Cyberbullying in schools has become a serious challenge for both educators and parents alike. With students spending more time online, the number of cyberbullying incidents reported has shot up.
In a study conducted by NSPCC (National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children) in 2016, there was an 88 percent increase in cyberbullying incidents among school-going children.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 21 out of 100 teens have been bullied at least once in their lifetime. Out of this 21 percent, 11.5 percent have been victims of cyberbullying in schools, as shown in the graph below,
“Where geographical distance once made homes and other private places safe havens, it’s harder to get away from bullies in a constantly connected world. Many kids who face in-person bullying also have to deal with online bullying even when they’re not in the physical presence of their bully.”
According to research reports, teens in the United States spend about 9 hours a day on social media, while kids in the 8 to 12 age group spend about 6 hours a day online. As children of all ages spend more time on social media, the chances of students becoming a victim of cyberbullying have gone up.
School administrators are grappling with this new threat in an increasingly challenging environment that’s demanding additional resources – manpower, technology, processes – to keep students safe, while budgets are being cut.
So, how to stop cyberbullying in schools?
We put together this comprehensive guide on cyberbullying to help make sense of this issue and document strategies to identify and prevent cyberbullying in schools.
Bullying as a practice has always been around and cyberbullying is not very different from bullying except the latter takes place over a digital medium.
The surge in the use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the introduction of virtual classrooms in schools such as Google classrooms and Moodle has made it necessary for students to be active online. These channels of communication also provide opportunities for students to harass, threaten or embarrass their peers online.
Cyberbullying includes creating, sending and sharing negative, harmful or false content about someone else online. Texts, audios, videos, and images are used as a means to harass others in private or public.
Private cyberbullying happens through text messages and chats on social media or online games; whereas, the open comment sections in popular social media networks like YouTube or Facebook provides an opportunity for bullying others publicly.
Why is cyberbullying so dangerous?
You may wonder what makes cyberbullying more dangerous than bullying.
Here are 4 reasons why cyberbullying in schools can have more adverse effects on the victim:
1. Any information on the internet can rapidly spread over social media and reach millions. This makes it harder for the victim to carry on with their day-to-day life.
“Jessica Logan – a high school senior – committed suicide as the nude picture she sent to her boyfriend was forwarded by him to everyone in her school after they broke up. Jessica was cruelly harassed for months by the other girls at her school, who called her a slut and a whore. When Jessica’s grades dropped, she started skipping school, and when she did go to school, she would hide in the bathroom to avoid being teased. On July 3, 2008, her mother found her hanging in the closet with her cell phone on the floor nearby.”
2. Unlike bullying, a cyberbullying victim finds it difficult to go to a safer place online. Even if victims change their social media accounts, attackers can easily track them down and harass them again.
“Amanda Todd was a cyberbullying victim who killed herself on October 10, 2012. She was relentlessly harassed by a man whom she met on an online chat room. He threatened to release her private and sensitive information online if she did not comply with his demands. Upon her denial, he released it online and they went viral among her schoolmates, friends, and family. Following this, she faced severe bullying both online and in real life by her schoolmates and friends. Even though she changed three schools in different cities, he continued to harass her by creating more fake profiles online, making it impossible for her to escape from being cyberbullied.”
3. It is very difficult to remove pictures, videos, and comments used to bully someone online. Online bullying victims have to deal with repeated taunts long after the incident.
“Hope Witsell was a 13-year-old student who was harassed and bullied by her schoolmates after a private photo that she sent to her boyfriend was forwarded to everyone in the school by another girl. The message kept circulating among the whole school, giving way to endless harassment both online and in real life. The incident reached the school authorities after a few months, and they immediately dismissed her for one week, even without inquiring about the incident. The harassments continued and on September 12, 2009, she killed herself.”
4. Perpetrators can easily mask their identity behind a gadget. This makes it very difficult for school administrators and parents to find the attacker or stop the harassments.
“David Molak – a sophomore at Alamo Heights High School in Texas – hung himself in his family’s backyard after being constantly cyberbullied by six to ten students from his school. These students used fake profiles and accounts to send him a series of abusive messages that insulted and humiliated him only because he was dating a popular girl in school. The identities of the perpetrators remain unknown.”
Cyberbullying in schools has made it necessary for school administrators to take decisive steps against it.
Why should schools care about cyberbullying?
In 2016, a survey conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Centre found that nearly 2.57 million students in the age group 12–17 in the US skipped classes at some point in time due to cyberbullying in schools.
The survey found that children who were bullied online were also bullied physically at school.
A 2015 research conducted by Dr. Sameer Hinduja and Justin Patch in a US school found that 34.4 percent of the students were cyberbullied at least once in their lifetime, while 21 percent of students reported that they were cyberbullied more than once in the past 30 days.
When asked about specific types of cyberbullying in schools within the last 30 days, ‘rumors spread online (19.4%)’ and ‘mean or hurtful comments (12.8%)’ continue to be among the most commonly cited ones.
When schools and parents refuse to act on cyberbullying or remain unaware of this issue, the results are not pretty.
Here are a few shocking incidents of cyberbullying in schools and their aftermath:
In January 2018, two middle school students were arrested for cyberbullying in relation to the suicide of a 12-year-old Gabriella Green from Florida. The two students confessed to harassing Gabriella over texts and in person. They spread rumors about her and threatened to expose personal and sensitive details about her online.
Brandy Vela – an 18-year-old cyberbullying victim from Texas – shot herself in front of her family. She constantly received abusive text messages from untraceable numbers. The attackers created fake profiles on Facebook and online dating sites with her name and phone number as a free sex worker. Brandy’s school could not do anything even after she lodged a complaint, as they did not have any means to track the attacker.
Mallory Grossman – a 12-year-old student from New Jersey – killed herself after allegedly being bullied by her classmates. The sixth grader was relentlessly harassed by her classmates for months through text messages, Snapchat, and Instagram. It got to a point where she did not want to go to school and her grades plummeted. The school authorities and parents of the accused dismissed these allegations as a joke and refused to help Mallory.
It’s clear from these incidents that school administrators and parents cannot remain on the sidelines and have to take decisive steps to stop cyberbullying in schools. School administrators should implement effective cyberbullying solutions to reduce and prevent such incidents.
Are schools fighting a losing battle against cyberbullying?
Unlike bullying, cyberbullying in schools is a difficult problem to manage. There are limitations to what schools can monitor, technical challenges in flagging incidents of cyberbullying, as well as understanding the nuances of detecting cyberbullying in schools.
What happens outside the school network?
Cyberbullying can happen within the school network or outside. School administrators are constrained by what they can do to control cyberbullying outside the school network. Parents have a role to play, however, there are privacy issues, and parents may not have access to their children’s online accounts.
Why is there a need for technology solutions?
Without specialized tools and technologies, it’s impossible for school administrators to monitor content on their school network. Students even use shared cloud folders, emails, and chats to get away with cyberbullying. Considering the large volume of data that schools administer within their networks, schools cannot effectively control cyberbullying without sophisticated tools.
What is the difficulty in understanding gray areas?
It is quite difficult to find whether a derogatory comment on a student’s post is really cyberbullying or an insider joke. Cyberbullying is a series of repeated harassments over the internet. Many see only fragments of these harassments. For example, if one saw a rude comment on someone’s post, it’s easy for an online bystander to dismiss it as a one-time incident. They might not see the sequence of harassments that span other social networks. There are also chances for mistaking an insider joke between two people as cyberbullying.
The increase in incidents of cyberbullying in schools has forced the Government to take the necessary steps to tackle this problem.
Legislative initiatives to stop cyberbullying in schools
There are laws that cover cyberbullying both inside and outside the school campus.
The graph given below shows the number of states that have implemented various laws against cyberbullying.
About Forty-nine states in the US – except for Montana – have implemented a ‘School Policy’ that mandates all schools under their jurisdiction to have formal policies to help identify cyberbullying in their schools and take necessary actions against it.
Forty-eight states have included cyberbullying or online harassment laws, whereas forty-four states have implemented criminal sanction for cyberbullying or electronic harassments.
Forty-five states have given schools legal sanction for taking necessary actions to discipline their students in the event of cyberbullying, and sixteen states have laws that allow schools to monitor off-campus cyberbullying activities of their students.
To know more about these laws, click here.
To know about the sexting laws – which are also covered under cyberbullying – click here.
There are different types of cyberbullying:
Flaming is the posting of sensitive or embarrassing content on someone’s social media page or writing rude comments for their posts. This type of cyberbullying comes out of anger and usually contains obscene language.
Flaming can easily escalate into physical fights.
Spreading bad rumors and gossip about a person through online media is called denigration. Such an action can come out of an inferiority complex or a feeling of authority.
A denigration is usually an act of revenge for reasons such as being bullied or for not being let into a group.
Sometimes the perpetrator hacks into the targeted victim’s account or creates a fake account with the victim’s information and sends messages in their name. This is also called identity theft and is a crime. Impersonation is usually done to degrade a person or ruin friendships.
The perpetrators blackmail or trick the victim through texts or emails into doing things against their will or force them to reveal secrets about their close friends. In order to prevent the bullies from leaking their personal information online, the victim is forced to comply with their demands.
An outing is when someone who pretends to be a friend reveals private and personal information online about victims to embarrass them in front of their peers.
This type of cyberbullying is slightly different from denigration. In denigration, they spread false rumors, whereas in outings they reveal an embarrassing truth about the victim online.
Cyberstalking is the constant monitoring of someone through their social media accounts and keeping a tab on their daily activities with a motive to either harm the person, create fear in the victim, seek sexual advancements, or for revenge.
Self-cyberbullying is the practice of sending abusive and hurtful messages about themselves from fake accounts. Teens indulge in self-cyberbullying either to get attention or sympathy from others.
This is also a form of self-harm. Some teens who are regularly bullied, self-cyberbully as a means to mentally prepare themselves for real bullying incidents.
Trolling is the act of making hurtful and sarcastic comments about someone or something they did. When an attacker constantly trolls a particular person with the intention of emotionally hurting them, it becomes cyberbullying.
9. Cyberbullying through online gaming
Most online games allow gamers to chat with other players. Some people misuse the chat feature to harass others online.
A research study conducted by Jami Cotler and Meg Fryling found that out of 936 adolescents who were asked about the major causes of cyberbullying in online gaming environments, more than 80 percent said that ‘anonymity’ was the reason. ‘Ignorance’ was found to be the second biggest reason with around 76 percent and ‘no fear of punishment’ came third with around 74 percent as shown below.
The study also found that students who are perpetrators or victims of cyberbullying were twice as likely to have been exposed to violent video games. Around 6% of the survey participants also stated that the game design was a major cause of cyberbullying.
Effects of Cyberbullying on Students
Cyberbullying has adverse effects on the mental health of the victims, especially youngsters. It might negatively affect their personal development and confidence.
These are some of the negative effects of cyberbullying:
1. Extreme Stress: Some students feel overwhelmed while dealing with cyberbullying incidents, making them feel stressed out and helpless.
2. Increased Fear and Paranoia: Students who are victims of cyberbullying find it difficult to feel safe anywhere, be it at school or at home. The internet finds them wherever they hide, and this creates a constant fear in them to the extent that they become paranoid.
3. Humiliation: Victims of cyberbullying face constant humiliation as the source of harassment is available for their peers to view and share.
4. Anger: Sometimes, cyberbullying victims take out their humiliation and anger toward other students online.
5. Isolation and Loneliness: In the absence of a support system and redressal mechanism, cyberbullying can trigger feelings of isolation and loneliness among its victims.
6. Physical Illness: Extreme stress and fear can also result in physical illness such as headaches, stomach aches, or fever.
7. Psychological Issues: Students who are victims of cyberbullying may develop psychological issues that could have long-term effects on their lives.
The survey of the National Center for Education Statistics shows the various negative effects of cyberbullying on teens. The negative effects may affect aspects like self-identity, school work, relationship with family and friends, and physical health.
As shown in the above graph, cyberbullying impacts a student’s self-identity the most. As a result, students may have low self-esteem and low self-confidence. Cyberbullying in schools also has a strong impact on the academic performance of the victims. Their grades begin to plummet as they have difficulty concentrating on their studies and other activities amid the constant bullying. They start avoiding their family and friends and slip into depression, leading to physical ailments as well.
How is cyberbullying in schools affecting LGBT students?
LGBT student community seems to bear the brunt of cyberbullying. A survey of 444 junior high school, high school, and college students between the ages of 11 and 22 conducted by the Iowa State University found that 54% of LGBT students have been victims of cyberbullying in schools!
The survey reported a range of negative emotions as a consequence of cyberbullying among LGBT students. These include feeling depressed, embarrassed, and/or anxious about attending school and having suicidal thoughts.
At the effects of cyberbullying are quite devastating for its young victims, it is necessary for the school authorities and parents to identify the victims of cyberbullying and offer necessary support.
Kenneth Weishuhn – a high school freshman from Paullina, Iowa – committed suicide after being bullied by his classmates both online and in real life. He was abused and bullied by his friends and classmates after he came out as gay. His classmates made an anti-gay Facebook group and sent him hate messages.
How to Identify Victims and Perpetrators of Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying can cause physical harm as well as psychological trauma among students. It is practically impossible for school administrators to identify behavioral changes that can be directly attributed to cyberbullying.
The following behavioral changes will help school administrators and parents to identify possible victims and perpetrators of cyberbullying in schools.
Here are 20 indicators that could help identify possible cyberbullying victims
Nervous after receiving a text or email
Sudden deactivation of social media accounts
Secretive about online activities
Abrupt shutting down of computer in the middle of use
Avoiding friends and classmates or often seen alone
Frequent skipping of school
The continuous drop in grades; lack of interest in school work
Frequent falling sick or faking illness
Sudden changes in eating habits or often found eating alone
Unexplained weight gain or loss
Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry
Trouble sleeping at night
Withdrawal from interactive activities at school
Avoiding social events in real life
Talks about suicide and self-harming practices
Possession of guns or other self-harming weapons
Suicidal thoughts or suicidal attempts
Here are 15 indicators that could help identify possible cyberbullying perpetrators
Using multiple online accounts
Gets unusually upset if they can’t use their device(s)
Laughing excessively while using devices and refusal to share what was funny
Quickly switches screens or hides their device(s)
Avoids discussions about what they are doing online
Sudden behavioral and attitude changes
Increasingly withdrawn or isolated
Making new friends with the ‘wrong crowd’
Demonstrates violent tendencies
Regular detainment for misconduct
Exercise power and authority over other students
Demonstrates increasingly insensitivity or callousness towards others
Having unexplainable extra money or new belongings
Overly concerned about reputation and popularity among peers
Solutions to stop & prevent cyberbullying in schools
1. Start a mentoring program at school and invite community and business leaders to participate in the program.
2. Develop a school-wide anti-bullying curriculum.
3. Make administrators set strict anti-bullying and anti-cyberbullying rules and ensure that students are aware of the consequences if they fail to comply. 4. Conduct sessions to inform parents about how students misuse technology.
5. Train the school staff on anti-bullying policies and appropriate versus inappropriate technological use.
6. Invite eminent guest speakers to speak with students about cyberbullying and its harmful effects.
7. Make students and parents sign computer contracts at the beginning of each school year, highlighting appropriate and inappropriate uses of school computers and inform them about the consequences of violating the rules.
8. Install firewalls and check systems on school computers to prevent students from visiting inappropriate sites.
9. Subscribe to third-party security applications that will monitor students’ online activity using machine learning technologies. It will flag the school administrators upon finding any objectionable content.
1. Never share your username and password with anyone except your parents.
2. Don’t let people use your phone without your permission. Never let anyone take pictures using your phone without your supervision.
3. Always save unwanted and derogatory messages. Never delete a threatening message; keep it as evidence.
4. Never respond over social media or by text when angry.
5. Always block unwanted calls.
6. Never respond to someone that you don’t know.
7. Don’t just accept anyone as a friend on social networking sites.
8. Use good technological judgment. If it is something you would not say to others in person, then do not say it online either.
9. Remember, there is no anonymity online. Everything is traceable even if deleted.
10. If you are the victim of cyberbullying, always inform an adult.
11. Help your fellow peers speak out against cyberbullying attacks.
According to a research study conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Center in 2016, even simple strategies may be effective in stopping cyberbullying to a large extent. Around 30 percent of students who participated in the survey said that blocking the perpetrator had some immediate effect in stopping cyberbullying. Around 19 percent said that ignoring the bully helped, while other 16 percent said that telling their parents was effective.
1. Set up monitoring systems on your computer. Know what your kids are doing with technology.
2. Have strict house rules on the appropriate usage of internet and cell phone; inform children of the consequences if they violate it.
3. Request the username and password of all emails, accounts, and social networking sites that children are using. Advice your children to never share their password and username with anyone outside the family – even with friends.
4. Set up Google alerts to do periodic internet searches on your children’s friends. You may be surprised by what you find.
5. If your child receives threatening messages, texts, or phone calls, always keep a copy of it for proof. If the harassment continues, report it to the school administrators and local authorities.
6. Have open communication with your kids. Know what’s going on in their life.
7. Respond thoughtfully when your children complain of cyberbullying attacks. Resist the urge to blast out your concerns on your own social media channels.
8. Be vigilant and assertive in letting the cyberbullies know that it is a serious matter.
9. Talk to your children about being upstanders. Discuss the importance of reporting bullying or inappropriate content, even if it doesn’t directly impact your child. Teach them to leave positive comments when others are leaving negative ones, and reach out to those students who are victimized online.
Use technology to flag cyberbullying incidents
As cyberbullying takes place over digital media, it is important to use technology to flag such incidents. Human monitoring alone cannot stop cyberbullying. School administrators should consider using sophisticated monitoring solutions in their school networks.
Using G Suite (Google apps for education – GAFE)
A majority of the schools in the US use G Suite. Schools can use G Suite features to detect cyberbullying in their networks. To enable this feature, a policy has to be created in the admin account, wherein school administrators can insert keywords to be detected and flagged.
Follow these steps to enable this feature:
Log in to the G Suite Admin account.
Click on the “Apps” option in the dashboard.
Click on the “G Suite” icon.
Next, click on the “Gmail” option to set up the policy for emails and chats (Hangouts).
Click on the “Advanced settings” option
Select “Objectionable content” under compliances and click on “Add policy” option.
Enter the desired policy name.
Select the desired email categories to be covered under the policy.
Add the keywords to be flagged.
Add a subject line for the alert emails and click on “ADD SETTING” to create the policy and click on “Save.”
Drawbacks of using this feature:
Policies can be applied to the entire domain or subdomain and cannot be applied to individual accounts within the domain.
False positives will be high, as it doesn’t take the intent and context into account.
Using third-party tools: SysCloud
SysCloud is a security tool that uses machine learning to monitor a domain to flag any content that could point to a possible cyberbullying incident.
How to set up a cyberbullying policy using SysCloud?
Install SysCloud from G Suite Marketplace and create an account.
Click on “Compliance”→“Create Policy.”
Next, click on the “CYBERBULLYING” option and choose “Create New Policy.”
Enter the desired policy name and click on “Next” to proceed further.
Select users or domains for which you want to apply the compliance.
Select the desired domain: G Suite, Office 365, or both.
Select the users for whom you want the policy to be implemented and click on “Next” to proceed further.
Include or exclude users by specifically mentioning their email id – if needed – and click on “Next.”
Customize the settings for documents and files, as shown below.
Click on “Next” to add customized keywords and set the risk threshold for your policy.
Set up the file-sharing conditions for drive documents and files to be checked for cyberbullying content.
Click on “Next” to set the email conditions that allow you to monitor the emails sent to external domains.
Set the “Real-time actions to take” when cyberbullying content gets flagged.
Set up the “Exception management” condition to allow or prevent users from requesting an exception for flagged content.
Click on “Next” to set notification alerts in the event of a violation.
Hit the “Finish” button to activate the policy.
Here is an example of how a cyberbullying violation alert appears in the SysCloud threat center.
SysCloud also sends an email after a violation is detected. Here is an example.