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Cyberbullying: a Virtual Menace

Sheri Bauman, Ph.D.
University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona, United States

Paper to be presented at the National Coalition Against Bullying National Conference Melbourne, Australia
November 2 – 4, 2007

Cyberbullying: a Virtual Menace
School bullying attracted considerable attention worldwide as it became apparent that this widespread behavior was neither innocuous nor stamina-building but harmful and insidious. A considerable and growing body of research has examined the prevalence and consequences of bullying, and has evaluated the effectiveness of various strategies for reducing the behavior. Recently, technology has been added to the arsenal of strategies that can be employed by bullies to harm others. As most middle and high school students in developed countries use the Internet and other technology, such as mobile phones, the potential for hurtful behaviors is great (Keith & Martin, 2005). Cyberbullying, a term coined by Canadian Bill Belsey, has increased very quickly and educators and researchers are understandably concerned that this problem is growing more rapidly than is educators’ and parents’ ability to respond effectively. This paper will review what is known about cyberbullying and what can be done to prevent it. The issue of using technology by sexual predators seeking victims will not be addressed in this paper. Definitions

First, it is important to be clear on the meaning of terms to be used in this discussion. Bullying has been defined as behavior that is intentional, harmful, repetitive, and reflects an abuse of power. Bullying behaviors can be physical (hitting, kicking, pushing), verbal (teasing, threatening), or relational (social exclusion, harming friendships, spreading rumors). Although physical bullying cannot happen via technology, both verbal and relational bullying can be accomplished using a variety of technological tools. Thus, cyberbullying shall be defined as verbal or relational bullying accomplished using electronic or wireless media. That is, cyberbullying is “covert psychological bullying conveyed through the electronic mediums” (Shariff & Gouin, 2005). The most complete definition is that of Bill Belsey (2004):

Cyberbullying involves the use of information and communication technologies such as e-mail, 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 behaviour by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others. Methods of Cyberbullying

The perpetrators of cyberbullying have a range of tactics with which to inflict harm. Educators must be aware of the ways in which technological can be used to bully others (Burgess-Proctor, Matchin, & Hinduja, 2006; Shore, 2005; Willard, 2006). Educators should also become familiar with the unique conventions of communication in cyberspace; normal rules for spelling, grammar etc., are discarded in the interest of speed. Rules for capitalization and punctuation give way to shorthand style (e.g., “u” for “you”) so that dialog and chats and text messages can be as rapidly sent as possible (Merchant, 2001). Flaming refers to angry confrontational messages, often using explicit and vulgar language. Flaming often occurs in cyber-fights, and can result in a “flame war.” Harassment can be inflicted via email, text messages, instant messages, bulletin board postings, and in chat rooms. It involves repeatedly sending cruel or offensive messages. Denigration is the process of making derogatory statements about the target and disseminating them electronically. The statements are often lies concocted to hurt the target. The goal is to damage the target’s reputation or friendships.

Masquerading requires some advanced technical skills. The bully pretends to be the target and sends offensive messages that appear to come from the target. Outing and trickery often go together. The...
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