It’s important to introduce young people to issues related to cyberbullying and online safety at an early age. One way to do this is to have them participate in a fun activity that includes key concepts or practical advice. For example, we have several activities on our site, including a word find and a crossword puzzle, that you can use. Another idea is to have students write a cyberbullying limerick. Having youth write a poem about a topic can be a great way to get them to think about that topic in a different way. Often times I find that my students remember information that they included in their limericks better because they set it to rhyme. So here is my shot at a cyberbullying limerick. Use this activity in your classrooms or with your children to begin a conversation about online safety and responsibility. Send us some examples and we’ll post them on our web site!
Cyberbullying makes life miserable
For the one who is bullied, daily activities can be unbearable
So do your part to stop this fad
By telling a teacher, or mom or dad
When you see bullying happen away from the lunchroom table
I was in Colorado Springs earlier this week meeting with the Futures Working Group, which is a consortium of folks interested in exploring the future of law enforcement. The group is an eclectic mix of law enforcement administrators, military intelligence officers, federal agents, and academics established through a memorandum of understanding between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Police Futurists International.
I will be beginning a visiting scholar position in the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI starting in October and briefed the group on my research agenda and goals for my year in the FBI. What I want to do is better understand the role and responsibilities of law enforcement in cyberbullying incidents. I am planning to survey law enforcement officers (especially those affiliated with schools, e.g., SROs and Liaison Officers) to learn about “best practices” in dealing with online harassment. Based on my conversations with officers over the past couple of years, I believe there is much confusion over what they can and should be doing to prevent and respond to cyberbullying. Clearly, online harassment represents a major issue with respect to the future of school violence and one in which law enforcement officers want guidance.
The ideas were well received by the group and I look forward to working with them over the next year to explore these issues. I’ll be sure to post updates here about the progress of the project.
Well, it’s official. On Sunday, U.S. District Judge George Wu acquitted Lori Drew of all federal criminal charges for her involvement in the suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier. As you may recall, back in November a jury initially found Drew guilty of three misdemeanor charges of illegally accessing a protected computer (in essence, she was found guilty of violating MySpace.com’s Terms of Service). About two months ago, Judge Wu alluded to the fact that the case would be dismissed. Now it is official.
We have discussed this issue at length on this blog, acknowledging the various issues at play. Without question, what Lori Drew did was wrong. The question always has been, though, were those behaviors criminal? At the time, there really wasn’t any clear criminal statute that Drew had violated (that has since changed with several states and cities recently passing “cyberbullying laws”). The local prosecutor refused to pursue the case but a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles ultimately filed charges in federal court. It was those charges that have now been thrown out.
So what can we learn from this experience? First, it is important for federal, state, and local officials to clearly articulate legislation that unambiguously addresses the undesirable behaviors. This can be tricky given the constantly-changing nature of technology deviance. That said, any legislation should be grounded in what we know about youth and interpersonal aggression. Second, it is essential that parents, educators, and teens themselves work to prevent cyberbullying from occurring in the first place so that tragic incidents like this do not repeat themselves. Teens need to be empowered to shrug off minor forms of cyberbullying and to consult with an adult when the behaviors become too much to handle. Witnesses need to stand up for targets of cyberbullying by reporting what they see to teachers or parents so that the behaviors do not escalate. Everyone needs to recognize their role in cyberbullying prevention and response. If you don’t know what your role is, find out. You have a responsibility to take action. More on this in future postings…
For those of you who are regular visitors to the site, you may have noticed some changes over the last week or so. Sameer and I have been working hard to add and update information on the site to make it even more useful for you all. For example, we’ve added a few videos to our new YouTube channel and have begun posting updates through our Twitter Feed. The biggest change you will notice is that we are now the “Cyberbullying Research Center.” We have been working on this project for quite a while now, and believe this will allow us to do more of the research we feel is critical to better understanding this important problem.
We will continue to roll out more features and resources over the next couple of months, so definitely stop by often. We are poring over new data from two school districts and hope to have summary fact sheets up soon. I can tell you that initial results suggest that recent prevalence rates appear to be similar to our earlier work (about 8-9% of students have experienced cyberbullying in the previous 30 days), though the environments in which cyberbullying is occurring is changing (more on social networking sites and YouTube). Follow us on Twitter for more snippets of findings as we work our way through the data, and check out our new video clips on YouTube.
Here’s a recent query I received from an educator who I have worked with in the past. I thought her question and my response would be of interest to others so I am posting both here. Does your school district have a policy regarding cyberbullying or Facebook? How about cyberbullying on Facebook?
Question: “The reason for my email is that we have recently had issues with Facebook brought to our attention by parents. Cyberbullying is taking place among our 8th graders and it seems to be affecting the classroom environment. The principal and I are wondering if you have any sample policies that might help us as we are looking to establish some type of policy quickly to address this problem.”
Response: I am sorry to hear that you are facing problems with Facebook. We don’t have a sample policy per se, but we suggest elements that you might want to include in your policy. The problem really isn’t isolated to Facebook. That is, you don’t need a “Facebook Policy.” If you tried to be that specific, you would have to update your policy every 6 months or so as different Web sites come in and out of popularity. You just need a general policy that will cover the kinds of behaviors that are detrimental to your school environment. You have our book, and you should definitely revisit chapter 5 – especially pages 118-126 to see how your existing policy could be improved based on these suggestion. Essentially, your policy needs to state that any behavior that disrupts the school environment is subject to discipline.
As I mentioned in my presentation to your folks, you might want to see if you can convene a group of staff, parents, and even students to review your existing policy and to make recommendations for updating it based on these new behaviors that are emerging. This shouldn’t be a very large group – perhaps 2 or 3 members from each of the above groups – otherwise it may be difficult to get everyone to agree. This group can then inform your school’s overall approach. They can make recommendations additions to the policy and for appropriate disciplinary sanctions based on violations of the policy. I know you are looking for a quick fix (aren’t we all!), but taking the time to develop comprehensive policy, and involving parents and students, will yield dividends in the long run. It will be easier to sell the policy to parents if key parents are involved in the process. And the students can help to make sure the policy is comprehensive and realistic.
By the way, in general, if you can demonstrate that the behaviors are substantially disrupting your school environment, even though those behaviors are occurring away from school, the courts have upheld disciplinary sanctions. And that legal perspective is essentially directed at public schools. Since you are a private school, you have much more latitude in basically doing what you think is appropriate. That said, it is still important to have a good policy that parents and even students can get behind.