Black letters flash across the screen, launching an attack of rumors and insults. A text, a Facebook wall post, a Tweet – a line or two is all it takes to wound someone's self-esteem, to bring tears, to ruin a friendship. With the explosion of modern technology, old-school bullying is out and a new type of bullying is taking the stage. But while stuffing someone in a locker is a pretty obvious sign of harassment, with no bruises or bloody noses as evidence of abuse, cyber-bullying often doesn't raise alarms until it's too late.
“It's such a gray area,” says Broadcast teacher Charles Huette. “It's easy to talk about but difficult to identify.” When asked to define “cyber-bullying,” most students respond with a blank look. Most eventually describe it as something hurtful said online about another, but the definition is far from clear-cut. One of the challenges with cyber-bullying is its chameleon effect: it takes many forms, often blending in with its surroundings.
Commentary and criticism are hardly uncommon on the Web. In many ways, cyber-bullying is simply part of a modern world that focuses on spectacle. “The ‘MO' of Twitter is to trash-talk. It's to get attention,” Huette says. “I think it's a substitute for getting attention in real life [but] at someone else's expense.”
Websites like Twitter have made drawing attention to oneself simple and common. So common, in fact, that the results of online actions often don't merit a second thought. When “George” posted comments about other students on Twitter, he didn't intend it to be an attack. “I just thought it was funny,” he says. “When I wrote it, I thought that the people I wrote about or their friends weren't going to see it because I know who follows me, but it got around. I didn't realize that [the students or a teacher] would actually see it.”
George doesn't fit the mold of a typical bully. In fact, when he heard that his comments had spread beyond his Twitter circle, he was surprised and...
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