Technology has brought a lot of really cool things to our lives: We use e-mail, Instant Messaging, message boards and blogs to stay in touch with our friends, keep up with what’s happening in the world, and just have fun. But being connected all the time leaves us open to a special kind of bully: the online bully.
Online bullying, often called online harassment, is a serious issue, and it’s getting more common. Let’s take a look:
What is it?
Online bullying can take many forms:
- Sending threatening, taunting or teasing e-mails to someone.
- Using a computer or any other tech to spread gossip or rumors, or to make someone’s private information public.
- Pretending to be another person online so you can post or e-mail things that will embarrass or get that person in trouble.
- Being a “pretend friend” online so you can later hurt or humiliate someone.
- “Ganging up” on someone in a chat room or on a message board.
- “Griefing” someone in an online video game by constantly picking on a new or inexperienced player.
- Texting hurtful or rude comments to someone’s phone or Blackberry.
- Using chat, IM, or a blog to exclude people, pick on people, or divide the “populars” from the “unpopulars.”
Why do people do it?
It’s anonymous. The Web lets you hide behind a fake user name or alias, and many bullies feel protected by this “false identity.” Because they feel hidden and shielded, bullies might do and say things they would never dream of doing to someone face to face.
They want revenge. If a person is bullied in school, he might decide to fight back online. You don’t have to be a typical “bully” to be mean with IM or e-mail. Many tweens who are good with technology see online cruelty as a way of getting even with people who push them around in the real world.
They think everybody’s doing it. Being mean online may seem like something that kids just do…simply a part of life these days. A person may see her friends do it, and think it’s okay.
They get caught up in it. Sometimes online bullies start out small, with a funny comment or a joke. Then things slowly get out of hand. They start posting meaner and meaner things, and before they know it, they’re really hurting people with the things they write.
They don’t understand how much it hurts. When you’re cruel to someone online, you can’t see her cry, so you might not understand just how bad you’re making her feel.
What can you do?
If you feel like you’re being bullied online, try these strategies:
Don’t retaliate. If someone is mean to you online, don’t hit back. It might seem natural to give them a taste of his or her own cruelty, but this will just keep the war going.
Ignore it. Face to face, it can be very hard to “walk away” from an insult. Online, it’s actually much easier. Turn off your computer and walk away. Do not go back to Web sites or chat rooms where you’ve been bullied.
Tell an adult. Let a parent or guardian know that someone is bullying you online.
Block the bully. If someone bullies you through e-mail, block that person’s e-mail address or ISP address. If you don’t know how to do this, ask an adult to help.
- Don’t go to Web sites that you know are unsafe or are favorite hang-outs for bullies.
- Never share private or personal information with someone you don’t know or don’t trust.
- Never post your e-mail address on a public message board or in a chat room. E-mail is only for people you absolutely trust.
- Don’t be a victim, but don’t be a bully either. Never post a comment or send an e-mail when you’re angry.
For more info and advice about online bullying, check out these Web sites:
PBS KIDS GO! Webonauts Internet Academy
Make A Difference for Kids
Marysville Public Library - Internet Safety Resources
Cyberbullying Research Center
Cyber Safety for Kids and Teens
Here's some more advice on bullies from the IML mentors.
Always tell a parent or other trusted adult if you feel threatened or victimized online, or if someone sends you any inappropriate violent or sexual content.
Special thanks to the following experts for their contribution to this topic: Lois Flaherty, M.D., American Psychiatric Association