You may have experienced how the internet’s anonymous nature can sometimes bring out the worst in people. The powerful technologies that have become a part of our everyday lives give tremendous benefits to the people who use them, but they can also create new problems or complicate existing ones. In particular, cyberbullying has become a growing problem around the world and one that educators should keep in mind when interacting with students.
Bullying – unwanted aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance – is not a new aspect of learning environments. Cyberbullying is when bullying happens online or through digital channels such as social-media platforms, image-sharing sites, gaming platforms, email, mobile devices and more. For bullies, the web’s faceless environment appeals to their desire to intimidate by making it harder for their actions to be traced. The speed of these channels can also be enticing to bullies, since rumors, threats and photos can move around the digital world in an instant.
Cyberbullying is a serious issue that causes real harm in people’s lives and can’t be addressed by simply not being on the computer as much, especially in our digitally connected age. Instead, parents, teachers and school administrators can work together to identify, prevent and stop cyberbullying.
Here are some tips for working toward making the internet a kinder place:
- Limit public information: Take care when sharing information or details about yourself or others. Limiting what information is available online can reduce a person’s risk of becoming a victim and can also make it easier to identify bullies if someone is victimized. Metropolitan State University of Denver employees should also remember their obligations under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and treat all personally identifiable information associated with a student’s record (e.g., class schedule, GPA) with the utmost care.
- Block and report: If the bullying occurs on social media, block that person from all platforms, including email. You should also report the incident to the platform managers — many social-media platforms and other websites encourage users to report incidents of cyberbullying and have dedicated links or forms to report such behavior.
- Don’t escalate: Bullies often thrive on the reaction of their victims, so responding with hostility can often make them react in kind, escalating the situation. The classical wisdom is that if you ignore a bully, they’ll stop bothering you — but as MSU Denver employees, and educators in general, we have a responsibility to our students to ensure that they are supported no matter their situation. If you believe a student is being cyberbullied, inform the Office of Student Conduct by submitting a CARE Report.
- Keep records: The rapid, ephemeral nature of internet discourse can make it seem like accountability is impossible, but with a record of interactions, investigators can trace someone who thinks they’re untouchable. Anyone being targeted should keep a record of their online activity with the cyberbully, including relevant dates and times. You may also consider maintaining printed copies as well as electronic ones.
Remember: While cyberbullying is often framed as an issue for younger people — and certainly, children and teenagers are common victims — anyone can be the target of a cyberbully, regardless of age, role or social standing. If you or someone you know is the victim of cyberbullying, keep these tips in mind.
Also remember that if someone’s experience with a cyberbully is escalating — more frequent communications, more severe threats, inclusion of third parties such as other bullies or hate groups — and you fear for the victim’s safety, contact the police. There is a difference between free speech and criminal behavior.