Cyberbullying refers to the practice of harassing, threatening, or otherwise intimidating another person using computers, smartphones, the Internet, or other technology as the medium. It has become a problem partly because of the availability and popularity of social network media such as Facebook and Twitter among adolescents, the age group most involved in perpetrating and being victimized by cyber bullying. And partly because it can be done with relative anonymity and therefore he/she is more apt to commit the act with veracity, without being criticized. A cyber bully can easily register on social networking sites with a false identity, and it usually takes involvement by law enforcement to track down their real identity.
US-CERT recommends the following to protect yourself or children:
How can you protect yourself or your children?
- Teach your children good online habits – Explain the risks of technology, and teach children how to be responsible online (see Keeping Children Safe Online for more information). Reduce their risk of becoming cyber bullies by setting guidelines for and monitoring their use of the internet and other electronic media (cell phones, PDAs, etc.).
- Keep lines of communication open – Regularly talk to your children about their online activities so that they feel comfortable telling you if they are being victimized.
- Watch for warning signs – If you notice changes in your child’s behavior, try to identify the cause as soon as possible. If cyberbullying is involved, acting early can limit the damage.
- Limit availability of personal information – Limiting the number of people who have access to contact information or details about interests, habits, or employment reduces exposure to bullies that you or your child do not know. This may limit the risk of becoming a victim and may make it easier to identify the bully if you or your child are victimized.
- Avoid escalating the situation – Responding with hostility is likely to provoke a bully and escalate the situation. Depending on the circumstances, consider ignoring the issue. Often, bullies thrive on the reaction of their victims. Other options include subtle actions. For example, you may be able to block the messages on social networking sites or stop unwanted emails by changing the email address. If you continue to get messages at the new email address, you may have a stronger case for legal action.
- Document the activity – Keep a record of any online activity (emails, web pages, instant messages, etc.), including relevant dates and times. In addition to archiving an electronic version, consider printing a copy.
- Report cyberbullying to the appropriate authorities – If you or your child are being harassed or threatened, report the activity. Many schools have instituted bullying programs, so school officials may have established policies for dealing with activity that involves students. If necessary, contact your local law enforcement. Law enforcement agencies have different policies, but your local police department or FBI branch are good starting points. Unfortunately, there is a distinction between free speech and punishable offenses, but the legal implications should be decided by the law enforcement officials and the prosecutors.
Cyberbullying is morally and socially wrong, and illegal. If we are to reduce or eradicate it, we must all do our part in using the above practices when we come in contact with it personally or are made aware of an attack on another person.
As always, I appreciate your comments on this subject…so please do. And be careful out there…it’s extremely dangerous these days.
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