Facebook: Cyberbullying Isn’t Just For Kids

Anna Pickrell '14Sports & Activities Editor

“Cyberbullying,” the action of anonymous maltreatment of internet users through social networking sites and instant messaging, has introduced itself recently as the 21st century’s fresh twist on schoolyard bullying. As the emergence of Facebook, Twitter, Formspring, and their counterparts has pushed the boundaries of freedom of speech to the point of possible humiliation for anyone with at least one social network account or instant messaging screenname, we no longer have to physically punch our classmates in the face in order to define ourselves as bullies.

Though this form of harassment has not been around nearly as long as the traditional form of bullying, it has already made its own appalling statistics. According to the National Crime Prevention Center, 40% of teens with internet access reported cases of cyberbullying in 2008 alone.

Furthermore, only 10% of those who reported these cases told their parents about the confrontation, while 18% reported to local or national law enforcement agencies. In a poll taken specifically of students in 4th through 8th grade, 42% of those interviewed reported cases in which they were bullied online. 60% of those same students claimed to have not told their parents about the incidents.

While social networking sites – namely those with anonymous posts, such as Formspring – tend to take the most blame for these problems, somewhere between 45 and 75% of all cyber problems actually originate in chat rooms.

Though most research on cyberbullying has been conducted on individuals between ages 11 and 18, the issue is still highly present in college students and young adults. As found in a study of collegiate level cyberbullying by Ikuko Aoyama, doctoral candidate in educational psychology at Baylor University, and Tony L. Talbert, associate professor of education at Baylor, age makes no difference in determining the probability of this crude practice to take place.

Instead, the study suggests that the average teenager’s increasing understanding of social networking and technology only leads to a greater chance of either suffering or committing cases of cyberbullying. As teens become more comfortable with their internet navigation skills, they are more likely to become lax in their use of anonymous social networking sites, thus leading to this shift in harassment location from the playground to the laptop.

“From adolescence to high school to college, the technology literally becomes almost…this medium where people create these alternative identities…but the rules as we understand them from bullying from a physical standpoint have completely changed,” says Talbert in a Chronicle coverage of research conclusions.

For Aoyama, this continuation of cyberbullying beyond adolescence is not surprising. Instead, she sees it as a mere continuance of what early perpetrators are used to in high school.

“…I don’t think many high-school students who experienced cyberbullying will suddenly change once they enter college, even though they may be more mature. I think they already learned that this is a way to put down others,” says Aoyama.

The largest problems to come out of cyberbullying include password theft, confrontational posting and sharing of private information, alteration and posting of personal pictures, and recording and publication of controversial videos.

In recent months, cyberbullying has gone from a scary problem to a fatal phenomenon that is not just hurting reputations but literally ending lives. As specific groups – namely but not limited to ethnic minorities, homosexuals, and girls – are increasingly picked out for the most severe cases of cyberbullying, situations in which a lack of help or reassurance from third parties are becoming far too common.

This issue ultimately comes down to a question of freedom of speech, for while we oftentimes take this right for granted, we have now proven ourselves incapable of handling the burdens of complete liberty to run our mouths off. There is a fine line between uninhibited expression and blatant harassment, and at some point there ought to be a way to cap internet sites from aiding this breach of personal dignity.