Types of Cyber Bullying

Despite progress in defining and identifying cyber bullying, confusion remains surrounding exactly what constitutes cyber bullying. It might help to first understand some of the various ways your child could be the target of a cyber bully.

Harassment

In order for a behavior to be labeled as harassment, it must be repetitive and offensive. And for it to be considered a form of cyber bullying, it must occur online. Online harassment is common among kids who use e-mail, instant messaging, text messaging, and social networking sites. Harassment is probably the simplest way to bully another child online.

A bully can send hundreds of hostile e-mail messages and can enlist the help of her friends to do the same. A bully can launch a “text war” and send hundreds of nasty text messages to another child's cell phone. Not only will the victim have to sort through hundreds of hate-filled messages, she will have a huge bill to pay for all the text messages she receives. Parents beware.

Fact

Cyber bullying, by definition, must occur between minors. When adults engage in behavior that fits the definition of cyber bullying, it is called cyberharassment or cyberstalking. It is not that an adult can't be bullied; it is just not defined as such in the adult world.

Marta accused Sonia of trying to steal Marta's boyfriend. Sonia denied it because it wasn't true. Marta refused to believe Sonia and told Sonia to watch her back. When Sonia arrived home from school that day and logged onto her e-mail account, she had 760 messages. Sonia opened the first one and read, “You are the biggest whore in school and everyone knows it! We hate you, you slut!” Sonia opened a few more; each e-mail was meaner and more derogatory than the one before it.

Though mortified, Sonia told her parents and her parents tried to discover if Marta was the one behind the e-mail attack. Unfortunately, the person sending the harassing e-mails had opened an anonymous e-mail account. Sonia's parents were unable to find out who was harassing their daughter. Despite not knowing who opened the account, they were able to notify the sender's ISP (Internet Service Provider) and get the account shut down. This stopped the horrible e-mails — but not for long. Within hours, Sonia's mail box was once again filled with hate.

Harassment is usually long lasting and one-sided. The harassed child might know who is harassing her, or she may have no idea who is behind the attacks. Many kids who suffer this type of cyber bullying must repeatedly change their e-mail address, their online username, and their cell phone number. And even then, a tech-savvy bully can find other ways to taunt and torture.

Are you familiar with the term “griefer?”

A griefer is an online bully who tries to harass, embarrass, or push around kids playing online multiplayer video games such as Star Wars Galaxies, SOCOM, and Halo 2. Griefers have video-game companies concerned that kids who are taunted will cancel their subscriptions. Many companies are employing new methods to find and sanction griefers.

Flaming

Flaming can be described as a contentious or heated online exchange between two or more kids. It usually begins as a normal interaction in a chat room, on a discussion board, or even during an instant-messaging session.

Giovanni was a science buff who enjoyed participating in chat-room discussions that were set up specifically for kids with a penchant for science. One day, Giovanni disagreed with a comment that another student made about green living. The other student responded with a rude and insulting comment and proceeded to continue to post nasty follow-up comments to Giovanni. Soon, several more students were “flaming” Giovanni. When Giovanni tried to defend himself, the flaming got worse.

Flaming usually occurs in a public online environment with many users present. It can be restricted to just two users, or it can include many users. Flaming can get very personal, be very intense, and can cause strong emotional reactions. It many instances, it is of relatively short duration, but if your child continues to participate in that particular chat room, it can continue to be an ongoing situation.

Denigration

Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines the word “denigrate” as, “to cast aspersions on; belittle.” When a child is the victim of denigration, it means that someone has spread a lie or started a malicious rumor with the intention of maligning the victim's character and reputation.

This can be carried out numerous ways: an e-mail or instant message containing false accusations and statements could be sent out to other students; a slanderous statement could be posted on a website or social networking site; a nasty passage could be written about the victim in an online slam book; or a photo of the victim could be digitally altered and posted online or sent via e-mail to others with the sole intention to humiliate and embarrass the victim.

Impersonation

This is where one child poses as or impersonates another child (the victim). Great harm can be wreaked if a child's online identity is stolen and it is made to look like the victim sent hateful or hurtful communications to others.

Vicky had a fight with Chloe and the two friends didn't speak for a week. As time went by, Vicky got angrier and angrier and decided she wanted to get back at Chloe for starting the fight and breaking off the friendship. Vicky pretended to make up with Chloe and then suggested they go home from school together so they could go online to update their MySpace pages. When Chloe logged into her MySpace account, Vicky paid close attention and discovered Chloe's password.

That night, Vicky logged onto Chloe's MySpace page (as Chloe) and changed everything on her page. Vicky wrote mean and spiteful things about Chloe's friends, insulted Chloe's boyfriend, and posted a very unflattering photo of Chloe taken at a recent sleepover. Vicky then went to Chloe's e-mail account and sent a mass e-mail to all their mutual friends with a live link to Chloe's MySpace page. The e-mail said, “Look what I really think of you all….”

When Chloe arrived at school the next morning, she had no idea why everyone was mad at her. No one would speak to her and most of her friends were calling her bitch and loser. Finally, one girl told Chloe that people were angry because she dissed them on her MySpace page. Chloe had no idea what she was talking about until she went home and logged onto her MySpace page. What she saw there horrified her.

Vile and hateful things were written about all her close friends, and the terrible picture of Chloe in her underwear was almost too much to bear. Chloe was mortified and had no idea how to fix the situation. She took down the page and sent an e-mail denial and apology to her friends, but the damage was done.

Fact

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project — a nonprofit fact tank that explores the impact of the Internet on children, families, communities, the workplace, schools, health care, and civic/political life — 39 percent of tweens and teens who used social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook had been the victims of some type of online bullying.

Fake e-mails and bogus instant messages can be sent, personal profiles can be altered on social networking sites, and phony blogs and community posts can be created. The number of ways kids can impersonate other kids is mind-boggling. And the damage can be significant.

In extreme cases of Internet impersonation, a particularly vengeful perpetrator can post the victim's name, phone number, e-mail address, or real address on a pedophile or hate-group website. If the perpetrator insults the members of the hate group or baits the pedophiles, it can put the victim in serious physical harm — threatening her safety and even her life.

Trickery

This is a popular strategy for cyber bullying. It can be accomplished fairly easily and can damage the victim's social standing significantly.

Andrea was desperate to belong to the “in” crowd. Andrea dressed like the popular girls, tried to walk and talk like them, and joined all the same extracurricular activities. Andrea tried everything, but the popular girls continued to ignore her. One day, Andrea received an e-mail from Ashlyn, the most popular girl at school. Ashlyn asked Andrea about a recent homework assignment. Andrea was thrilled to be able to help Ashlyn and she hoped that the popular girls would now let her in to their group.

Over the next few weeks, Ashlyn e-mailed Andrea to ask her opinion on various girls. Ashlyn told Andrea that they were holding informal “auditions” for girls who wanted to become part of the popular crowd. Ashlyn would sometimes insult a particular girl, and Andrea, wanting to please Ashlyn and fit in, would bash the girl as well. Andrea felt terrible about saying bad things about some of the other girls (especially those who were her friends), but Ashlyn assured her that their discussions were private and confidential.

Ashlyn lied. When Andrea went in to school on the day that Ash-lyn told her she would announce the next addition to the popular girls' group, Andrea's desk was filled with disgusting trash and nasty notes. Andrea read a few of the notes and realized that Ashlyn had lied and tricked her into saying bad things about her friends. And now those friends all hated her!

Ashlyn and the popular girls were gathered to one side of the room giggling and acting innocent. Ashlyn had printed out all of the e-mails (with Ashlyn's own insulting comments conveniently deleted) and handed them out to all the girls in the class. The e-mails made Andrea look very bad in the eyes of her friends and they subsequently shut her out. Andrea lost all of her friends.

Outing

When someone shares personal information that was meant to remain private, it is called outing. Girls tend to use this method of cyber bullying more than boys due to the more intimate nature of their relationships. When two girls get in a fight, chances are good that both girls have a stockpile of personal information that they can share with others online that will hurt, embarrass, or humiliate.

Exclusion

It hurts to be excluded from cliques and groups in real life, and it can hurt just as much to be excluded from online groups. Some call online exclusion cyberostracism. A child can be suddenly blocked from sending e-mail or instant messages to one or more other people. A child can be denied being added as a friend on a social-networking site, and it can hurt as much as being blocked from sitting at a certain lunchroom table that suddenly becomes too full or a study group that has no room for one more.

Fact

According to ComScore, a leader in measuring activity in the digital world, social networking site MySpace.com attracted more than 114 million visitors in 2007 (this represents a 72 percent increase over the year before). Facebook.com attracted 52.2 million visitors (a 270 percent increase). Bebo.com had 18.2 million (a 172 percent increase) and Tagged.com had 13.2 million (a 774 percent increase).

To be excluded from online social activity can be like a social death to some kids. Communicating online has become a natural extension of in-person socializing and when that communication is blocked or cut off, it can be devastating. The victim is left out and has to live with the knowledge that all the other kids are talking, gossiping, making plans, and having fun without her.

Exposure

This is when kids post inappropriate photos or videos online. In the past, when a kid took an embarrassing or compromising photograph of another kid, just a few people were likely to see it. It might get passed around in school or at soccer practice, but the power to embarrass and humiliate was fairly limited. Today, that photo can be posted online for millions to see, and it can hang around in cyberspace forever and come back to haunt the victim even in adulthood.

In the past, when kids would fight, it would be a similar situation. There might have been a few kids who witnessed the fight and talked about it for days or weeks afterward, but when it was over it was over. Today, fistfights and beat-downs are being recorded with digital cameras and cell phones and uploaded to video-sharing websites like You-Tube. The fight is exposed to millions of viewers, who can watch it or forward it as many times as they please. This type of exposure leads to unending humiliation and victimization.

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