlie Osborne, a medical anthropologist who studied at the University of Kent, UK, is a journalist, freelance photographer and former teacher. She has spent years travelling and working across Europe and the Middle East as a teacher, and has been involved in the running of businesses ranging from media and events to B2B sales. Charli... Full Bio

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