Cyberbullying is defined as “intentional, aggressive behavior toward another person that is performed through electronic means (i.e., computers, cell phones, PDAs).”
Cyberbullying, similar to traditional bullying, takes place within a larger group or community. Often, students are victimized in front of their entire class or school. Cyberbullying has similar negative consequences for the victim as traditional bullying, including depression, aggression, fear, lower life satisfaction, social anxiety, drug use, and suicide.
Many victims also experience physical illnesses such as stomachaches, sleep problems, headaches, bedwetting, fatigue, and poor appetite. Victims of cyberbullying may also suffer from negative effects on grades in school and work.
Cyberbullying is more complicated, as the offender may be anonymous and completely unknown to the victim. This appears to be the case in about half of the bullying incidents.
There are several online behaviors/methods that fall under the category of cyberbullying: (1) Harassment, (2) Cyberstalking, (3) Denigration, (4) Impersonation, and (5) Exclusion.
Cyberharassment “involves offensive messages by the perpetrator to the recipient (aka victim); flaming is the exchange of insults in a public setting, such as a bulletin board or chat room.”
The offender may post untrue or cruel rumors about another person on Facebook, Twitter, chat rooms, or some other social media outlet. This can then be read by all of their friends, classmates, or coworkers.
In addition, the offender may send harassing e-mails threatening the victim. Instant messages are also a popular tool for such behaviors. High school students are one of the population groups where cyberbullying is rampant.
Studies have consistently demonstrated that about 30% of high school students have received harassing messages. Research suggests that females are more likely than males to engage in cyberbullying. A possible reason is that females generally avoid physical confrontation, and by using the computer they can hide.
The use of computers may also encourage more brazen behavior because there is less personal communication involved. An eye-to-eye conversation is very different from sending an e-mail or text. In fact, many people will write things in e-mails that they would not say to another person in a live conversation.
Cyberstalking is difficult to define. Most definitions “typically include unwanted and repetitive behaviors which are perceived as intrusive, frightening, threatening, or harassing.”
Antistalking legislation requires that the offender’s behavior cause a reasonable person to be fearful. Research shows that offline stalking and cyberstalking have similarities but also some differences. The most frequent category of cyberstalkers is ex-partners.
Men are much more likely to be stalkers than females, and females have much higher victimization rates than males. More men report having been a victim of cyberstalking by a female as compared to offline stalking.
It is possible that the online environment attracts perpetrators that otherwise would not engage in harassment. Females typically avoid physical confrontation. The online environment enables them to be confrontational without having to face another person.
In general, it appears that the online environment facilitates intrusion-like behaviors. In one out of four cases, offline stalking and cyberstalking overlap—that is, the stalker engage in both behaviors. For instance, a stalker may follow the victim to her workplace and then send her harassing or threatening text message letting her know that he followed her and will wait for her. The main motives for cyberstalking are jealousy, initiation of a love relationship, and revenge.
Cyberstalking, similar to offline stalking, has substantial negative social, physical, and psychological consequences for the victim. More than half of the victims report feeling helpless, angry, and aggressive. Two-thirds of the victims have difficulty sleeping and a feeling of distrust toward others.
Many victims also suffer from physical consequences, especially concentration problems, stomachaches, and headaches. Psychological consequences include depression, panic attacks, and social withdrawal. Methods used by cyberstalkers are mainly e-mail, posting messages on social media, and spreading rumors about the victim.
Currently, 49 states have statutes that specifically address cyber harassment, cyberstalking or both. The states with the most comprehensive legislation are New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Utah. The only state that has no legislation prohibiting cyberharassment or cyberstalking is Nebraska.
The Arizona statute covers only cyberharassment and is very vague, possibly too vague to protect victims in a meaningful way.
Overall, there is a need for a comprehensive cyberharassment and cyberstalking legislation that details applicable behaviors and punishments.
Denigration is the posting of harassing messages about the victim aiming to cause harm to the victim. The main purpose of denigration is to damage the reputation of the victim. It is commonly used by students against school employees, such as administrators and teachers.
Students who are upset with a school employee may post demeaning messages or “made up information” on social media or inside the school on bulletin boards. Bullies may also create hate websites where they may post pictures and abusive messages.
Impersonation is the stealing and revealing of information under another person’s name. The offender uses the identity of the target victim and posts unpopular messages on social networking sites. The offender uses the identity of the victim to make the victim a target of harassment by peers.
Online exclusion “occurs when victims are rejected from their peer group and left out of technological communications.” This is especially common among students. The victims are being isolated by their peers and made an outcast. Exclusion is very effective because people in general, and especially children and adolescents, want to be recognized and liked by their peers. Being excluded from the group can be devastating for a person.
Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, WhatsApp, iPhones, and similar tools and devices are widespread communication instruments. They are also used for all types of cyberbullying by sending harassing messages, pictures, and other media.
Teenagers who are dating often use text messages to send pictures to each other, some of which may be pornographic in nature. These pictures can then be distributed to any contact in the address book. The purpose of distributing such pictures is to embarrass the victim.
The posting of videos of unsuspecting victims taken in showers, locker rooms, store dressing rooms, and in other compromising situations are a growing concern for communities, schools, and law enforcement. Videos can be e-mailed or texted to others, and they can also be posted on YouTube for everyone to see.
Tyler Clementi, a violinist and student at Rutgers University in New Jersey, killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge in September 2010. His roommate had set up a webcam and streamed Clementi having sex with another man, thereby exposing that Clementi was gay. Two days later, Clementi’s roommate streamed another video and sent a tweet saying, “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it’s happening again.” Some 150 people were watching. The next day, Clementi posted on Facebook “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”
YouTube has also been used by victims of cyberbullying to record their odyssey. Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old Canadian student, made a soundless black and white video before she killed herself in her parents’ home in October 2012. Her video starts with “I’m Amanda Todd. I’m here to tell you about my never ending story.” One of her friends asked her to flash on video . . . and she did. That was the beginning of her never-ending suffering. One year after the video, a boy contacted her and told her that he would send the pictures to all of her schoolmates if she did not put on a show. The boy knew her address, friends, family, and school. During Christmas break, police came to her house at 4 a.m. and told her that her flash picture had been sent to everyone. Amanda says she got really sick and depressed and moved to another school. But the boy found her and started again, telling everyone about her picture. No matter where she moved, he followed her and continued to post harassing and threatening messages. She got beaten by another girl at her school, tried to kill herself by drinking bleach, and when she came home from the hospital she saw this message on Facebook: “She deserved it. Did you wash the mud out of your hair? I hope she’s dead.” Amanda moved back to her mom’s home, but the bullying continued for another 6 months—until she killed herself.