Modern tools such as the Internet and social media can aid students in conducting research and getting homework tutoring, but they have also opened another platform for bullies. Instances of cyberbullying, or bullying using electronic and online means, more than doubled between 2009 and 2011. Because cyberbullying takes place online, it poses special problems for schools and bullying victims, who can be taunted anytime and anywhere.
What Is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying occurs when a student teases, threatens, humiliates, or taunts another student using electronic means. These acts often include posing as other people online, spreading lies or rumors about another student, posting private photos or information without the victim's consent, tricking other students into revealing private information, or forwarding malicious messages to others.
Although usually seen on social media platforms like Facebook, cyberbullying can also take place via text messages, e-mails, online message boards, and chat rooms. As a result, technologies such as smartphones and tablet computers have made it possible for bullies to attack their victims online at any time and no matter how far away the victim and the bully are from each other.
Effects of Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying can be especially traumatic for victims, because it can reach victims in their homes, where they usually feel the safest. With around-the-clock access to social media and the Internet, victims often feel as if there is no escape from cyberbullying.
The constant and pervasive nature of cyberbullying frequently results in victims suffering from depression and low self-esteem, often leading to a drop in grades. Additionally, children who suddenly lose interest in activities they used to enjoy or who no longer spend time with their best friends could be victims of cyberbullying. In extreme cases, incessant cyberbullying has even prompted some victims to commit suicide.
Like other forms of bullying, cyberbullying also sometimes leads to victims skipping school, engaging in self-medication that can lead to substance abuse, or retaliating against their tormentors or other innocent victims with violence or similar bullying.
Cyberbullying and the Law
Every state except Montana has passed a law against bullying. Nearly all of those states have extended their anti-bullying statutes to cover bullying through electronic means. Additionally, nearly half of states explicitly ban "cyberbullying."
These laws are often implemented through student codes of conduct drafted by school districts and individual schools. As a result, cyberbullying policies often vary not only by state, but also by individual schools within the same state. Like other forms of bullying, schools often have strict punishments for cyberbullying, including possible suspension, afterschool detention, and even expulsion, depending on the severity of the acts. Even if an accused cyberbully's actions do not amount to "cyberbullying" under state law or school policies, the school may be able to punish the student for violating its social media policy, which may dictate how students can and can't use social media.
In some cases, cyberbullying may be punishable by criminal sanctions. In extreme cases, cyberbullying may qualify as criminal harassment or stalking, which could open the perpetrator up to criminal liability. Additionally, a few states explicitly criminalize some instances of cyberbullying. Louisiana, for example, punishes cyberbullying committed by children aged 17 or older with a fine of up to $500, imprisonment of up to six months, or both.
Because cyberbullying often takes place online and outside of school hours, parents are usually the best people to intervene and prevent it. Parents should take an active role in their children's online lives by being aware of their children's online activities. They can do this by requesting their children's passwords or creating their own profiles and "friending" or "following" their children on social media. Parents should also develop rules for their children's use of social media and help their children understand the ramifications of their online activities.
Parents who believe their children are victims are being cyberbullied should report it immediately. In addition to reporting to school officials, parents may also report cyberbullying to online service providers and the social media platforms being used for bullying in an attempt to get offending content taken down. Additionally, when cyberbullying constitutes a crime, such as threats of violence or posting of sexually explicit photos, parents should report it to law enforcement. Finally, parents should preserve evidence of cyberbullying in case law enforcement officials or school administrators need it in the future.