Ban School, Open Facebook

Ban School, Open Facebook Cyberbullying Research Center

There is much consternation among parents and educators alike about the perceived criminogenic nature of social networking websites. Despite some evidence that its popularity among some teens is beginning to wane, Facebook is still the most prominent figure in this space. As such, it tends to receive the brunt of the blows, with fervent calls from well-meaning adults to ban teen access to the site, and others like it. Recall one principal’s plea to parents over three years ago: “There is absolutely, positively no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site! None.” To be sure, there are plenty of good reasons to limit time on social media, especially for younger Internet users. But when it comes to bullying behaviors specifically, the evidence is clear that the school is a much more “dangerous” place to hang out than Facebook.

Bullying vs. Cyberbullying

At its core, all forms of bullying involve deliberate and repeated hurtful actions directed toward another who can’t easily defend him or herself. While technology has created additional avenues and opportunities for this to occur, it really hasn’t created a whole new class of bullies who only harm others from afar. In general, those who bully online, also bully at school.

Moreover, just about every study that has included measures of both bullying at school and bullying online has shown that the former still occurs much more frequently than the latter. I realize the counter-intuitiveness of this statement, but the consistency of this discrepancy across varying studies is compelling. For example, the National Crime Victimization Survey’s biennially-conducted survey of students (the School Crime Supplement) showed that 28% of primary and secondary students had been bullied at school while 9% of students had been bullied online in 2011 (the most recent year available).

Similarly, in all nine of our formal surveys conducted over the last nine years, the prevalence rates for cyberbullying have been significantly less than traditional school bullying. In our 2010 study involving 4,400 middle and high school students, 26% reported that they had been recently bullied at school while 8% said that they had been recently bullied online (4% on Facebook specifically).  In October of 2013 we surveyed a few hundred middle schoolers in a small school in the Midwest and found that 20% had been bullied at school in the previous 30 days, while 5% were bullied on Facebook during that same time.

To be fair, some evidence shows that the gap may be narrowing. Bullying at school has been steady or declining in recent years while cyberbullying may be creeping up, but certainly not at the pace that most perceive.

One of the challenges in trying to make sense of all of the data on different forms of bullying is that survey questions are often phrased problematically. If you ask someone—especially a teen—if they have “been bullied,” unless instructed otherwise they are going to report any experience with bullying, irrespective of where it happened.  Asking, for instance, if anyone had spread rumors or repeatedly said mean or hurtful things to them doesn’t specify a particular location so we don’t know exactly where it happened. As a result, it is quite possible that some bullying experiences that are interpreted as having occurred at school may have happened online (or, even more likely, it occurred in both environments).

There is no question that we hear about more high profile cases of cyberbullying on the nightly news, which gives the illusion that it is the more prevalent problem. And with the rapid expansion of technology in the hands of our teenagers over the last decade or so, it isn’t unreasonable to presume a precipitous increase in technology-related problematic behaviors.  But it’s just not true.

Focus on Cyberbullying Still Necessary

Please don’t misunderstand – I am certainly not suggesting that we should ignore cyberbullying.  It’s still a significant problem that affects a meaningful number of teens. This past summer we scrutinized all of the peer-reviewed academic journal articles we could find that included cyberbullying prevalence rates. Across the 55 papers we examined that included victimization data, on average, about 21% of the teens surveyed said they had been cyberbullied. While the numbers published in these paper vary widely (from a low of 2.3% to a high of 72%), one thing is certain: cyberbullying is happening, and it doesn’t have to.

We need to condemn bullying in all its forms. Whether it happens online or at school—on Facebook or on the bus—efforts need to be taken to prevent and appropriately respond to all instances of serious and repetitive mistreatment. But, to limit access to Facebook for the purposes of preventing cyberbullying is akin to restricting access to school with the goal of preventing face-to-face bullying.  Just as someone could spread rumors about another person at school without the target being there, the same is true about online environments. Instead, adults need to teach youth to use technology responsibly and regularly check in with them to ensure that they are doing so. We must also empower teens themselves to be a solution to the bullying problem by equipping them with tools that they can utilize should they experience or see it happening at school or online. Working together, teens and adults can be a formidable force to counter cruelty, no matter what it looks like or where it happens.


  1. I could not agree with you more. The benefits of social media outweigh its negative effects, even though it’s the negative incidents that get the media’s attention. Students are able to connect with others in ways they never could before, exposing them to different worldviews and perspectives that may not be prevalent in their schools. Social media also provides a venue to allow youth to express themselves through the written word and receive support and affirmation when going through difficult times. Instead of the easy solution of banning adolescents from social media, we need to do the hard work of teaching teenagers about how to properly use these outlets so that cyberbullying does not occur.

  2. This is a great article for educators to read! It really is important to teach our students to use technology responsibly. Also, reaching out to the bystanders of bullying and encouraging them speak out against bullying is so important. I really was inspired by the line “empower teens themselves to be a solution to the problem.” That really should be the focus of anti-bullying programs/curriculum for schools.

  3. Cyber bullying

    You don’t realize how precious your privacy is until it’s been compromised. What I’m talking about is called cyber bullying or cyber stalking when it should be called cyber rape.

    I am not 13, I am much older than that, and I have had the terror of cyber rape, and it’s nothing to be taken as light as some governments and agencies seem to take it even today. With so many suicides that lie in the wake of this brutal and seemingly protected manner of torture, we just expect more. As a society we should demand more.

    When I think of my experience with the authorities in regard to this, that are supposed to help us and protect us in regard to this issue, I think of all those movies and shows I have seen from the fifties era that depicted rape victims. Well, if the girl is killed, then it’s a crime, otherwise, the girls hear lectures on how short their skirts were or how tight their sweaters are and how they almost asked for this attack. When I hear the police tell me that I should change my phone number or my email addresses, I almost am overcome with vertigo from the déjà voux from those scenes.

    In these pictures and shows, there is always someone telling the victim that if she wouldn’t act this way or another, it wouldn’t have happened. As if there is some moral excuse for breaking the law, some justifiable crime in response to poor judgement or behavior is acceptable. Well, if he was mad at you, or if you teased him, or if you made him frustrated, or a million other judgmental statements because of her actions before the crime, somehow her action is the real cause of her victimization, and the crime less criminal because of that action. These scenes say that she needs to keep in mind that there are times when our actions actually ask for people to break the law, and when we do, we somehow deserve it.

    In my experience, I personally was told by an officer that I was “all over the Internet”. That’s the perp’s words, and a laughable exaggeration at best. Google plus and twitter and Facebook are my only apps of regular use, which obviously is not the definition of “all over the Internet”… This alone was reason enough for the continued harassment. BTW, the only “public” app wall I have is Google plus, my Facebook and twitter are private and had been. While I am still not sure how is that all over the Internet, it was clear that the officer felt that my even having those accounts was cause enough for the perp to continue to harass me. My perp decided that every post and every thought that I might have and post had to do with their situation and regardless, the continued torture was acceptable as the officer did not agree with my judgement prior to the harassment. So, when I posted about anything, it was automatically justification for another round of harassment. He basically told me in a very subtle way that this person would not bug me of I stopped using twitter and google plus, and that it was understandable for them to continue the harassment because the perp, in his mind, was on a higher moral ground. It never once occurred to him that if the perp just stopped searching me out, they wouldn’t see or read anything of mine. I wonder…. Does he tell the 16 yr old girl that sent a nude to her boyfriend the very same, when the girl becomes badgered by schoolmates on line? Does he tell the 16 yr old boy the very same because he broke up with a girl who has decided that she will interfere with every relationship he may have? Does he tell this to the car mechanic who overcharged for a car repair, knowingly, the very same when an angry client hacks his business accounts? Where does it end? When did morals by one man’s standard trump the law?

    Now I’ll admit, I am not familiar with the civil laws of Canada, but I do know that as long as I have the ability to speak in the USA (and I’m not plotting a crime,) I have the right to speak an opinion, or sentiment, no matter how silly they sound. I also know that it’s the world’s right to not seek out my opinion when they know they will not agree with it. I know that when people admit that they have attained private information from a source that isn’t one they have right to, that’s a privacy law issue. This is something that my offender did, including admitting they had this information. Eventhough, it seems authority would rather over look that too.

    In any case, I digress, what shocked me the most about this entire process is that even with evidence in hand and confirmation of the offending party to a police officer, I was the one reprimanded and ridiculed by an edmonton officer because he didn’t like the judgement I used prior to my harassment, and I have yet to hear from the Reno, Nevada police department in regard to my complaint. As an adult, I am deflated, as it seems that authority makes it plain that I must give up my identity, my websites, my phone number, etc. as my cyber rapist continues to force themselves on me and into my space while the authorities are required to do nothing. The cyber rapist can continue to implement their Chinese water torture and I’m told I need to change. As if wearing a less tight sweater keeps the rapist at bay…

    If this is what I’m going thru, as someone who actually knows who is attacking me and yet no action is taken, how lost and abandoned one must feel when they don’t know the offender, or have more than one perp. The stress and real fear of opening their Facebook or twitter or tumblr or Pinterest, etc. to potentially find something more and more invasive and toxic than the day before. And to only hear that the victims are to change their ways because the rapist won’t stop. The victims are to change their names and move to different places (on the Internet) to let the rapist win and get bored of pursuit.

    Those that have TRULY been a victim of stalking, cyber or otherwise, are the only people who seem to really understand at this point. That group already has been emasculated, demoralized, reduced, and the victims seem to be the only one that isn’t standing around talking about how short skirts get men excited to the point of assault, and they are really the only ones agreeing that no means no.

    While it’s comforting to know that, at least, the USA has some laws in place in regard to this issue, Canada has none to speak of unless it’s applicable to someone 13 and under. Uncivilized. And, it seems, both countries are extremely deficit in commitment and concern about this crime that is spreading more rapidly than any computer virus ever has, and caused far more damage.

    Once a person has been raped, there is no amount of therapy that undoes the deed.

  4. I am always accused of harassment on the internet, but i dont have anyone to talk to . What can i gossip about???with my imaginary friend. I cannot frame people for teasing me without evidence . I’m being emotionally abused, because a classmate keep looking in my direction to make me have stress problems. Of course by looking in my direction i cant say anything. If a group of bullys decide to bully one student then they will open a group . After being accused of harassment on the internet , a attorney send me a letter to zip my mouth. I don’t mind who do i have to talk to for harassment i dont have any friends nor close people just relatives.

    Does staring over your direction, whispering in silent voices count as bullying probably not enough. I’m over the age of 13 and i always get bullied because i dont word things right or have a clear speech in conversation. I rejected a boy in school , and he told everyone to bully me back and lying to them that i was being mean but i wasn’t. I said i wasn’t ready for a relationship and he told his friend to play me back. But i guess i deserve it for not concentrating on school and i focused on being popular which it wasn’t good. I should of just focused on school and learn to speak clearly then i won’t be a easy target to be taken advantage of. All his friends took his side. I have no way of finding evidence to take action against him it cost money to so i ignore it. Instead i am now breaking a law for rejecting a boy in my taekwondo class . O had to drop school for a while i cannot go back Be careful in Community College don’t approach someone randomly cause you want to friend . I should be a little serious in school i dont want to attract unawanted attention.. ~! =[ anyway glad it was all over.

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