Larry Magid writes that it’s time take the cyber out of cyberbullying. As he says:
“We don’t call it ‘pencil bullying’ when someone uses a wooden stick with lead inside to write someone a threatening note. When a person shakes her fist in front of someone’s face, we don’t call it ‘fist bullying.’ And when kids don’t let other kids sit at their lunch table, we don’t call it ‘table bullying.’
Yet when someone uses a cell phone or the Web to harass, demean, defame, or annoy another person, we give it the special name ‘cyberbullying.’”
The fundamental point here is that we’re talking about behavior – bullying – that takes place in a variety of locations.
In an interesting piece in The Washington Post last week, psychology professor Susan Swearer debunks five myths about bullying. While all are important to understand, one, in particular, deserves more attention.
Myth #1 concerns the prevalence of bullying, particularly cyberbullying. Professor Swearer notes that surveys of the percentage of kids who have been bullied or cyberbullied show a wide variety of results. One may say as few as 10 percent of students have been bullied. Another study shows 47 percent.
A blog posting by Bill Boushka about a December 5th New York Times article on cyberbullying concludes with this statement:
“The tone of the long article suggests that adults, for their own communications purposes, have let kids in on a technical infrastructure that they may be incapable of using without unacceptable risk to everyone.”
It’s an interesting take but one that is, I think, overly pessimistic. The two-way nature of the internet can give anyone a powerful platform without any of the constraints of traditional media. A publishing house or a TV or movie studio have legions of fact checkers, editors, lawyers, and so on who vet content for accuracy, quality, audience reaction, and potential harm. In new media, there is nothing between a kid with a smart phone and a worldwide audience.
Interesting story on cyberbullying in Sunday’s New York Times points to some of the issues faced by parents in dealing with this issue, both as parents of the victims and parents of the perpetrators. I’m left wondering who is educating the parents about these kinds of issues.
By default, schools have been left with the responsibility of providing some minimal level of awareness about internet safety issues. They are the one place where all kids can be reached, where all kids can have internet access, and where there is at least some level of expertise about the internet.