Being Cyberbullied? You are not alone!

Aug '13 NC web banner-3

By Marianne Reid Anderson

Cyberbullying is when someone sends or posts hurtful, degrading or malicious messages or other digital media via email, texts, or through social media sites, such as FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, and so forth. According to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, 25% of teenagers throughout the United States have experienced cyberbullying at some point and 10% have been victims in the past 30 days.

It can happen to anyone: children, pre-teens, teens and even adults. As adults, we have strong legal-terms for this kind of treatment such as harassment, libel, defamation of character, and threats to do bodily harm. Adults know to get support immediately, for example, at work, we will involve managers or our human resource department. If it is in the neighborhood, we involve the authorities, retain a lawyer and even get restraining orders.

BullyingSociety is finally recognizing that the same severity of these crimes exists for our young people at their schools, jobs and extracurricular activities and can be the cause of intense anxiety, depression or even suicidal tendencies. Pennsylvania has passed new anti-bullying legislature that requires schools and districts to create policies for the prevention of all forms of bullying and to bring the need for the enforcement of these policies to light.

Depending on the level of threat or harassment, a cyberbully can face suspension, expulsion, or be placed at the mercy of criminal justice system. If posts include racial slurs about heritage, religion, color or even hurtful speculation about possible sexual orientation, authorities can elevate the charges to those of a hate crime where penalties can be even more severe. Schools, districts and families of abusers can face large monetary fines from civil cases, as well.

If you or your child is being cyberbullied, through email, texts, messages, or posts, do not delete or hide them on your own and do not retaliate online. Instead, report it to any school administrator such as a principle, dean, guidance counselor, teacher, parent or any other caring adult. They will help you intervene with local authorities and magistrates. If the threat or harassment is coming from an “anonymous” identity, you still need to inform the authorities because online services and social media venues will often cancel the anonymous account, take down hurtful posts and pages and help authorities track down the true identity of a cyberbully including, dates, times, and the origins of posts or texts possibly even including geo-locations of the device used to post.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by such awful treatment or worry that it might last forever but feel unsure about talking to someone in authority, check out sites such as www.pacer.org/bullying for the National Bullying Prevention Center, TeensAgainstBullying.org, and KidsAgainstBullying.org to learn more about your rights, what to do, and know that you are not alone.  

Another great site is www.WeStopHate.org, founded by Emily-Anne Rigal who experienced bullying in school and so created the site to help other kids and teens build self-esteem. Rigal and WeStopHate.org have won many awards and honors including the Presidential Volunteer Service Award and the TeenNick HALO Award.

In addition to knowing your rights and that you are not alone, BE SURE AND PROTECT YOUR PASSWORD. Do NOT share your password with anyone, not even your BFF (Best Friend Forever). Cyberbullies have been known to bully by “masquerading” this is when someone uses your online identity by logging into your email or social media accounts with your login information in order to send hurtful messages or posts, and thereby making YOU responsible for the post rather than themselves. Your BFF should want to help you protect your password and private information, not get you to tell him or her your password and not post your private information or create public fan pages that share your personal information.

If you find that someone has been “masquerading” as you with your accounts, change your password immediately, increase your privacy settings, apologize to any victims and explain what happened. Notify authorities that your online identity was stolen and that you are taking steps to remedy the situation. Be sure and friend a parent or guardian so they can help and be a witness to any negative activity.

Cyberbullying is a very important topic facing our society. In this issue of Northern Connection magazine, there is an editorial under “Starting the Conversation”, where I share my own experiences and advice and hope that you will join me in “Continuing the Conversation” through my blog at http://NorthernConnectionMagazine.blogspot.com