Does cyberbullying exist, and is technology to blame?

Does cyberbullying exist, and is technology to blame?

Summary: Does 'cyberbullying' actually exist? Is Facebook or text messaging to blame, or just a conduit to the inevitable: people taking advantage of a neutral technology?

TOPICS: Legal, Privacy

The Generation Y could be remembered for great people and trendsetting things; from Zuckerberg and Facebook, to a wave of new thinking and communication habits, to an entire culture where technology becomes a centrepiece of the lives we live.

We, as well as our younger siblings the Generation Z, should also be remembered for 'cyberbullying, where people are abused, taunted and pushed to suicide through the means of technology that offers instant and multiple points of contact and anonymity.

But a recent blog post by Anil Dash critically analyses whether 'cyberbullying' exists, and whether technology is the root cause or just a conduit to inevitability.

High profile cases of cyberbullying have been reported in the media over the last few weeks. More recently with the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a student at Rutgers University who had a very personal and private moment broadcast by his fellow roommate on the web.

One of the most prolific cases of cyberbullying was the suicide of 13 year old Megan Meier who was teased and taunted by an adult neighbour posing as a teenage boy of a similar age on MySpace. This led to a conviction of Lori Drew but was subsequently overturned, because US law in this area is sketchy at best.

The two students involved in the Clementi case have since been charged with invasion of privacy which could result in a 5 year prison sentence.

Different states have varied laws in regards to cyberbullying. Massachusettes state legislation was passed in light of one student suicide caused by online bullying, but many areas of the United States and indeed the world do not have laws in place which specifically target online harassment. Many of those involved in perpetrating acts of bullying online have been caught out by various different laws instead, though these are often in relation to the cause as opposed to being a direct influencer of the fact.

But cyberbullying continues and is endemic in the modern online culture. Anonymity has caused great difficulty around bringing those responsible to justice, and those who suffer in relatively controlled environments such as Facebook or Twitter can feel as though they are screaming into the wind.

Dash argues that cyberbullying does not exist, in that bullying of any kind is still bullying. Whether you use a pen to write a hateful note, a phone call to call someone horrible names, or a computer to send hurtful messages, it is all the same thing. Technology is being misused for the convenience of essentially lazy bullies.

He concludes:

"The truth of it is, calling the cruelty that kids show to one another, based on race or gender identity or class or any other imaginary difference, by a name like 'cyberbullying' is a cop-out. It's a group of parents, school administrators and lazy reporters working together to shirk their own responsibility for the meanspirited, hateful, incomprehensible things their own kids do."

Technology is a neutral concept, and it is the people who decide the means and uses for it. Technology isn't the enemy here, and neither is Facebook or text messaging. It's the people behind them which send the messages.

I am inclined to very much agree with him, but what do you think?

Topics: Legal, Privacy

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  • Yes, it exists! No, technology is not to blame.

    Technology does however make it possible for people to expand their sphere of influence further then every before. The downside of an anonymous Internet is a lack of accountability. When mean spirited people use the technology to do evil things (such as bullying) or illegal things (such as theft) it is easier to blame the technology than it is to do somethign about it!
    M Wagner
    • RE: Does cyberbullying exist, and is technology to blame?

      How is this any different than posting a nasty paper or picture on a public bulletin board in the middle of town? The Internet provides a wider audience, nothing more.
      • RE: Does cyberbullying exist, and is technology to blame?


        Good point there, and that isn't illegal in the slightest, unless you are defaming someone.
      • really?


        You've answered your own question have you not? Although you seem dismissive as if a "wider audience" is no big deal.

        The Internet provides a 24/7 global audience and an archive for bad memories many people would rather put behind them. It's the difference between being bullied one afternoon in front of an audience of your peers, and being bullied in perpetuity online in front of a global audience of unknown size.

        Anil's post is pointless.
      • RE: Does cyberbullying exist, and is technology to blame?

        If I post a picture in the middle of town, It can be torn up and/or removed. If I post the same picture on the internet, it will last forever...
      • RE: Does cyberbullying exist, and is technology to blame?


        I agree.

        @josephmartins True, the audience is larger, but who do you really care about knowing? 36,000 strangers saw the video, but he was probably devastated by the exposure before his friends and family.

        Either harassment is illegal or it's not. Whether it's done on the internet at best makes it a function of scale.
      • RE: Does cyberbullying exist, and is technology to blame?

        The difference is the pervasive nature of electronic bullying. It does not matter where you go, you cannot get away from the bully. The wider audience is also a dimension of the pervasive nature. It is not like putting a notice on a public bulletin board - it is like air dropping a billion copies of that notice across the world.

        Bullying is always an act (and a symptom) cowardice. When it was in the school ground the bully had to develop a network of support and it was witnessed. The anonymous nature of cyber bullying allows any sniveling coward to work in a dark room.

        The responses to bullying have only ever been to walk away and ignore it or confront the bully. Cyber bullying allows neither response - you can not get away, not can you necessarily find the person behind it. We have seen suicides because of it - we will eventually see violence against a whole group because the bullying is hiding somewhere within.

        It is serious and requires a sensible and concerted response of education and support for victims.
      • RE: Does cyberbullying exist, and is technology to blame?

        @pmk007 Absolutely true!! This could be the reason that bullying is maybe more common now (I don't have stats, so I don't know) since many more dumbass cowards are now able to hide behind keyboards to do their bullying... as for "a" picture being hung on a bulletin board in the middle of town, bullies don't hang "a" picture up- they'll make hundreds of copies of it before hanging that one up, then hand out all the others all over town, office, school, etc...
        Of course the internet has a much wider audience, but 100,000 viewers won't even remember the video in a day or two, whereas hundreds of people inthe victims hometown will remember it forever.
        I think that's the biggest difference.
      • RE: Does cyberbullying exist, and is technology to blame?


        I'm not talking about the legality of it. I agree that harassment is harassment regardless the medium. The legality is something typically discussed after the fact, once the damage has been done.

        What's most important is perception. Some teenagers (and adults) do take the scale of exposure to heart. Sometimes life's low points on display to strangers is thought to be significantly worse and much less forgiving than the same among family and friends. Significant enough that quite a few kids have taken their lives over it.
      • RE: Does cyberbullying exist, and is technology to blame?

        @arminw The wider audience is the point. It's true that guns by themselves don't kill people; it takes a person to shoot the gun. It's people... nasty people with little ability for empathy... who are the problem, but the medium is able to make public in a way not possible before. This is not an issue of "is technology to blame". It's an issue of "technology has allowed this to become bigger". No on will be taking the technology away, but there might be laws to regulate... as there are with phishing, etc.
    • I disagree. The technology is enabling the behavior.

      @mwagner@... I am 6'1" 228 muscular with bald head and wolverine beard. I am never insulted in person. Inspite of my appearance I am insulted consistantly on my YouTube Channel.

      It is the technology that turns even meek kids into angry-bullies. The Net's anominity is the Mr. Hyde potion to everyday Dr. Jeckylls.
      • RE: Does cyberbullying exist, and is technology to blame?

        I think the big guy here has a point and it can go a bit further. While people pull the trigger making the gun (or internet or whatever form is used to deliver the blow) an extension of the fist, that WE GIVE those tools to people needs to be accounted for as well.

        A loaded gun in a child's hand is innocent, the young child is innocent, if the child shoots someone or themselves who needs to account for that are those that allowed that gun into those hands. That's an easy example to track. Accessing the internet along with all the various environmental exposures young people get given all the hands involved is far far far more difficult to track a clear line of cause and effect (if only it were as simple as a straight forward chain of cause and effect, there's the occurrence of emergence and other ways things can be related other than a cause/effect relationship!)

        Are parents 100% responsible for their children's actions until the age of 18 then at that instant, no more?

        The question of "blame" or said differently the question of responsibility is one of those questions the pondering of which and really taking on what you come up with may be of greater value then an arrival at an "answer" as coming up with "the answer" usually ends the inquiry and it's the continual work of engagement (in the inquiry in this case) that may be of greatest value.
        Bernard Shanfield
      • RE: Does cyberbullying exist, and is technology to blame?
        I truely disagree with this, I was bullied in HS not only face to face but through notes placed in my locker with no name - the anominity factor you are talking about exists without the net from my point of view. The issue is behavioral and parents not taking responsibility for their children's action. We have a society where absentee parenting is the norm - where we give the schools, camps, even the TELEVISION and the NET the job of raising our children, with no consistancy of actual values being taught in the home.
      • RE: Does cyberbullying exist, and is technology to blame?

        You mean people never dropped flaming bags of poo on people's porches and ran off? People don't knock other people's garbage into the street? Vandalize houses, break windows, and TP yards? Or perhaps they truthfully registered with the city before engaging in such activities? The Klan achieved anonymity with the technological advance of the white sheet, and proceeded to lynch people and burn crosses in people's yards.

        To suggest that it is the internet which conveys anonymity which in turn emboldens the cowardly is absurd, and I'll say that to your face. I would go further, and argue that the internet is LESS anonymous for most users. Yes, you can hide behind proxy servers and different mechanisms to remain concealed, but to do this effectively relies more upon the sophistication of the harasser than the system.
      • RE: Does cyberbullying exist, and is technology to blame?

        I understand, because it has happened to me. I am over six feet in height, two hundred pounds, and never get insulted in person. Maybe the muscles help. But anyways, I have been insulted many times on BBS systems and the like. One dude posted a few very insulting things, made comments about me and men with Vaseline and aluminum ball bats...he sure liked to play the game until I posted a few very nasty things back, including links a website put up by a retarded fellow that looked very bat. Childish, yes,, but I just get sick of twits like that with insults and other nonsense. I'm a peaceful man, but if someone started this crap in person I would deck him.
      • RE: Does cyberbullying exist, and is technology to blame? I agree. I'm constantly slated on here - it's an occupational hazard, but you'd be surprised how many people brick it when they happen to see me in person at an event and cower away.
      • RE: Does cyberbullying exist, and is technology to blame? And anonymity is a bigger benefit to bullies, yes. But if you want on the football team and they're all 6'3 and hang out together, it only takes the more popular quarterback to make you feel 5'8/150. No tech needed.
    • RE: Does cyberbullying exist, and is technology to blame?

      @mwagner@... Sometimes the Internet isn't as anonymous as you think. Where three kids can claim plausible deniability to sticking someone with a "kick me" sign, online it can--but isn't always--be more traceable with less plausible deniability.
    • RE: Does cyberbullying exist, and is technology to blame?

      @mwagner@... I gotta agree. Technology is just a means to further hatred. Laws should cover any type of bullying weather it is online or not.
    • RE: Does cyberbullying exist, and is technology to blame?

      @mwagner@... We need, for the sake of this debate, to agree on a description of *technology*.

      But while I agree that the offenders are to blame, it is unfortunate the technology is a very efficient tool-for far more purposes than we ever really expected. I guess that I have been naive about human nature all my life. That seems odd to me, given my experience. But those who would take unfair advantage of others, be it through cheating or bullying, always seem to find what will work to their advantage. The internet, text messaging, digital cameras, are just modern tools for a major problem. It really needs to be addressed by society at large, and, perhaps, as right here, the internet will be an aid in that endeavor.