There’s a very ugly monster lurking behind the smiley facade of social networking.  It’s one that is viral and spreading worldwide and is reaching epidemic proportions.  It has stimulated governments into action and created its own task force to battle its spread.  It’s not H1N1 flu, it’s ‘cyberbullying’! defines cyberbullying as being when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones. It has to have a minor on both sides, or at least have been instigated by a minor against another minor. Once adults become involved, it is plain and simple cyber-harassment or cyberstalking. Adult cyber-harassment or cyberstalking is never called cyberbullying.

“The methods used are limited only by the child’s imagination and access to technology. And the cyberbully one moment may become the victim the next. The kids often change roles, going from victim to bully and back again.  Children have killed each other and committed suicide after having been involved in a cyberbullying incident.

Cyberbullying is usually not a one time communication, unless it involves a death threat or a credible threat of serious bodily harm. Kids usually know it when they see it, while parents may be more worried about the lewd language used by the kids than the hurtful effect of rude and embarrassing posts.”

Cyberbullying has no boundaries as social networks of minors now cross international boundaries.  The Australian Government recently released two reports showing bullying via mobile phones and the internet was on the rise and under-reported.  Education Minister, Julia Gillard stated that, “cyberbullying is cruel, torturous and intimidating.”

  • One in four students in Years 4 to 9 experienced bullying every few weeks, the Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study found.
  • One in six students reported experiencing “covert” bullying, which was hidden and not seen by adults.
  • Up to ten per cent reported bullying by means of technology.

But the report states “covert bullying appears to be one of the most under-reported of all abuses”.  The research suggests that could be due to shame associated with bullying or inappropriate responses by adults.

Cyberbullying was more prevalent among secondary school students.  Up to twenty per cent of Year 9 students had experienced or participated in this form of abuse.

The second report, Behind the Scenes, includes numerous stories of cyber bullying in Australian schools.  In one example, a girl posted online erotic pictures of a former friend as an act of revenge.
Parents are either unaware of the problem or have no idea how to control it.  Schools are closer to the problem because they see the results of cyberbullying first hand but their hands are tied, often by outdated laws. Some have even been sued for exceeding their authority and violating the student’s free speech rights.

Thought provoking, and sometimes frightening, TV ads have appeared in some markets to highlight the extent of the problem but it may be time that the industry that has made the problem possible starts taking a very active role in it’s control.  Like H1N1, no one is immune and efforts to control it must be universal.