What role can the schools play in eliminating cyberbullying?

Dear school administrators, policy makers, and board members:

With the rise of the internet, we have had to adjust to many new forms of harassment also making their way online. One of these forms of harassment is cyberbullying, which is more or less the act of bullying taken online, often to social media.

The New York times ran an excellent article on the effect of texting and technology in the schools. In this article, there were a few quotes that stood out to me. One of them was:

The seventh-grade guidance counselor says she can spend up to three-fourths of her time mediating conflicts that began online or through text messages.

This quote is of particular significance to me because it speaks on the importance of technology in our lives and the lack of preparation or education on the topic. For example, we spend so much time teaching children proper etiquette, such as how to be polite, how to behave properly, and how to present yourself in public. However, we don’t spend nearly as much time teaching children how to be polite, how to behave properly, and how to present yourself in public. You’d think that teaching a child how to act politely in real life would translate over to the internet, but there are a slew of factors that make this far from a reality.

Shang did quite a bit of research on this topic, and this is one of the articles he found. In this article the reasons for bullying are discussed and these same reasons carry over for why people act differently on the internet than they do in real life.

One of the reasons was anonymity, and this reason makes the most sense to me. When we are anonymous, we feel as though we can get away with any sort of behavior without any repercussions. This leads to people acting impolitely and forgetting many of the protocols that we normally use in our society. When people feel as though they are not responsible for their behavior, they are usually more willing to push the boundaries of what is socially acceptable. This often leads to bullying or harassment.

Another one of the reasons was ignorance. We often don’t understand the significance of the things we are doing over the internet. For example, one kid might have thick skin and write something on Facebook that would not offend them if they were to receive an identical message. However, everyone is different. So that same message that might not offend the sender, if they received an identical message, may be highly offensive to the person they are sending it to. This is a problem in any form of communication, but face-to-face communication presents an much more complex medium to communicate our displeasure than any online communication.

For example, if I’m offended by something that someone said in real life, I am able to communicate my displeasure through a multitude of different mediums. I can frown, I can groan, I can roll my eyes, I can voice my displeasure, I can start a fight with the person, or I can simply ignore what the person said. However, if I’m offended by something that someone said online, all I can do is type out my displeasure. My mediums of communication are severely limited.

So what can schools do to eliminate ignorance and anonymity among other factors that cause cyberbullying? I think there are numerous things the schools can do to help students.

This online article offers many effective techniques for schools to play a part in eliminating cyberbullying. One of these techniques is to educate students on the topic of cyber-ethics. That means providing some form of education on the ethics of using the internet. This ethical education piece would likely solve many of the problems that are causing cyberbullying. For one, if kids are educated that cyberbullying is a problem, and that there are certain ethical rules everyone should abide by over the internet, this would stop a lot of the hostility that occurs over the internet. If kids are educated about IP addresses this would stop a lot of the cyberbullying that occurs because of perceived anonymity. If kids are educated at all about cyberbullying this would eliminate the ignorance that exists around the topic. Cyber-ethics is a large part of this education piece.

That same article offers another solution of creating cyberbullying contracts in school. This forces accountability on the parts of the students when they are outside of school. Another reason that people cyberbully is because there is no perceived punishment. They can post whatever they want on the internet and there is no one who can discipline them for their actions. If schools created cyberbullying contracts, the students would be less likely to cyberbully because they would have to think about the consequences of their actions.

For example, at the University of Minnesota-Duluth there was an incident of racism over Facebook. The university intervened and handed out punishment to the student who was cyberbullying over Facebook. Although unintended, part of the punishment was that the newspaper reported on the story, as such this held the student accountable for his/her actions. This also sets a precedent for other students because they now know that if they cyberbully they will be punished and there is a chance that their cyberbullying will become public knowledge to the entire school or university.

To conclude, schools play a large role in eliminating cyberbullying. Schools must recognize that cyberbullying is part of a larger problem, and they must attempt to eradicate the larger problem first. This larger problem is the lack of awareness and education on the topic of cyberbullying and the lack of resources, on the part of the school, to combat cyberbullying. Unless we fix this larger problem all the potential solutions are only band-aids to the real problem. However, there are a few solutions that could prove helpful. One of these is to hold students more accountable for their actions by creating a school contract, and another solution is to educate students about cyber-ethics.

Tin and Ken will discuss the issues of raising awareness and the root of the cyberbullying problem, but I hope that I brought some light on the role schools can play to eliminate cyberbullying.

-Roni Kholomyansky

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