‘Cyberbullying’ better defined

This is important, people, because we've heard the one-third-of-US-teens-have-been-cyberbullied figure a lot (I've shared it too), and it's not in the best interests of online youth for the now-subsiding predator panic to suddenly now turn into a cyberbully panic. It's not that the one-third figure, arrived at by two highly credible sources (Pew Internet & American Life and Profs. Patchin and Hinduja) is wrong, of course; it's that "cyberbullying" really needs to be more clearly defined. Are all those kids actually bullied?

"In many cases, the concept of 'bullying' or 'cyber-bullying' may be inappropriate for online interpersonal offenses," write researchers at the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center (CACRC) in the Journal of Adolescent Health. "We suggest using 'online harassment,' with disclaimers that it does not constitute bullying unless it is part of or related to of?ine bullying. This would include incidents perpetrated by peers that occur entirely online, but arise from school-related events or relationships and have school-related consequences for targets."

To understand more about online harassment and to what extent it could be bullying, the study's authors – Janis Wolak, Kimberly Mitchell, and David Finkelhor – looked at "the characteristics of harassed youth, online harassment incidents, and distressing online harassment," based on whether the harasser was someone known in real life or online only.

The authors found that "9% of youth were harassed online in the past year," 43% of them by known peers and 57% by people they met online and did not know in person…. Most online harassment incidents did not appear to meet the standard de?nition of bullying used in school-based research and requiring aggression, repetition, and power imbalance."

So, note those key characteristics of bullying to look for:

1) related to "real life"
2) not just aggression, but repeated aggression
3) a power imbalance.

"Only 25% of incidents by known peers and 21% by online-only contacts involved both repeated incidents and either distress to targets or adult intervention," the authors found. Just looking at that first number, that's 25% of the 43% of the 9% – a pretty small number of actual cyberbullying victims.

So when we see data showing large numbers of such victims, it's good to be aware that they can include random and even mild incidents of harassment that don't really cause stress – and could just be someone in a bad mood one afternoon who feels like acting out. "Cyberbullying" deserves to be taken with a grain of salt. In any case, teaching young people citizenship of both the real-life and digital sorts will help mitigate any behavior that falls into that large category.

Related links

* From Forbes, the very well reported article, "How to Stop Cyber-Bullying"
* "Why kids don't tell on cyberbullies"
* "Cyberbullying grows bigger and meaner with photos, video"
* "Online bullying should be a criminal offense," Canadian teachers say (I wonder if their US counterparts agree)
* "Internet program teaches harms of bullying to elementary students" in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
* "Standing up to cyberbullies," Q&A with Mike Donlin, who "manages federal technology programs and cyberbullying education and prevention efforts" for the Seattle public schools
* In School CIO magazine, a three-part series and primer on online harassment with the very unfortunate headline of "Terror in the Classroom" – Parts One, Two, and Three
* "P2P healing in cyberbullying case"
* Letters to a Bullied Girl: Messages of Healing and Hope, by teen authors Olivia Gardner, Emily Buder, and Sarah Buder
* Cyberbully.org and the book Cyberbullying & Cyber Threats from the Center for Safe & Responsible Internet Use
* CyberbullyHelp.com from Patricia Agatston, Susan Limber, and Robin Kowalski, the authors of Cyber Bullying: Bullying in the Digital Age
* Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard, a new book from Profs. Sameer Hinduja and Justin Patchin.

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