The bystander factor

When people hear about cyberbullying, they usually think of either the bully or the victim. But as we think together about how to deal with this problem (victimizing about a third of all US 12-to-17-year-old Net users and 22% of British teens*), it would be good to consider the third category of participant (yes, participant): the bystander.

On the Internet, there are a lot more "bystanders" when the bully can put mean text, photos and video in front entire peer groups or schools all at once, greatly compounding the victimization. Then there's the viral kind of bullying, when mean statements get passed along, IM'ed, cut-'n'-pasted by bystanders who suddenly become accessories to the bullying.

"Helping children to understand that they can make someone else suffer by swapping photos or commenting on video clips, and that a 'harmless bit of fun' to one person could be agonising humiliation for someone else, is really important," writes commentator Bill Thompson at the BBC, pointing to a new anti-cyberbullying program of the UK government's Department for Children, Schools and Families, written by Childnet International. Thompson writes that the program "shows how seriously the problem is being taken, and that may make it easier for children to tell someone about what is happening…. As with physical bullying, the first step to resolving the problem is to admit that it is happening and find someone who can help you take the next step."

[* The US cyberbullying numbers above were from the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the UK ones were cited by Childnet International.]

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