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Cyberbullying or what’s in a name


Date posted: February 3, 2011

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.’”

BullyingThe fundamental point here is that we’re talking about behavior – bullying – that takes place in a variety of locations. Kids don’t separate cyberbullying from just plain bullying. So should we?

To an extent, by calling it something different, we can bring attention to bullying in digital spaces. That may be helpful for adults who are less clued in to kids’ day-to-day experiences with technology, for adults who don’t do a lot of texting or facebooking. And there are some elements of bullying in cyberspace that are different from on a playground, or in a hallway. But there are differences between bullying in school, at work, on a sports team, by telephone or through the good old US Mail, too.

On the other hand, by calling out cyberbullying, there is a temptation to treat it differently, to apply different disciplinary, legal, or counseling strategies. That’s where we can run into trouble for, if there’s one thing we’re learning about bullying, it’s that you can’t solve the problem by treating one symptom and ignoring everything else. Some of the most effective anti-bullying programs address everything from improving school climate to individual counseling.

Larry Magid’s call points to a larger issue, too. When we talk about cyberbullying, internet safety, digital ethics, we’re really talking about behaviors and not devices or wires. These are behaviors kids and adults have acted out for centuries. Now, these acts are showing up in a new neighborhood, sometimes with different consequences but the fundamental issue is the behavior, not the technology.