Bully 4 U

In a post earlier this month called 'Dangerous Liaisons' I posed the question: What is the greatest danger for children using social networking services? 160 people responded to this question, and a pie chart of the results can be seen on the original post. It clearly shows that over a third of all those responding (36%) thought that cyberbullying was the biggest threat. Only 22% thought that paedophiles were a threat, with invasion of privacy (16%) the third highest concern.

Yes, I know that this was a simplistic survey, and I acknowledge that the question could have been better presented. But I did it because I am genuinely interested in e-safety and I wanted to provoke some kind of response to gauge whether others were as equally concerned. Judging by your responses, people are very concerned, some with the dangers children face when using social networks unthinkingly or without full awareness of the persistence of the medium. Others were more concerned about getting the semantics correct. Some thought that the problem was too complex to be addressed as a single problem. We need to acknowledge that there are problems when we use social networking tools. There are many questions. Do we behave differently when we use Facebook or Myspace? Do we reveal too much personal information? What do we do about the dangers children (our childen) face when they use social networks? (and they will - there is no stopping them despite school bans).

Yet the most interesting outcome of the survey was that cyberbullying emerged as the biggest concern. Bullying of any kind is destructive and can ruin lives, but cyberbullying may be the most insidious form. The pseudo-anonymity of the perpetrator is disturbing in itself, but cyberbullying is often very intrusive too. Children can escape from the school playground bully, but they find it harder to escape from the Facebook bully who invades their home, their desktop, their mind. Similar problems have emerged with mobile phones. Cyberbullying it seems, can affect almost anyone. What are your experiences with cyberbullying? Have your children or students been bullied through text? How did you handle it? Who can offer advice on how to address the problem of the cyberbully?

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J Weir said…
I completely agree that cyber-bullying is a major concern for our students in this technologically advanced time. One of the issues we are running into at our school is that students are creating "fake" accounts then sending messages from that account so that in effect two students are being bullied, not just one. It's unfortunately a sad state, but I think our job as teachers is to help students understand that every time they are doing something like that, they are leaving a digital footprint that can be tracked even if they have created a "fake" account. Hopefully, there is a growing emphasis on being good digital as well as world citizens.
John Sutton said…
Good post. I wonder how different the response would have been if you asked the great public rather than a bunch of edugeeks? As a group I suspect we are more tuned in to the issues of cyberbullying and data persistence compared to the average person who may be more susceptive to the press sensationalised reports of internet predators.
Nick Sharratt said…
I'm certainly out of touch on this one as it's been a long time since my own childhood, and I could never understand how people suffered bullying even as a kid myself - that's not because people didn't try bullying me, but because I was determined and capable enough to deal with it when it happened to me - either by getting support or dealing with it directly myself.

That said, I can appreciate that it does seriously affect some who are victims of it and that the virtual world can give obnoxious kids additional avenues to harrass their mark. However, I don't see this as a particular new threat - there have always been anonymous notes, whisper campains etc in schools, and I wonder if the persistant nature of the electronic communications have just made this much more visible to the adult world?

Is there really anything new about a cyber bully compared to a traditional concept of a bully except that it's more likely they can get caught in the act due to the technology?

I ask that naively as I admit this is far from my expertise so I'm interested to learn from any replies.
Josie Fraser said…
I've been working on cyberbullying for the last few years, so forgive me for recommending my own work here - however, the cyberbullying Guidance for UK schools I produced with Will Gardner for Childnet international has received a lot of attention worldwide and is being used to inform many other countries, states and regions strategies. You can find it here: http://www.digizen.org/cyberbullying/ along with several other excellent resources. My most recent work had been the 'Supporting school staff'guidance, which you can download from the same page, which looks at basic digital literacy and data management issues for school employees.

In Terms of differences, there are a few. I've outlined the main ones here:
but the short version of the answer is that cyberbullying differs from other forms of bullying in many ways, including it's actual, potential and perceived audience; in the roles and relationships of target, perpetrator, and bystanders; time and location of incidence; role of anonymity ;and the evidence trail.

Hope this helps & glad to see you picking up on the subject Steve!
Lou said…
I suspect that the end results are the same - low self esteem and depression for the bullied and some kind of brief reward for the bullies.

However the ways in which the bullying is manifest is very different - real life bullies often use their physicality, their voice and their posture. Online bullies could use threatening graphics, caps, etc, but ultimately the killer weapon is words. I wonder if the online bullies are the same as the real life bullies.

We see different people partcipating in online group activities than in f2f activities - so is it worth considering if the online and f2f bullies are different sets of people.

Maybe their targets are also different.

Sure that where the two merge - such as people who bully in the real world and back it up with online bullying is even more soul destroying...
Cyberdoyle said…
Interesting blog this. It got me thinking. I have never been a bully, or been bullied. Neither have any of my children. Lately I have turned into a bully out of frustration and desperation. I have worked for the last 6 years to bring broadband into a rural community, and been constantly beaten by 'suits'. I have never had the weapon to fight them back. I am currently using twitter to 'bully and harass' BT. Wrong of me I know, and losing me followers LOL.
Nobody likes a bully, and I feel bad doing it, but maybe the social media bullies are the actual victims, and the fact they can be anonymous if they choose is enabling them to fight stronger bullies? It is just a thought. I am not an expert on it or anything.
Janshs said…
Very good questions raised. I will certainly be looking at Josie's work for my own school. We already use quite good tracking systems and these require high levels of surveillance from our IT technicians. It's what goes on outside of school hours that is much harder to get to grips with, and this does apply to mobile phones as well. As with anything involving communities of young people and families, educating them about the consequences is at the core - and that is why teachers have to embrace pastoral as well as curricular roles - and it is why they need training and modelling in order to do so effectively.
rubken said…
My daughter received a couple of bullying text messages a year or so ago when she was 12. Ultimately she probably would have coped OK by herself, but I waded in and called the originating number and spoke with the family of the girl that sent them. It turns out they were not intended for my daughter but part of a game between two sisters and my daughter was the first entry in one of the contact lists with the messages sent in error.

Although tracing the origin was easy the messages were hurtful. Her phone had been a source of fun and to have it become a potential source of humiliation was very upsetting.

This year she had a friend of hers log into her Facebook account and change her relationship status. This was embarrassing and created a complicated social situation. I know that sharing passwords with your friends is silly indeed but for young girls it feels natural, until something goes wrong.

Lessons have been learned (and passwords changed) but how the online world works is complicated. Lots of very clever people are writing articles full of tortured analogies trying to describe and define it so it must be confusing to a young person learning about so much at once.

I think that it is important to focus on the common and perhaps mundane problems rather than to get caught up in the headline fears of "online pedo rampage". John is certainly right that the audience for this blog might well have a different perception to the wider population, but as people with an interest in and a voice on the internet it is important to discuss these issues and publicise the actual as opposed to the perceived threats.
slime said…
I too have been working around esafety, cyberbullying etc for some time and the one thing I know is; it is really hard to identify 'quick fixes'.

We need to step back and look at how we behave, how we learn to behave - and much of this 'behaviour learning' stuff is passed to us by parents, elders etc.

The technology has changed and developed at such a rate, and the communication opportunities have become so very diverse and accessible that there are no effective role models for *any* age group to learn from.

Is is for this reason that we see Barnardos imploring the public to stop demonising children. This demonisation (word?) is evident in the comments adults make about children on newspaper websites, message forums etc..

And so, in a long winded way I am suggesting that one of our key challenges is to find a way to help young people learn appropriate behaviors when using the range of communication tools at their disposal.

Children are, in many cases doing the same as we behaved when we were their age. Not without some shame can I remember huddling with mates in a telephone box and dialing another kid's phone and hanging up when the pips sounded to put in the tuppence..

Listen to 'good' kids, non bullies, and they will tell you the fun to be had using those unlimited weekend texts/mins to send 'dodgies', (anonymous calls/messages) as they call them, to other kids.. They don't see the harm this does or the fear it creates..

Nor is it surprising that they will leap at an opportunity to log-on as another child and send messages and sit back to watch the mayhem unfold. Isn't it fun to try to copy your friend's handwriting and send a message to another kid in the class - to get your friend in bother or cause him temporary embarrassment??

To be tripped in the corridor causes momentary discomfort and embarrassment, to have this posted to youtube will lead to abject misery for the individual and their family

Where all this differs from our experiences is the far reaching and omnipresent nature of the activities, forever posted to the web or there on the phone to read, over and over again, at any time of the day and night.

So, my point? We need to work so very hard to identify appropriate behaviours and these need to be modeled for the very young children in KS1 and it is I fear, going to take another 5-10 yrs (a lifetime?) before we see significant changes in perceived appropriate behaviours in exactly the same way that we teach road safety to the very young and yet we continue to tell adults to 'kill their speed - not a child'

To date, I see with dismay some schools who organise an e safety 'day' and rather think that the job is done - kids have been told, all will be fine from now onwards..

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