Monthly Archives: September 2014

What is cyber bullying and what can we do about it?

Bullying is a problem most of us witness in our lifetime.  Whether we are the bullied, the bully or an observer, we know what it is and what it looks like in a classroom, on the playing field, on the bus, or in the work place.

Cyber bullying is the newest way for people to tease, taunt and hurt other people.  It can occur 24 hours a day and can be done anonymously which makes it that much more damaging – there are few limits.

If We Only Knew, If He Only Told Us (a true story of cyber bullying)


According to Ryan’s Story, the website operated by Ryan’s parents, John and Kelly Halligan, early concerns about Ryan’s speech, language and motor skills development led to him receiving special education services from pre-school through the fourth grade. Ryan’s academic and physical struggles made him the regular target of a particular bully at school between the fifth and seventh grade. In February 2003, a fight between Ryan and the bully not only ended the harassment at school, but also led to a supposed friendship.

However, after Ryan shared an embarrassing personal story, the newly found friend returned to being a bully and used the information to start a rumour that Ryan was gay. The taunting continued into the summer of 2003, although Ryan thought that he had struck a friendship with a pretty, popular girl through AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). Instead, he later learned that the girl and her friends thought it would be funny to make Ryan think the girl liked him and use it to have him share more personally embarrassing material—which was copied and pasted into AIM exchanges with her friends. On October 7, 2003, Ryan hanged himself in the family bathroom. After his son’s death, John discovered a folder filled with IM exchanges throughout that summer that made him realize “that technology was being utilized as weapons far more effective and reaching [than] the simple ones we had as kids.”

Aftermath: There were no criminal charges filed following Ryan’s death because no criminal law applied to the circumstances. Seven months after Ryan’s death, Vermont’s Bully Prevention Law (ACT 117) was signed into law by Governor Jim Douglas. John Halligan also authored Vermont’s Suicide Prevention Law (ACT 114), which passed unchanged in April 2006.

You can read more case studies here.

So what is cyber bullying?

rumors, testing, gossiping, threats, name-calling, harassment, mean words, lies

The simplest definition of cyberbullying is the use of technology by a young person to harass, embarrass or threaten another young person.  Some common examples* of cyberbullying are:

  • Harassment: Repeatedly sending offensive, rude, and insulting messages
  • Denigration: Distributing information about another that is derogatory and untrue through posting it on a web page, sending it to others through email or instant messaging, or posting or sending digitally altered photos of someone
  • Flaming: Online “fighting” using electronic messages with angry, vulgar language
  • Impersonation: Breaking into an email or social networking account and using that person’s online identity to send or post vicious or embarrassing material to/about others
  • Outing and Trickery: Sharing someone’s secrets or embarrassing information, or tricking someone into revealing secrets or embarrassing information and forwarding it to others
  • Cyber Stalking: Repeatedly sending messages that include threats of harm or are highly intimidating, or engaging in other online activities that make a person afraid for his or her safety (depending on the content of the message, it may be illegal)

* Nancy Willard with the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use (CSRIU) has developed this useful taxonomy of the various forms of cyber bullying. Visit CSRIU’s site.

Where does it happen?

Most of us have heard of chat rooms, text message, facebook, instant messenger, twitter and perhaps instagram.  These are the most widely used electronic mediums and most familiar to youth and adults alike. Of course, every day there seems to be some new website or “app” that is gaining in popularity.  Myspace is out. Snapchat is in.

mobile devices

Recently, some mobile apps that tout their anonymous posting ability have been gaining popularity.  These can be very welcoming opportunities for people bent on bullying. This article in NY Magazine describes several anonymous apps and what their capabilities are and this Boston Globe article describes the fallout some users of the apps have experienced.

Here is just one quote from the NY Magazine article that exemplifies how dangerous these can be:

App Store description: “Yik Yak acts like a local bulletin board for your area by showing the most recent posts from other users around you.”
What makes it different: Yik Yak is beloved by teenagers (and loathed by their teachers), who use it for all manner of anonymous shit-talking. 
Will Haskell wrote earlier this year about how Yik Yak’s text-only posts “brought [his] high school to a halt,” after messages like ““K. is a slut” and “The cheer team couldn’t get uglier” made their way onto the app.

Prevention Tips for Parents:

  • Know what technology your child is using
  • Learn how their electronic devices work
  • Lead by example – do not post anything on social media that you would not want your child to see or post themselves
  • Monitor their social media accounts, either by “friending” them or asking to see their computer/phone  There are APPs you can download to help you monitor your kids.
  • Talk to your kids about internet safety – remind them of the basics
    • Never share your password
    • Do not give out personal information such as address or phone number
    • Never post/send information or photos that you wouldn’t want a non-friend to see
    • People online are not always who they say they are
    • Tell a trusted adult if someone threatens, insults, scares or is somehow mean to you or someone else
    • Never share an embarrassing photo of someone else
    • Think before you post – once you post something on the internet (or send a message) you have no control over what happens next with that information/photo

Warning signs that your child may be a target of cyberbullying:

  • They are upset after using their phone/computer
  • They try and hide their computer screen/phone from you
  • Sudden avoidance of school and peer activities
  • Sudden decline in grades

What to do if you suspect your child is being cyberbullied:

  • Do not blame your child, even if they have not followed your advice on how to behave online.  Support them through this difficult time and offer to help them find support services if they want them (or if you think they need them).
  • Do not engage the bully.  Do not respond to their messages or posts unless you want to send ONE message stating that what they are doing is harassment and if they continue you will report them (and then follow through on that).
  • Block the bully from access to your child.  You can block them on social media sites and you can have your cell phone provider block them as well as filter out their email.
  • If the bully is a classmate, check your school’s bulling policy.  You can find Nantucket Public School’s policy HERE.  You may also want to contact the bully’s parents to let them know what is going on.
  • Contact the administrators of the social media site where the bullying occurs.  Often harassing behavior is against terms of service and the bully’s account can be deactivated.

More resources: