Mental Health

How to Prevent Cyberbullying in Schools – Strategies,Tips & Best Practices

By July 26, 2018 No Comments
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.
 

 

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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,
cyberbullying- graph1
Cheryl Varnadoe, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension 4-H Youth Development specialist, sums up the challenges of dealing with cyberbullying in schools.
 
“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, document strategies to identify and prevent cyberbullying in schools.

What is Cyberbullying?

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 the social media and reach millions. This makes it harder for the victim to carry on with their day-to-day life.

quote-leftJessica 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.right-quotation-mark

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.

quote-leftAmanda Todd was a cyberbullying victim who killed herself on 10 October 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 or 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.right-quotation-mark

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.

quote-leftHope 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 12 September 2009, she killed herself.right-quotation-mark

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.

quote-leftDavid 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.right-quotation-mark

Cyberbullying in schools has made it NECESSARY for school administrators to take decisive steps against it.

Why Should Schools Care About Cyberbullying?

why should schools care. 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 Patchin in a US school, found that 34.4 percent of the students were cyberbullied at least once in their lifetime. 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.
cyberbullying- graph2
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 its aftermath:

quote-leftOn 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.right-quotation-mark
quote-leftBrandy 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.right-quotation-mark
quote-leftMallory 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 Malloryright-quotation-mark

 
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 play, however, there are privacy issues and parents may not have access to their children’s online accounts.
 
Need for technology solutions
Without specialized tools and technologies, it’s impossible for school administrators to monitor content on their school network. Student’s even use shared cloud folders, email, and chat 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.
 
Difficulty in understanding grey areas
It is quite difficult to find whether the derogatory comment on a student’s post is really cyberbullying or an insider joke. Cyberbullying is the repeated harassment over the internet. Many only see 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 harassment 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 shown below shows the number of states that have implemented various laws against cyberbullying.
cyberbullying- graph3
49 states in the US, except for Montana, has 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.
 
48 states have included cyberbullying or online harassment laws; whereas 44 states have implemented criminal sanction for cyberbullying or electronic harassments.
 
45 states have given schools legal sanction for taking necessary actions to discipline their students in the event of cyberbullying and 16 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 is also a part of cyberbullying click here.

Types of Cyberbullying

There are different types of cyberbullying such as:
 
1. Flaming
 
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.
 
2. Denigration
 
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.
 
Denigration is usually an act of revenge for reasons such as being bullied or for not being let into a group.
 
3. Impersonation
 
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 as identity theft and is a crime. Impersonation happens to degrade a person or ruin friendships.
 
4. Trickery or Blackmail
 
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.
 
5. Outing
 
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 outing they reveal an embarrassing truth about the victim online.
 
6. Cyberstalking
 
Cyberstalking is the constant monitoring of someone through their social media accounts and keeping a tab on their daily activities with a motive to harm the person, create fear in the victim, seek sexual advancements, and for revenge.
 
7. Self Cyberbullying
 
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.
 
8. Trolling
 
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 what could be 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.
cyberbullying- graph4
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.

Major Causes of Cyberbullying

1) Anonymity -Anonymity gives students a sense of false security. It also gives them the courage to say things that they would not in real life, without fearing the consequences.
2) Difficulty in tracing the attacker -It is difficult to identify and hard trace as it happens online.
3) Peer Pressure –Students might cyberbully their peers to be accepted by their friends.
4) Social Acceptance – Some students think that cyberbullying is socially acceptable and consider it “cool”.
5) Need for Power -Students use cyberbullying in schools as a symbol of power and authority.
6) Lack of Awareness -Some students do not understand the implications of cyberbullying and treat it as a joke.
7) Anger or Frustration -Some students use cyberbullying to vent their frustration and anger on others.
8) Low Self Esteem -Students with mental illness or from a troubled family background cyberbully others to gain self-esteem.

Effects of Cyberbullying on Students

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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 cyberbullying can have on its victims:
 
1. Extreme Stress: Some students feel overwhelmed while dealing with cyberbullying making them 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 fear in them to the extent that they become paranoid.
 
3. Humiliation: Victims of cyberbullying face constant humiliation as the harassment is available for their peers to view and share.
 
4. Anger: Sometimes cyberbullying victims take out their humiliation and anger on to 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.
cyberbullying- graph5
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 confidence in themselves. Cyberbullying in schools also has a strong impact on the academic performance of the victims. Their grades begin to plummet as they find it hard to concentrate on their studies and other activities amidst the constant bullying. They start avoiding their family and friends, slip into depression leading to physical ailments as well.
 
Reference: What are the effects of cyberbullying, Cyberbullying

How is Cyberbullying in Schools Affecting LGBT Students?

LGBT student community seems to bear the brunt of cyberbullying. A survey of 444 junior high, 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!
cyberbullying- graph6
The survey reported a range of negative emotions as a consequence of cyberbullying among LGBT students. These include feeling depressed, feeling embarrassed, feeling anxious about attending school, and having suicidal thoughts.
 
As 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 send 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

1

Nervous after receiving a text or email

2

Sudden deactivation of social media accounts

3

Secretive about online activities

4Abrupt shutting down of computer mid use

5

Avoiding friends and classmates or often seen alone

6

Frequent skipping of school

7Continuous grade drops, lack of interest in school work

8Frequently falling sick or is faking illness

9Increased stress

10Depression

11Sudden changes in eating habits or often found eating alone

12Unexplained weight loss or gain

13Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry

14Trouble sleeping at night

15Withdrawal from interactive activities at school

16Avoiding social events in real life

17Unexplainable injuries

18Talks about suicide and self-harming practices

19Possession of guns or other self-harming weapons

20Suicidal thoughts or suicidal attempts

 

Here are 15 indicators that could help identify possible cyberbullying perpetrators

1

Using multiple online accounts

2
Excess use of their device(s)

3
Gets unusually upset if they can’t use their device(s)

4
Laughing excessively while using devices and refuse to share what was funny

5

Quickly switches screens or hides their device

6
Avoids discussions about what they are doing online

7
Sudden behavioral and attitude changes

8

Increasingly withdrawn or isolated

9
Making new friends with the ‘wrong crowd’

10
Demonstrates violent tendencies

11
Regular detainment for misconduct

12
Exercise power and authority over other students

13

Demonstrates increasing insensitivity or callousness towards others

14
Having unexplainable extra money or new belongings

15

Overly concerned about reputation and popularity among peers

Solutions to Stop & Prevent Cyberbullying in Schools

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What Can Schools Do?
1. Start a mentor program at school and invite community and business leaders to participate in the program.
2. Develop a school-wide anti-bullying curriculum.
3. Administrators should set strict anti-bullying and anti-cyberbullying rules and should make students 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 of the consequences of violating it.
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.

 

Tips For Students
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 ignoring helped and telling their parents was effective for around 16 percent of the students.

cyberbullying- graph7

 

What Can Parents Do?
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 and 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 an 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 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.

 
Reference: Taking on cyberbullying, How to help teens cope with cyberbullying

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 and 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 where 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. You will be then redirected to the following page.

G Suite - 1

  • Click on the “G Suite” option.
  • Click on the “Gmail” option to set up the policy for emails and chats (Hangouts) as shown below.

G Suite - Gif1

  • Click on advanced settings option.
  • Select “objectionable content” under compliances and click on “ add policy”.
  •  Enter the desired policy name.

G Suite - Gif2

  • Select the desired email categories to be covered under the policy.

G Suite - Gif3

  • Add the keywords to be flagged.

G Suite - Gif4

  • Add a subject line for the alert emails and click on “add settings” to create the policy and click on ‘Save’.

G Suite - Gif5
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 incidents.
How to set up a cyberbullying policy using SysCloud?

  • Install SysCloud from G Suite Marketplace and create an account.
  • Log in to SysCloud.
  • Click on “Compliance” -> “Create Policy”.

 
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  • Next, click on the “cyberbullying” option and choose “Create New Policy”.

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  • Enter the desired policy name and click on “Next” to proceed further.

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  • Next, select users or domains for which you want to apply the compliance.
  • Click on “Next” option.

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  • Select the desired domain (G Suite or Office 365 or both).

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  • Select the users you want the policy to be applied to and click “Next” to proceed further.

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  • Include or exclude users by specifically mentioning their email id (if needed) and click “Next”.

syscloud-8

  • Customize the settings for documents and files. as shown below.

syscloud-9

  • Next, click “Next” to add customized keywords and set the risk threshold for your policy.

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  • Set up the file sharing conditions for drive documents and files to be checked for cyberbullying content.

syscloud-11

  • Then click “Next” to set the email conditions that allows you to monitor emails sent to external domains.

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  • Next, set the “Real-time actions to take” when a cyberbullying content is flagged.

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  • Setup the “Exception management” to allow or prevent users from requesting an exception for flagged content.

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  • Click “Next” to set notification alerts in the event of a violation.
  • Hit the “Finish” button to activate the policy.

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  • A pop up with policy details and confirmation will appear (as shown below).

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Here is an example of how a cyberbullying violation alert appears in the SysCloud threat center.
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Syscloud also sends an email after a violation is detected. Here is an example.
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