Bullying in the Cyber Age


By Veronica Chavez

Photo courtesy of Jason Howie.

For generations, bullying was seen as simply one of those unfortunate parts of adolescence.

Kids can be cruel. This was what adults told targets of inflicted nastiness as they urged them to try to look past the malice and keep living life. That advice, however, was usually given during a time when kids could leave any problems they had with peers at school and relax within their home without fear of torment, for the most part. Yet for victims growing up in the age of social media and technology, the idea of home as a refuge has changed dramatically with more and more bullying occurring within the online sphere.

As defined by The Cyberbullying Research Center, “cyberbullying is when someone repeatedly harasses, mistreats, or makes fun of another person online or while using cell phones or other electronic devices.” In eight recent studies conducted by the CBRC, 25 percent of the students surveyed reported having been cyberbullied at some point in their lifetimes, nine percent reporting they had been cyberbullied in the 30 days preceding the survey.

Although traditional bullying is still more common than cyberbullying, the effects of online harassment are not being ignored. Forty-nine states in the US have a state bullying law, 48 of them addressing “electronic harassment” specifically. In September, New York State passed “Local Law F”, a cyberbullying law that allows law enforcement officials to prosecute perpetrators who “by electronic means, post statements with the intent to inflict emotional harm on a minor, sexually explicit photos, private or personal information or false sexual information with no legitimate public, personal, or private purpose.”

While Albany’s Local Law F does seem to be a step in the right direction, many issues still remain on how to go about dealing with the issue of cyberbullying. For one, considering most cyberbullying cases occur on social media platforms out of view from school officials, more often than not they are late in realizing when something is occurring among students.

Such was the case of Pheobe Prince, a high school girl from Massachusetts who committed suicide after being bullied by five students in school, as well as Tyler Clementi of Rutgers University who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after being filmed kissing another male student by his roommate in 2010.

BTR spoke with Emily Bazelon, author of Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy, about some of the issues prevalent in dealing with cyberbullying, such as the role that social media sites like Facebook have played in the issue.

“It’s very frustrating,” Bazelon shares, “very wealthy corporations could be doing more but they desperately do not want to seem uncool, and so they shy away from teaming up with schools.”

Bazelon visited the Facebook headquarters back in 2013 to look deeper into the process that occurs when a user reports a page or profile and was surprised at what she found. Apparently Facebook uses programs that only allow their representatives a few seconds to decide whether a page or profile should stay up. With such little time spent looking into the matter, it is no wonder that so many pages that are clearly in violation of Facebook’s policies remain posted.

“Facebook has made strides in trying to change the process since I visited,” Bazelon notes. “They now have more interactive tools that allow users to contact the people that have posted harmful things and let them know that they are not okay with it. They also encourage users to contact someone in their real life to talk to about the problem.”

Even with Facebook’s change in policy, many other social media sites rarely respond when reports are made about policy violations, leaving users feeling rather hopeless on the other end.