There are four different kinds of a cyber bully. They are motive-driven, based on the motives for the cyber bullying. They may use the same methods as the other kinds of a cyber bully, but the reasons for their actions are very different. Solutions require that we understand the motives of the "Vengeful Angel" cyber bully to address them effectively.
The four types of a cyber bully include:
The “Vengeful Angel” Cyber Bully The “Power-Hungry” or “Revenge of the Nerds” Cyber Bully The “Mean Girls” Cyber Bully The “Inadvertent Cyber Bully” or “Because I Can”
Some methods of a cyber bully may use are unique to a certain kind of cyberbullying motive. One type of cyper bully many might be secretive, some require an audience, and some are entirely inadvertent.
Because the motives differ from each type of cyber bully, the solutions need to address their special issues. There is no “one size fits all” when cyber bullying prevention management is concerned. But understanding more about why they cyber bully others will help. You have to address the motives of the cyber bully. That’s why awareness campaigns need several different messages to address the problem.
“The Vengeful Angel” Cyber Bully: In this type of cyberbullying, the cyber bully doesn’t see themselves as a bully at all. They see themselves as righting wrongs, or protecting themselves or others from the “bad guy” they are now victimizing. This includes situations when the victim of a cyber bully or offline bully retaliates and becomes a cyber bully themselves without realizing it. They may be angry at something the victim did and feel they are taking warranted revenge or teaching the other a lesson. They always do it for the misguided but “right” reason—to right wrong things. The Vengeful Angel cyber bully often gets involved trying to protect a friend who is being bullied or victim of a cyber bully. They generally work alone, but may share their activities and motives with their close friends and others they perceive as being victimized by the person they are cyberbullying.
The need to maintain their anonymity as a cyber bully, as they would be physically at risk from the offline bully they are trying to neutralize by their online vigilante actions.
Approaches:The Vengeful Angel cyber bully needs to know that no one should try and take justice into their own hands. They need to understand that few things are clear enough to understand, and that fighting bullying with more bullying only makes things worse. They need to see themselves as a cyber bully, not the do-gooders they think they are.
It also helps to address the reasons why the cyber bully lashed out in the first place. If they sense injustices, maybe there really are injustices. Instead of just blaming the Vengeful Angel cyber bully, solutions here also require that the situation be reviewed to see what can be done to address the underlying problem. Is there a place to report bullying or a cyber bully? Can that be done anonymously? Is there a peer counseling group that handles these matters? What about parents and school administrators? Do they ignore bullying when it occurs or do they take it seriously? The more methods we give this cyber bully to use official channels to right wrongs, the less often they will try to take justice into their own hands. Make the cyber bully part of the solution, not part of the problem.
The “Power-Hungry” and “Revenge of the Nerds” Cyber Bully: Just like their schoolyard counterparts, this cyber bully wants to exert their authority, show that they are powerful enough to make others do what they want; and some want to control others with fear or intimidation. Sometimes the kids want to hurt another kid. Sometimes they just don’t like the other kid. Sometimes they are just seeking a reaction. This type of cyber bully is the “thug” we usually associate with male bullies.
These are no different than the offline tough schoolyard bullies, except for their method. The Power-Hungry cyber bully usually doesn’t need an audience. If they do, though, it may only be a small audience of their friends or those within their circle at school. Sometimes, however, the power the cyber bully feels when only cyberbullying someone is not enough to feed their need to be seen as powerful and intimidating. Then they will brag about their actions. The only version of a Power-Hungry cyber bully that broadcasts his actions, though, is typically one who is also an offline bully, big and physically tough enough to intimidate others in real life. A Power-Hungry cyberbully wants a reaction from their victim and, without one, may escalate their activities to get one. This type of cyber bully does not do this through direct attacks and threats sent to their victims, though. They do not typically resort to cyberbashing Web sites, posing, or public postings designed to humiliate their victims.
“Revenge of the Nerds” Cyber Bully: Interestingly enough, though, a certain profile of the “Power-Hungry” cyber bully is often the victim of typical offline bullying. They may be female, or physically smaller, the ones picked on for not being popular enough, tough enough, or cool enough. They may have greater technical skills than physical prowess. These are called the “Revenge of the Nerds” cyber bully. It is their intention to frighten or embarrass their victims in the same way as their thuggier Power-Hungry cyber bully counterparts. And they are empowered by the anonymity of the Internet and digital communications and the fact that they never have to confront their victim in real life and risk being physically hurt. The cyber bully may act tough online, but are not tough in real life. The cyber bully is often not a bully but “just playing one on TV.”
Sometimes the Revenge of the Nerds cyber bully starts out as Vengeful Angel cyber bully. But instead of being motivated by doing-good and righting wrongs, they find the thrill of power and getting a fearful reaction from their victim hard to resist. They then shift from only being a cyber bully those they consider the “bad-guys,” to either seeing everyone as a bad-guy or being a cyber bully just because they “can.” The “Revenge of the Nerds” cyber bully will never let anyone outside of their circle know who they are. This cyber bully is not big or tough enough to protect themselves offline from physical retaliation in real life. They must always protect their real identity, or they risk being bullied offline by their online victims.
Because of this, Revenge-of-the-Nerds cyberbullying usually takes place one-on-one and they often keeps their activities secret even from their friends. If this cyber bully shares their actions with others, they are doing it only with others they feel would be sympathetic.
The Revenge-of-the-Nerds cyber bully rarely appreciates the seriousness of their actions and often resort to cyberbullying-by-proxy. Because of this and their tech skills, they can be the most dangerous of a cyber bully.
The Power-Hungry cyber bully often reacts best when they know that few things are ever anonymous online. We leave a trail of cyber-breadcrumbs behind us wherever we go in cyberspace. And, with the assistance of a law enforcement or legal subpoena, we can almost always find the cyber bully and cybercriminals in real life. Shining a bright light on their activities helps, too. When they are exposed, letting the school community know about their exposure helps prevent a copycat cyber bully.
Helping them to realize the magnitude of their activities is also helpful with a Revenge-of-the-Nerds cyber bully. Often their activities arise to the criminal level. The more this type of cyber bully understands the legal consequences of their action, the more they think about their actions. If the cyber bully fears their parents finding out, or their activities affecting their college admission, they wise up fast. Also you can put them to work designing programs and systems that get them attention for being productive instead of destructive.
Ignoring all types of the Power-Hungry cyber bully is often the most effective method of stopping them. They want a reaction and are often bored if they don’t get one. Unless motivated by personal revenge, they are just as happy finding someone else to cyber bully. The most effective response is to “Stop! Block! And Tell!” when a Power-Hungry cyber bully is suspected.
If the cyber bully doesn’t stop, either because they create a new online identity to get past the blocks or they resort to cyberbashing posts or profiles, you may be dealing with aRevenge-of-the-Nerds type or someone with an ax to grind. If instead of going away when ignored, they escalate their actions to get others involved, through a cyberbullying-by-proxy situation.It is crucial that the cyber bully checklist is reviewed to understand the likelihood of real physical threats. If there is any doubt, law enforcement must be notified and the victim and their parents are taught to keep a careful watch on themselves online, through “Googling themselves.” They can even set a Google Alert to notify them by e-mail if anything new is posted online with their personal contact information.
“Mean Girls” Cyber Bully: This type of a cyber bully is always mean, but not always a girl. It occurs when the cyber bully is bored or looking for entertainment. It is largely ego-based and the most immature of all cyber bully types. Typically, in “Mean Girls” cyber bully situations, the cyber bully is female and so is their victim. However males do sometimes become involved in this group and fit the Mean Girls profile exactly.
Otherwise, cyber bully victims are evenly split between girls and boys. (The Power-Hungry cyber bully often cyber bully boys or male Power-Hungry cyberbullies will cyber bully females. They often have an unreturned crush on them or were formerly involved with them in a romantic or close relationship.)
Mean Girls cyberbullying is usually done, or at least planned, in a group, either virtually or together in one room. This kind of cyberbullying is done for entertainment. It may occur from a school library, mall, lunchroom, or a slumber party, or from the family room of someone after school. This kind of cyber bully requires an audience. The cyber bully in a mean girls situation want others to know who they are and that they have the power to cyberbully others. This kind of cyber bully grows when fed by group admiration, cliques, or by the silence of others who stand by and let it happen. It dies quickly if they don’t get the entertainment value they are seeking.
Unlike a bystander in an offline bullying situation, though, silence condoning these actions is not supportive of the Mean Girls’ actions. For a Mean Girl cyber bully to really be effective, she must get others to help by actively passing along e-mails or IMs filled with the rumors, voting at the cyberbashing sites or otherwise doing something to help spread the humiliation. They rarely threaten their victims, unlike the Power-Hungry cyber bully. They want to wound their egos, make them the focus of ridicule, and otherwise humiliate them.
The most effective tool in handling a Mean Girls cyber bully case is blocking controls. Block them, block all alternate screen names, and force them to go elsewhere for their entertainment. But, more than any other type of cyber bully, this type will quickly escalate if their audience knows they are being ignored by the victim. They cannot allow it to appear that the victim of the cyber bully doesn’t care. If they give a cyberbashing party and no one comes and helps them by voting for the ugliest victim, they have lost face. So, expect things to escalate. Googling yourself and setting alerts is crucial here.
Lifting their instant messaging accounts or shutting down their online profiles is very effective in fighting this cyber bully. Their social life revolves around these tools. Reporting them as a terms of service violation or to WiredSafety.org can be the quickest way to stop it.
The Inadvertent Cyber bully: The Inadvertent cyber bully usually doesn’t think they are a cyber bully at all. They may be pretending to be tough online or role playing, or they may be reacting to hateful or provocative messages they have received. Unlike the Revenge of the Nerds cyber bully, they don’t lash out intentionally. They just respond without thinking about the consequences of their actions.
They may feel hurt or angry because of a communication sent to them or something they have seen online. And they tend to respond in anger or frustration. They don’t think before clicking “send.”
Sometimes, while experimenting in role-playing online, they may send a cyber bully communications or target someone without understanding how serious this could be. They do it for the heck of it “Because I Can.” They do it for the fun of it. They may also do it to one of their friends, joking around. But their friend may not recognize that it is another friend or may take it seriously. They tend to do this when alone, and are mostly surprised when someone accuses them of cyberabuse.
Education plays an important role in preventing Inadvertent Cyberbullying. Teaching them to respect others and to be sensitive to their needs is the most effective way of dealing with this kind of cyber bully. Teaching them to Take 5! is an easy way to help them spot potentially cyber bully behavior before it’s too late.
What’s the profile of a typical cyber bully victim?: Anyone age 9 to 14. After that, the bullying becomes more dangerous and usually involves sexual harassment. We consider this cyberharassment, not cyberbullying, because of the nature of the attacks and the age of the actors. What can you do to prevent it? Educating kids about the consequences of being a cyber bully (losing their ISP or IM accounts) helps. Teaching them to respect others and to take a stand against bullying of all kinds helps, too. Helping them learn to Google themselves and not to share personal information, pictures, or passwords that can be abused can be very effective. How can you stop a cyber bully once they starts: Because the motives of a cyber bully differ, the solutions and responses to each type of cyber bully incident has to differ. Unfortunately, there is no "one size fits all" when a cyber bully is concerned. Only two of the types of cyberbullies have something in common with the traditional schoolyard bully. Experts who understand schoolyard bullying often misunderstand cyberbullying, thinking it is just another method of bullying. But the motives and the nature of cybercommunications, as well as the demographic and profile of a cyber bully differ from their offline counterpart. Setting up an anonymous tipline can be a big help. What is the school’s role in this?: When schools try and get involved by disciplining the student for cyber bully actions that took place off-campus and outside of school hours, they are often sued for exceeding their authority and violating the student’s rights. They often lose.
Schools can be very effective brokers in working with the parents to stop and remedy each cyber bully situation. They can also educate the students on cyberethics and the law. If schools are creative, they can sometimes avoid the claim that their actions exceeded their legal authority for off-campus cyberbullying actions. We recommend that a provision is added to the school’s acceptable use policy reserving the right to discipline the cyber bully for actions taken off-campus if they are intended to have an effect on a student or they adversely affect the safety and well-being of students while in school. This makes it a contractual, not a constitutional, issue.
What’s the parents’ role in this?: Parents need to be the one trusted place kids can go when things go wrong online and offline. Yet they often are the one place kids avoid when things go wrong online. Why? Parents tend to overreact. Most children will avoid telling their parents about a cyber bully incident fearing they will only make things worse. (Calling the other parents, the school, the police, blaming the victim, or taking away Internet privileges is a typical overreaction.) Unfortunately, they also sometimes underreact, and rarely get it “just right.”(You can read more about this in WiredSafety.org’s series, “Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold! Goldilocks and the CyberParents.”)
Parents need to be supportive of your child during this time. Give them a hug and tell then that they are not what the cyber bully has said they are. Let them know that nothing the cyber bully says matters. Teach them to feel better about themselves. You may be tempted to give the “stick and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you” lecture, but words and cyber bully attacks can wound a child easily and have a lasting effect. These cyber bully attacks follow them into your otherwise safe home and wherever they go online. And when up to 700 million accomplices can be recruited to help target or humiliate your child, the risk of emotional pain is very real, and very serious. Don’t brush a cyber bully off.
Let the school know so the guidance counselor can keep an eye out for in-school bullying and for how your child is handling things. You may want to notify your pediatrician, family counselor, or clergy for support if the cyber bully progresses. It is crucial that you are there to provide the necessary support and love. Make them feel secure. Children have committed suicide after having been a victim of a cyber bully, and in Japan, one young girl killed another after a cyber bully incident. Take it seriously.
Parents also need to understand that a child is just as likely to be a cyber bully as a victim of a cyber bully and often go back and forth between the two roles during one incident. They may not even realize that they are seen as a cyber bully. (You can learn more about this under the “Inadvertent Cyber bully” profile of a cyber bully.)
We have set forth below a quick guide to what to do if your child is a victim of a cyber bully: Your actions have to escalate as the threat and hurt to your child does. But there are two things you must consider before anything else. Is your child at risk of physical harm or assault? And how are they handling the attacks emotionally?
If there is any indication that personal contact information has been posted online, or any threats are made to your child, you must run and do not walk to your local law enforcement agency (not the FBI). Take a print-out of all instances of cyber bully attacks to show them, but note that a print-out is not sufficient to prove a case of cyber-harassment or a cyber bully. You’ll need electronic evidence and live data for that. (You may want to answer the questions on our cyber bully checklist for helping spot the difference between annoying communications and potentially dangerous ones. But remember, if in doubt, report it.)
Let the law enforcement agency know that the trained cyber-harassment volunteers at WiredSafety.org will work with them (without charge) to help them find the cyber bully offline and to evaluate the case. It is crucial that all electronic evidence is preserved to allow the person to be traced and to take whatever action needs to be taken. The electronic evidence is at risk for being deleted by the Internet Service Providers unless you reach out and notify them that you need those records preserved. The police or volunteers at WiredSafety.org can advise you how to do that quickly. Using a monitoring product, like Spectorsoft, collects all electronic data necessary to report, investigate and prosecute your case (if necessary). While hopefully you will never need it, the evidence is automatically saved by the software in a form useable by law enforcement when you need it without you having to learn to log or copy header and IP information.
A quick guide on the escalating levels of response to a cyber bully incident: Talk to your child: Caution them about responding “in kind.” This is not a time for them to lash out or start a cyberwar themselves. See if they think they know the identity of the cyber bully or cyberbullies. See if this is related to an offline bullying situation, and deal with that quickly. And don’t confuse the language most kids use online with cyberbullying. It may be shocking to us, but unless it is shocking to your child, it’s not a cyber bully. Ignore it: A one time, seemingly unthreatening act, like a prank or mild teasing should probably be ignored. (If it’s a threat, you must report it.) At the same time, you may want to consider using some preventive measures: Restrict the people who can send communications: Consider restricting all incoming communications to pre-approved senders, such as those on your child’s buddy list. (If the cyberbully is someone on their buddy list, though, this method won’t help. In that case the cyberbully will have to be removed from the buddy list and/or blocked.) Restrict others from being able to add your child to their buddy list: A cyber bully tracks when your child is online by using buddy lists and similar tracking programs. It will let them know when one of their “buddies” is online, when they are inactive and, in some cases, where they are. This is like adding a tracking device to your child’s online ankle, allowing their cyber bully to find them more easily and target them more effectively. This feature is usually found in the privacy settings or parental controls of a communications program. Google your child: Make sure that the cyber bully isn’t posting attacks online. When you get an early warning of a cyber bully campaign, it is essential that you keep an eye on your child’s screen name, nick names, full name, address, telephone and cell numbers, and Web sites. You can also set up an “alert” on Google to notify you whenever anything about your child is posted online. To learn more about “Googling” yourself or your child, read “Google Yourself!” Block the sender: Someone who seems aggressive or makes you uncomfortable and does not respond to verbal please or formal warnings should be blocked. This way, they will not be able to know when you are online or be able to cyber bully you through instant messaging.
Even if the communicates are not particularly aggressive or threatening and are just annoying, block the sender. (Most ISPs and instant messaging programs have a blocking feature to allow you to prevent the sender from getting through.)
"Warn" the sender: If the cyber bully uses another screen name to avoid the block , otherwise manages to get through or around the block or communicates through others, “warn” them, or “notify” the ISP. (This is usually a button on the IM application.) This creates a record of the incident for later review, and if the person is warned enough, they can lose their ISP or instant messenger account. (Unfortunately, a cyber bully may use “warning wars” or “notify wars” to harass their victims, by making it appear the victim is really the cyberbully. This is a method of cyberbullying by proxy, getting the ISP to be an unwitting accomplice of the cyberbullying.) Report to ISP: Most cyber bully and harassment incidents violate the ISP’s terms of service. These are typically called a “TOS violation” (for a “terms of service” violation, and can have serious consequences for the account holder. Many ISPs will close the account of a cyber bully (which will also close their parents’ household account in most cases.) You should report this to the sender’s ISP, not yours. (For more information about how to make a report, read “Making a Report to Their ISP.” If you use a monitoring software, like Spectorsoft, this is much easier.)
If your child’s account has been hacked or their password compromised, or if someone is posing as your child, you should make a formal report to
your ISP as well. You can call them or send an e-mail to their security department (NOT their terms of service report line). But before changing your password, you should scan your computer for any hacking programs or spyware, such as a Trojan horse. If one is on your computer, the cyber bully may be able to access the new password. Most good anti-virus programs can find and remove a hacking program. All spyware applications can. We recommend SpyBot Search and Destroy (a freeware) or Ad-Aware (by Lavasoft, they have a free “lite” program). Report to School: Most cyber bully cases occur off school grounds and outside of school hours. In the United States, often the school has no legal authority to take action relating to an off-premises and off-hours activity, even if it has an impact on the welfare of their students. The laws are tricky and vary jurisdiction by jurisdiction. So while you should notify the school (especially if your child suspects the cyber bully is behind the attacks), they may not be able to take disciplinary action. They can keep any eye on the situation in school, however. And since many cyber bully incidents are combined with offline bullying incidents, your child may be safer because of the report.
Also, while the school may have limited authority over disciplining the cyber bully, they can call the parents in for mediation They also can institute an educational and awareness program to help stop a cyber bully by students and to help educate parents about the problem. WiredSafety.org and its programs offer free downloadable PowerPoint presentations, speakers’ notes, and materials that can be used to deliver these programs.
Report to Police: Someone who threatens you physically, who is posting details about your or your child’s offline contact information, or instigating a cyberbullying by proxy campaign should be reported to the police. (Although you should err on the side of caution and report anything that worries you.) Using a monitoring program, such as Spectorsoft, can facilitate the investigation and any eventual prosecution by collecting and preserving electronic evidence. Printouts, while helpful in explaining the situation, are generally not admissible evidence.) If you feel like your child, you, or someone you know is in danger due to a cyber bully, contact the police immediately and cut off contact with this person or user, staying offline if need be until you are otherwise instructed. Do not install any programs or remove any programs or take other remedial action on your computer or communication device during this process. It may adversely affect the investigation and any eventual prosecution. Take Legal Action: Many cases of cyberbullying (like their adult cyber-harassment equivalent) are not criminal. They may come close to violating the law, but may not cross the line. Most of the time, the threat of closing their ISP or instant messaging account is enough to make things stop. But sometimes, either because the parents want to make an example of the cyber bully or because it isn’t stopping, lawyers need to be brought in. It may also be the only way you can find out the cyber bully behind the attacks.
This is not the time to call your local real estate or general practice lawyer. You’ll need someone expert in cyber-harassment cases and experienced with cyber-forensics. These lawyers can be pretty expensive and most of the time, you cannot sue the cyber bully (or their family) for the attorneys fees as well. Think carefully before you decide to take this kind of action. Even if you win in the end, it may take you two or three years to get there and cost you tens of thousands of dollars. You may be angry enough to start it, but make sure that you have something more than anger to sustain the long months and years of litigation.
What’s law enforcement supposed to do about a cyber bully?: Law enforcement already has a tough job. They handle all offline crimes and may not be experts in cybercrime. They first need to be trained to tell the difference between annoying communications and dangerous ones. They also need to understand how to investigate a cybercrime and how to obtain information from an ISP. (Specially trained volunteers at WiredSafety.org’s cyberlawenforcement.org can help.)
Cyberbullying is generally not a law enforcement issue. It typically falls short of the applicable cyberstalking and harassment statutes. But it can be a crime if it involves a credible threat, repeated communications, or posting contact information of the victim in a pedophile chatroom to provoke sexual attacks on the victim.
We’ve put together a checklist for first responders to help law enforcement tell the difference between what’s merely annoying and what is criminal. (See The Cyber Bully Threat Checklist.)
WiredSafety.org volunteers can assist law enforcement when a cyber bully or cyberharassment occurs. Drop by our Cyberlawenforcement.org division to get help or information.
What role does awareness and education play in this?: A very big role. Teaching children not to support a cyber bully, but to report it is crucial. (Our tagline is “Report it! Don’t Support it!”) And teaching them not to visit the bashing sites, or say something hurtful online or get involved in passing hurtful messages to the next student on the list will help.
In addition, Take5! (teaching children to put down the mouse and walk away from the computer when something makes them angry or hurts their feelings online, instead of lashing out and making things worse) can help prevent cyberbullying. So can “ThinkB4UClick!” (teaching children to review their message from the perspective of the recipient, and making sure it is sent to the right person, is clear and anything said in jest has a “jk” (meaning “just kidding”) or a smiley.
Education can help considerably in preventing and dealing with the consequences of a cyber bully. The first place to begin an education campaign is with the kids and teens themselves. We need to address ways they can become an inadvertent cyber bully, how to be accountable for their actions and not to stand by and allow bullying (in any form) to be acceptable. We need to teach them not to ignore the pain of others.
There are several ways we can educate kids not to support a cyber bully:
Teaching them that all actions have consequences; Teaching them that being a cyber bully hurts; Teaching them that they are just being used and manipulated by the cyber bully; Teaching them that the cyber bully and their accomplices often become the target of cyberbullying themselves; and Teaching them to care about others and standing up for what’s right.
Teaching them the consequences of their actions, and that the real “Men in Black” may show up at their front door sometimes helps. Since many cyber bully campaigns include some form of hacking or password or identity theft, serious laws are implicated. Law enforcement, including the FBI, might get involved in these cases. Remind your kids that they could easily be implicated in a cyber bully case commenced by one of their friends. (But be careful, this may end up backfiring if the kids are intrigued by what would happen if the FBI did knock on their door.)
But few cyber bully campaigns can succeed without the complacency and the often help of other kids. If no one votes at a cyber-bashing Web site, the cyber bully’s attempts to humiliate the victim are thwarted. If no one forwards a hateful or embarrassing e-mail, the cyber bully is left standing all alone. It’s rarely fun to act out unless you can show off to someone who will appreciate your antics. By denying the cyber bully an audience, the antics quickly stop.
In addition, the Mean Girls cyber bully needs an audience. That’s the reason they do it, to show everyone that they
can. It reinforces their social status and ranking. It reminds everyone who believes it that they can do anything they want to anyone they want. Denying them their audience and ego fix takes the fun out of being a cyber bully. Hopefully they can then move on to something else a little less destructive than being a cyber bully.
If we can help kids understand how much bullying hurts, how words
can hurt you, fewer may cooperate with the cyber bully. They will think twice before forwarding a hurtful email, or visiting a cyberbullying “vote for the fat girl” site, or allowing others to take videos or cell phone pictures of personal moments or compromising poses of others.
And, in addition to not lending their efforts to the cyber bully continuing, if given an anonymous method of reporting a cyber bully Web site, profile, and campaign, kids can help put an end to cyberbullying entirely. School administration, community groups, and even school policing staff can receive these anonymous tips and take action quickly when necessary to shut down the site, profile, or stop the cyber bully itself.
They can even let others know that they won’t allow cyber bully communication, supporting the victim, making it clear that they won’t be used to torment others and that they care about the feelings of others is key. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
We need to teach our children that silence, when others are being hurt, is not acceptable. If they don’t allow the cyber bully to use them to embarrass or torment others, the cyber bully will quickly stop. It’s a tall task, but a noble goal. And in the end, our children will be safer online and offline. We will have helped create a generation of good cybercitizens, controlling the technology instead of being controlled by it.
Ms. Parry’s Guide to Correct Online Etiquette (Netiquette): A Checklist for Cyber-communications (thinkb4uclick): Start by making sure you are sending things to the right place, that it arrives and that the right person gets it.
Is it addressed to the right person? Are you sure? Have you checked the spelling and the screen name carefully? Are they in your address book or on your buddy list already? The easiest way to make sure that you have their correct screen name or e-mail address is to save it automatically when they send you something. Parents should input their children’s approved correspondents into their buddy lists and address books to make sure that it is done correctly to avoid contact with a cyber bully. Also, people (especially kids) change their email addresses and screen names often. Make sure you are using the most up-to-date one.
Also, don’t be so sure that your email makes it to the person you sent it to. With so many junk emails and viruses being sent these days, most Internet service providers are using SPAM-blocking technology to block and filter messages they think may be SPAM. Many innocent messages are caught in the SPAM-filters and never get delivered anymore. Some people are also using their own anti-SPAM software that may block your email. Remind your friends to add your email address and screen name to their approved list so that you won’t be blocked by accident and warn them in advance before using a new address or screen name. Depending on which email service you use, you may be able to track your message and see if it is ever delivered, and sometimes if it is even read. There are other applications you can use as well. It’s good netiquette to ask the person before sending something to track whether they have opened or read the email before using it. But just because you send something, don’t get angry if the other person doesn’t reply. First make sure they received it. (And make sure that they aren’t blocked by your email filters or SPAM-blockers either.)
Sometimes one family will use the same email address or screen name for everyone. It could be embarrassing if you send a personal and private message to someone and their parents or older brother reads it instead. Check first. Also, many parents read their kids emails. Check with your friends and see if their emails are reviewed by their parents. You may want to be more careful if they do.
Is it worth sending? Don’t waste peoples’ time or bandwidth with junk, chain emails and false rumors.
Some of your friends and people you know love getting lots of email, IMs and jokes. Others don’t and may assume you are a cyber bully. Before you start sending lots of jokes and attachments to someone, find out if it’s okay first. And if they tell you they are busy, respect their time. It never hurts to ask first. That way people will look forward to getting your emails and cybercommunications instead of ignoring them. Also, don’t send long emails to people who only read short ones, or short ones to people who like long ones without explaining why.
Don’t send chain emails. They clog up email servers, especially at school. And sometimes scare people, especially younger kids. Also, bad people who are looking to find kids online may use them to spy on emails and find new kids to contact. (You can read more about chain emails at “email etiquette and safety.”)
Also, never send anything you haven’t confirmed as being true. Many hoaxes and cyber-rumors are sent by people who just blindly forwarded them on, without checking to see if they are true. (You can read more about urban legends, hoaxes, and cyber bully rumors and how to check and see if they are true or not at our “Truth or Hype” section.)
If you are going to send an email to someone famous you found online, think about what you’re going to say. Many of these people answer select emails, and you want yours to be answered, not ignored. Also, if you ask them for something that is inappropriate (like helping you write your term paper) or something you should have found on your own (like their biography or information readily found at their Web site), they probably won’t bother answering you.
Also, don’t just send a “hi!” message without more. The worse that will happen is that it will be caught in the SPAM-filter or ignored. The best that will happen is that they will say “hi” back. What good is that? Also, never send an attachment to someone you don’t know. They will probably automatically delete it. You can almost always include a photo or the document in the email itself, instead of having to attach it. And make sure that you have allowed them to reply, without finding that they are blocked by parental controls or your email filters.
Proofread and spell-check your emails and make sure they know who you are.
Many messages are never understood or are misunderstood because people left out words, or said things unclearly, or misspelled words. While your emails don’t have to be formal works of art, you should make them clear. If they are important enough to send, they are important enough to be understood. The rules for instant messaging are different and more grammar mistakes and spelling errors are accepted there.
Also make sure that you re-read what you are sending to make sure it says what you want it to say. If something could be misunderstood, or understood two different ways, either re-write it or use an emoticon to let them know which meaning you used. Don’t use shorthands or acronyms they don’t understand. And if you are referring to someone else, make sure they know who you are talking about.
Also make sure that you sign your emails and cyber-communications with a name the recipient will recognize, if you aren’t using your normal screen name. Don’t’ give away personal information, but telling them that this is a new account or screen name and your old one was [fill in the blank] helps your message get read, instead of trashed. Putting that in the subject line may help.
Don’t attack others online; don’t say anything that could be considered insulting or that is controversial.
Until you get to know someone very well, it’s always best to stay away from controversial topics, like politics, religion, race, sex, nationalism, war, special physical or mental limitations, money, and gender-based issues. Once you get to know each other well enough to know what is acceptable, you can get into these topics online, but even then, be very careful. Most cyber bully problems start when people are talking about these and similar topics.
And be especially careful when dealing with people from other cultures and countries online. What may be perfectly acceptable in the United States may not be acceptable in Japan, England, Hong Kong, or New Zealand. Watch what they say and how they say it before jumping in. Be extra polite and respectful and don’t be afraid to ask how they do things where they live. It’s a great way to learn.
If someone tells you that you hurt their feelings, find out how and apologize. Let them know when you did things without meaning to and have no intentions of being a cyber bully. If they lash out at you, thinking you did it on purpose, before you attack them back, try explaining that it was accidental.
Don’t use all capital letters (considered shouting online) and be careful about using bad language or being provocative. Don’t intentionally say anything to hurt some else’s feelings or invade their privacy online or offline. And always scan your system for viruses and malicious code so that you don’t send a virus by accident to someone else. (Use a good anti-virus program on anything you receive or download to make sure you don’t pick up any viruses.)
Don’t forward other people’s emails without their permission or share their personal information.
Sometimes, without realizing it, we copy someone new on an email thread. It might contain personal information or a personal communication that someone else shared with only you three levels down and you didn’t realize that you were now allowing others to read it. Either delete all but the most recent message when forwarding it, or re-read the older threaded messages before forwarding to make sure nothing personal is in those messages. Many private things slip through that way by mistake.
Are you angry when you are writing this message?
If you are writing the email, instant message or post when you are angry, review it carefully. Also take the time to cool down before sending it and check the tips for avoiding cyberfights, by using the tips we learn in Take 5!
Are you replying to something that is designed to insult you, flame you, cyber bully you, or harass you? If so, think again. These things go away much faster if you don’t reply at all. The cyber bully sending them is looking for a reaction. They soon get tired and go away if they don’t get any. Also, you should let your parents or teachers know if you are receiving hateful or threatening cyber bully communications or if you receive something that hurts your feelings or makes you feel bad. You are entitled to not be attacked by a cyber bully; you should enjoy email and cyber-communications without worrying about nasty people.
Don’t reply to SPAM, even to ask to be removed from their mailing list.
SPAMMers buy lists of millions of email addresses and instant messaging screen names. Harvesting programs gather up these addresses wherever they can find them online, in chatrooms, on message boards, from chain emails and registrations. So, many of these addresses are old and don’t work. If you reply, one of two things happens. You either have sent a reply to a fake address they have used to send the emails from, or you have now let them know that your address is a good one and you will receive many more messages. They will even sell your address for more money, since they can now promise that you have read the SPAM messages you receive.
While your email service provider may ask you to forward SPAM to their TOS (terms of service violations address), you shouldn’t bother. Instead, use a good anti-SPAM program.
How private is the message you are sending? Are you willing to have others read this message or forward it to others without your permission?
Emails get misdelivered all the time. And sometimes the people we send them to share our communications with others without asking us first. (This includes logs of our chatroom discussions and of instant messaging.) The courts allow others to read your emails under special circumstances. Don’t ever say anything in a cyber-communication you wouldn’t be willing to allow someone else to read. We always tell people not to say anything they wouldn’t write on a postcard they send through the mail. Sometimes when our friends get angry with us, they intentionally post our emails on public Web sites or send them to others. If you are going to share something very private, it’s best to use the phone or person-to-person communications (obviously only with people you know in real life).
When students apply for jobs or internships the recruiter will sometimes “Google them” first. We have seen many cases where old messages they posted when they were much younger and didn’t realize would turn-up in an online search cost someone an internship position or a job. (It’s always a good idea to “Google yourself” regularly and make sure nothing turns up that you would be embarrassed about or that gives away personal information about you online.)
Also, many parents and schools monitor communications. This means they can read what you have written. Have you written anything they can’t read? And if you are using a family account that one of your parents uses for work email, their boss may be monitoring emails, too. That could be very embarrassing for everyone and may cost your parent their job.
What’s the law?: All but a small handful of jurisdictions have cyberharassment or cyberstalking laws. Sometimes the cyber bully falls under these laws. But rarely will law enforcement investigate them as a crime or prosecutors prosecute them as a crime. A few notable cases in the United States (one in NJ and other ones in Louisiana and Virginia) have taken this tact. But most have not. In addition, many cases of a cyber bully (like their adult cyber-harassment equivalent) are not criminal. They may come close to violating the law, but may not cross the line. Most of the time, the threat of closing their ISP or instant messaging account is enough to make things stop. But sometimes, either because the parents want to make an example of the cyber bully or because it isn’t stopping, lawyers need to be brought in. It may also be the only way you can find out who is behind the cyber bully. Cyber Bully Threat Checklist: What’s the difference between rude communications and cyberbullying/harassment?: Telling the difference between flaming, cyber bully and harassment and cyberstalking
It’s not always easy to tell these apart, except for serious cases of cyberstalking, when you “know it when you see it.” And the only difference between “cyber bully” and cyber-harassment is the age of both the victim and the perpetrator. They both have to be under-age in a cyber bully case.
When you get a call, your first response people need to be able to tell when you need to get involved, and quickly, and when it may not be a matter for law enforcement. It might help to start by running through this cyber bully checklist. If the communication is only a flame, you may not be able to do much about it. (Sometimes ISPs will consider this a terms of service violation.) But the closer it comes to real-lifecyber bully threats, the more likely you have to get involved as law enforcement. We recommend that law enforcement agents ask parents the following questions. The answers will help guide your involvement and course of action.
The kind of cyber bully threat:
The communication uses lewd language The communication insults your child directly (“You are stupid!”) The communication threatens your child vaguely (“I’m going to get you!”) The communication threatens your child with bodily harm. (“I’m going to beat you up!”) There is a general serious threat. (“There is a bomb in the school!” or “Don’t take the school bus today!”) The communication threatens your child with serious bodily harm or death (“I am going to break your legs!” or “I am going to kill you!”)
The frequency of the cyber bully threats:
It is a one-time communication The communication is repeated in the same or different ways The communications are increasing Third-parties are joining in and communications are now being received from (what appears to be) additional people
The source of the cyber bully threats:
Your child knows who is doing this Your child thinks they know who is doing this Your child has no idea who is doing this The messages appear to be from several different people
The nature of the threats:
Repeated emails or IMs Following the child around online, into chatrooms, favorite Web sites, etc. Building fake profiles, Web sites or posing as your child’s email or IM Planting statements to provoke third-party stalking and harassment Signing your child up for porn sites and emailing lists and junk email and IM Breaking into their accounts online Stealing or otherwise accessing their passwords Posting images of the child online (taken from any source, including video and photo phones) Posting real or doctored sexual images of the child online Sharing personal information about the child Sharing intimate information about the child (sexual, special problems, etc.) Sharing contact information about the child coupled with a sexual solicitation (“for a good time call …” or “I am interested in [fill in the blank] sex…”) Reporting the child for real or provoked terms of service violations (“notify wars” or “warning wars”) Encouraging that others share their top ten “hit lists,” or ugly lists, or slut lists online and including your child on that list Posting and encouraging others to post nasty comments on your child’s blog Hacking your child’s computer and sending your child malicious codes Sending threats to others (like the president of the United States) or attacking others while posing as your child Copying others on your child’s private email and IM communications Posting bad reviews or feedback on your child without cause Registering your child’s name and setting up a bash Web site or profile Posting rude or provocative comments while posing as your child (such as insulting racial minorities at a Web site devoted to that racial minority) Sending SPAM or malware to others while posing as your child Breaking the rules of a Web site or service while posing as your child Setting up a vote for site (like “hot or not?”) designed to embarrass or humiliate your child Masquerading as your child for any purpose Posting your child’s text-messaging address or cell phone number online to encourage abuse and increase your child’s text-messaging or cell phone charges Launching a denial of service attack on your child’s Web site Sending “jokes” about your child to others or mailing lists
The more repeated the communications are, the greater the cyber bully threats (or enlarging this to include third-parties) and the more dangerous the methods, the more likely law enforcement or legal process needs to be used. If personal contact information is being shared online, this must be treated very seriously.
If the child thinks they know who is the cyber bully, that may either make this more serious, or less. But once third parties are involved (hate groups, sexually deviant groups, etc.) it makes no difference if the person who started this is a young seven year old doing it for a laugh. It escalates quickly and can be dangerous.
Why do people cyber bully? Learn about bullying and get helpful tips from BeingGirl.com.