The advent of the internet and social media allows like minded people to easily seek each other out and share their ideas. As I see a growing trend towards anti-sematism not unlike that of the 1930’s, I begin to draw parallels to that time and imagine sociopolitical paths of the likes we never want to tread. It was for this reason and others that I made a simple post on Facebook and Twitter reading “I support Israel.” This proclamation was made to let my Jewish friends know in no uncertain terms that I would never sway towards anti-Jewish sentiment, and it also made my other friends aware that I would not support them if they should harbor such feelings. There is inherent freedom in the idea of free-flowing information; however, this freedom also comes with responsibility. The same technology that promotes freedom also simplifies efforts to conspire against ideas, governments, and sometimes individuals. It is this conspiracy against individuals that has piqued my interest. The use of the internet (and, other technology, such as cell phones) to conspire against individuals can be seen in the act of cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying, according to Bill Belsey, the award winning author of the bullying.org website “involves the use of information and communication technologies such as email, cell phone and pager text messages, instant messaging, defamatory personal Web sites, and defamatory online personal polling Web sites, to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others” (as cited in Li, 2007, p. 1779). Li (2010) goes further to include “exclusion” to this list. Exclusion is the specific and intentional exclusion of an individual from an online group. Further, Li (2007) hypothesizes that internet users are socially isolated and inept. This is certainly not the case. Li also discusses demographic differences in both victims and bullies, but the evidence from other studies prove confounding to any hypothesis regarding specific demographics (Schneider et al., 2011; Slonje & Smith, 2008; Smith et al., 2008; Smith, Mahdavi, Carvalho, & Tippett, 2006). Children do not seem either savvy enough or willing enough to block these communications as they happen (Smith et al., 2008). Further, children and adolescents are not emotionally stable enough to make this type of rational decision when confronted with cyberbullying; however, they also do not seem prepared to become emotionally stable enough to deal with typical adolescent musings when they become persistent, such as rumors posted to a website.
There is a real problem with social media and cyberbullying, but we need to call it as it is: bullying. By attaching the prefix cyber- to the act, we acknowledge the sophistication needed to perpetrate this type of bullying, which might egotize the bully. Most communities respond to cyberbullying by focusing on the technology used to perpetrate the bullying; however, it is more important to focus on the motivations and the social intolerances involved in bullying in general. By losing sight of the cause and focusing on the vehicle, no one will be able to overcome this problem, which is inherent, though sometimes magnified, in normal social adjustment and development of children and adolescents. Communities that wish to address cyberbullying would do well to educate the students about social responsibility, the rights and responsibilities of civic duty, and the different levels of appropriateness of various forms of communication.
Li, Q. (2007). New bottle but old wine: A research of cyberbullying in schools. Computers in Human Behavior, 23(4), 1777-1791. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2005.10.005
Li, Q. (2010). Cyberbullying in high schools: A study of students’ behaviors and beliefs about this new phenomenon. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, and Trauma, 19(4), 372-392. doi:10.1080/10926771003788979
Schneider, S. K., O’Donnell, L., Stueve, A., & Coulter, R. W. S. (2011). Cyberbullying, school bullying, and psychological distress: A regional census of high school students. American Journal of Public Health. Advance online publication. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2011.300308
Slonje, R. & Smith, P. K. (2008). Cyberbullying: Another main type of bullying? Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 49(2), 147–154. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9450.2007.00611.x
Smith, P. K., Mahdavi, J., Carvalho, M., Fisher, S., Russell, S., & Tippett, N. (2008). Cyberbullying: its nature and impact in secondary school pupils. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49(4), 376–385. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2007.01846.x
Smith, P. K., Mahdavi, J., Carvalho, M., & Tippett, N. (2006, July). An investigation into cyberbullying, its forms, awareness and impact, and the relationship between age and gender in cyberbullying (Report to the Anti-Bullying Alliance, Brief No. RBX03-06). Retrieved from https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/RBX03-06.pdf