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Cyberbullying…a realization

“You gotta take a look at this!”  These were the first words my wife said as I walked through the door the other night.  She calls me over to the computer only when there is something outrageously funny or horribly offensive and I could tell that tonight would be the latter. I walked to the computer and read through a facebook conversation posted on one of my daughter’s friend’s wall.  We read through the entire conversation together.  It was filled with a horrific medly of insults, vile language, and threats about what would happen at school the next day.

Now, let me be clear, it was not directed to my daughter.  But our daughter’s friend was the bully, and we had never seen that side of her.  In person she is a sweet, considerate, quiet 13 year-old.  What was it that caused her to change into a cyberbully?  Why did she feel she had free reign to unleash such garbage toward another girl online?

My wife and I decided to stop the attack.  We chose to approach her by way of texting.  Once this friend realized that her actions were public, she changed her toon.  The conversation was immediately deleted off of her wall, and she was mortified that we read through it.  She has apologized over and over to us.  She apologized to the girl she cyber-attacked.

A national organization called Fight Crime: Invest in Kids did a study in 2006 that found 1 in 3 teens have been the victims of cyberbullying and 1 in 6 preteens have been victims (read it at http://www.fightcrime.org/sites/default/files/reports/cyberbullyingteen_2.pdf).
With 33% of teens being victims, I wonder about how many are committing cyberbullying.  I also wonder if it translates into actual bullying at school, or if it stays in the virtual world.  A quick conversation with one of my daughters revealed that it does, but has evolved since the days of stuffing people in lockers and throwing their binders down the hall.  Now it is even more psychological.  “They just laugh around you,” my daughter said.  “Everywhere you go, people just start laughing and looking at you.  There is no reason for it….they just laugh.”

So, I wondered, at what point do we grow out cyberbullying, or bullying at all for that matter?

Never.

I was at a presentation of Loralee Choate, creator of loraleeslooneytoons.com.  She was talking about the highs and lows of blogging.  The highs, she explained, included a trip to the White House and brandwork with McDonalds (both increadible stories).  The lows had to do with cyberbullying.  She described a friend she had for years in the ‘real’ world who turned into her biggest troll (cyberbully) in the ‘virtual’ world.  It was a dual relationship.  This ‘friend’ would smile at her, then get online under another name and troll her website.

There is a certain sense of invincibility people feel online.  There is an assumption of confidentiality online as well.  I don’t know what can be done to educate the public that the United States Supreme Court found that there can be no expectation of privacy online.  After all, people have been feeling invincible in vehicles for more than 50 years when they are not.  I can’t imagine what technology will be in 50 years, but I hope the virtual learning curve is faster than the drivers’.

Until then, it must come back to oversight.  Parents, webmasters, colleagues, any third party.  Cyberbullies need virtual babysitters, and with so many of our youth in danger of being victims of it, or heaven forbid turning into the cyberbullies themselves, we must be aware.

So that is the point of this blog.  Cyberbullying is out there.  It is real.  It is around.  I admit I don’t understand the rush some people get from destroying another’s self-confidence.  Until reading that facebook conversation with my wife, I didn’t think it was as an immediate danger as it is becoming.

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