Cyberbullying: An Emerging Threat to the “Always On” Generation
By Bill Belsey, President and Founder
April 20th, 1999 was a day
that changed my life. It began like many other days, but somewhere along the
way, an emotional tsunami flooded my consciousness as news emerged of a school
shooting at Columbine High School in Middleton, Colorado. Eight days later, a
copycat shooting took place at a high school in rural Alberta. This was clearly
not a “Big-city” problem or an “American” problem; it was everyone’s problem,
as a Canadian parent and educator, it was also MY problem.
It became apparent soon afterwards
that the young people who committed these heinous acts were relentlessly
bullied and teased throughout their young lives.
In response to these deeply disturbing
tragedies, I created a Web site, www.bullying.org. I decided that the Web site would have three
goals; first, to help people, especially
young people, learn that they are NOT alone in dealing with bullying in their
lives, to help them realize that being bullied is NOT their fault and that they
CAN do something positive about it.
www.bullying.org allows people to connect in a safe, moderated
online community where they can share their stories, poetry, drawings, music,
animations and videos. A team of volunteer reviewers moderates replies and the
original submissions. Visitors to the Web site can also use the worlds’ largest
online database of helpful resources on www.bullying.org to find
information about bullying.
began to quickly create quite a buzz online through “word-of-mouth” referrals,
as it was successfully filling a tremendous need for information and support.
Then, on May 21, 2001, I was fortunate enough to do an interview with CBC
National Television News anchor Peter Mansbridge during which Mr. Mansbridge
was generous enough to refer to www.bullying.org
as “One of the best Web sites in the world for young people”, that night, www.bullying.org was
propelled to another level.
national non-profit educational organization, Bullying.org Canada was created
shortly thereafter to help support and expand our national vision.
www.bullying.org has since received as many as three quarters of a million visitors and
contributors from across Canada and around the world in one month and is listed
as one of the top “bullying” referenced Web sites in the world by
www.google.com and many other Internet search engines. www.bullying.org
has since been chosen for the ChildNet International Award which goes to
projects that make the Internet a better place for youth, as well as being a
finalist in the Stockholm Challenge Award which has been called the Nobel Prize
of the IT (Information Technology) world.
Shortly after www.bullying.org‘s launch, I
realized that something new was being experienced and reported by young people
around the world. In response, I created www.cyberbullying.ca, the
world’s first Web site specifically dedicated to the emerging issue of
cyberbullying. www.cyberbullying.ca has
often been cited as the first to use this word and define this emerging behaviour.
FIRST SOME CONTEXT
Young Canadians are more connected than ever
- Access is almost
universal. Ninety-four percent of young people say they go online from
home, compared with 79 percent in 2001. Sixty-one percent report having
high-speed access. *
- Many students
report that they have their own Internet connection. In total, 37 percent
have their own Internet-connected computer. Twenty percent of Grade 4
students access the Internet through their own personal computer. That
number climbs to 51 percent by Grade 11. *
of access include more than computers. Twenty-three percent of students
report having their own cell phone, 44 percent of which have Internet
capability. Fifty-six percent of students’ cell phones have text messaging
and 17 percent have cameras. *
percent of students have their own Webcam. In Grade 11 that number is 31
2002 British survey found that one in four youth, aged 11 to 19 has been
threatened via their computers or cell phones, including death threats. -NCH
-National Children’s Home (UK)
Young Canadians in a Wired World – Phase II
Conducted by ERIN Research for
the Media Awareness Network and funded by the Government of Canada
see the Internet as a resource or a “place that they can go to” to serve their
needs. Young people don’t think of it as being separate from their lives,
increasingly it is a normal and “natural” part of their world.
this “Always On” generation, being connected to one’s peer group means being
online often. Increasingly it means being online synchronously, in “real time”
or at the very same time as your peers. Most of the time these connections are
made via “I-M” or Instant Messaging. I-M is facilitated through programs such
as ICQ, AOL, MSN, or Yahoo! Messenger systems as it is instantaneous, and
e-mail is now considered “too slow” for many young people today.
tend to relate to the use of various Information and Communication Technologies
(ICTs) in quite functional ways. We do our work, send our e-mails and the like
and then we are done for the most part. But for the “Always On” generation, the
use of ICTs has become a digital umbilical chord to their peer group. Among the
A-O generation, responses are not only expected, they are expected promptly, to
do so otherwise is considered a real social faux-pas.
you are thinking that I-M-ing is some “Tween or teen-fad” that will eventually
go away, to illustrate how mainstream this has become, it might interest you to
learn that I-M is growing at a rate 30% faster than e-mail did at its
mobile phone is to today’s kids what the Nike “Air Jordan” sneaker was to
previous generations to young people. The mobile has become the new
prototypical “Teen badge” social status item. It is personalized with coloured
faceplates, personalized ringtones, still and video cameras and more.
used to be that school and home were the places where kids went online and
adults had some control over when and where they went online, but no more.
Young people can now chat via I-M, send text and multimedia messages with still
and video images, surf the Web and chat online, all from the palm of their hand
from almost anywhere, because today’s mobile phones are really powerful, very
portable multimedia computers.
The ubiquitous nature of Internet
connectivity poses real problems for young people today, and for we adults who
care about our kids. One of the very real threats to our kids in this fluid,
mobile communications environment is cyberbullying.
“Cyberbullying involves the use of information and
communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile
behaviour by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others.”
What Forms Does Cyberbullying Take?
happen through the use of e-mail, cell phone text (SMS) and multimedia messages (MMS), instant
messaging (IM), defamatory Web logs (Blogs), personal Web sites, and online
personal polling sites.
What is a
“ A personal Web site that provides updated headlines and news articles
of other sites that are of interest to the user, also may include journal
entries, commentaries and recommendations compiled by the user; also written
web log. Weblog; also called blog.”
– Dictionary.com (http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=weblog)
cyberbullying different from other forms of bullying?
like other forms of bullying, is about human relationships, power and control.
Those who bully others are trying to establish power and control over others
that they perceive to be “weaker” than them. Those who bully want to make
victims feel that there is something wrong with them, but victims should know
that there is NOTHING wrong with THEM. It is THE BULLIES who have the real
is different from other forms of bullying in a number of ways. While bullying
is something that is often under the radar screen of adults, cyberbullying is
even more so as today’s youth, a group that I have dubbed the “Always On”
generation, feel it most often and most intensely. This generation is increasingly communicating
in ways that are often unknown by adults and away from their supervision.
is also different in that it is a particularly cowardly form of bullying.
Cyberbullies can more easily hide behind the anonymity that the Internet can
can communicate their hurtful messages to a very wide audience with remarkable
does not provide any tangible feedback about the consequences of using
information technologies to cyberbully others. Cyberbullies do not have to own
their actions, as it is usually very difficult to identify cyberbullies, so
they do not fear being punished for their actions.
is often outside of the legal reach of schools and school boards as this
behaviour often happens outside of school on home computers or via mobile
of bullying are often fearful of telling others about being bullied because
they fear that the bullying may actually become worse if they tell. Victims of
cyberbullying are often also afraid to report to adults about being
cyberbullied, as they also fear that adults will over-react and take away their
mobile phone, computer and/or Internet access. This is something that is
increasingly unthinkable for the “Always On” generation as not being online
means not being able to socialize or communicate with their peers, and this
fear of exclusion is paramount in the lives of most adolescents and teens.
most cases, cyberbullies know their victims, but their victims may not know
their cyberbullies, the aggressors may or may not bully their victims through
physical, verbal, emotional or psychological means that are more easily
the advent of mobile, wireless Internet access, communications have become more
ubiquitous. As a result, Cyberbullying can happen any time and any place and
for many children, home is no linger a refuge from negative peer pressure such
AND THE LAW
forms of cyberbullying are considered criminal acts. Under the Criminal Code of
Canada, it is a crime to communicate repeatedly with someone if your
communication causes them to fear for their own safety or the safety of others.
is also a crime to publish a “defamatory libel”, writing something that is
designed to insult a person or likely to hurt a person’s reputation by exposing
him or her to hatred, contempt or ridicule.
cyberbully may also be violating the Canadian Human Rights Act, if he or she
spreads hate or discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin,
colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status
WHAT CAN BE
DONE ABOUT CYBERBULLYING?
Awareness and education are the keys to the prevention of cyberbullying!
time on the www.cyberbullying.org
Web site learning what you can do about cyberbullying. It is often a very
hurtful, difficult and time-consuming challenge to deal with the effects of
cyberbullying after it has occurred. It can take a lot of time and effort to
get Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Mobile Telecommunications Service
Providers (the phone companies who sell you your cell phone and pagers) to
respond and deal with your complaints about being cyberbullied.
An ounce of
prevention, a word of advice for “Netizens” (citizens of the Internet, advice
for youth AND adults)…
should be reminded regularly to never give out or share personal information
numbers (PIN), etc. Personal information includes their names, the names of friends or
family, their address, phone number, school name (or team name if students play
sports). Personal info also includes pictures of themselves and their e-mail
addresses. They should ask permission before sharing any information with a
website, a “chat buddy” and even when registering a product purchased
for their computer (like a game). Passwords are secret. They should never tell
anyone their password except their teachers, or perhaps their parents or
believe everything you read Just because someone online tells young people that they are 15
doesn’t mean they are telling the truth. Even adults can’t tell when a male
pretends to be a female or a 50 year old pretends to be a 15 year old.
Netiquette (Internet etiquette). Students should
be reminded to be polite to others online just as they would offline. If
someone treats them rudely or meanly – do not respond. Online bullies are just
like offline ones – they WANT others to answer (don’t give them the
satisfaction). DON’T WRITE ALL IN CAPITALS!!! This is considered “yelling” on
the Internet and is very rude. It may encourage others to “FLAME” them. Flaming
is the sending of repeated, aggressive messages to others.
should never send a message to others when they are angry Wait until you have had time to calm down and
think. Do your best to make sure that your messages are calmly and factually
written. You will usually regret sending a “Flame” (angry message) to
someone else. Once you’ve sent a message, it is VERY hard to undo the damage
that such “flames” can do.
should never open a message from someone you don’t know If in doubt about it, they should ask their
teachers, parents, guardians or another adult.
encounter something online that doesn’t look or “feel right”, it probably
need to learn to trust their instincts.While surfing the Internet, if
they find something that they don’t like, makes them feel uncomfortable or
scares them, they should turn off the computer and tell an adult. Internet
filters can only go so far. After working with students, teachers and
technology for many years, I truly believe that the only truly effective filter
we should spend time and energy on is the one between the ears of our young
people. For every filter that schools in school boards put in place, there are
many ways around each and every one of them. In fact, there are many Web sites
that have been created to show people (read kids) how to get around them.
people don’t have to be “Always on”. They should be encouraged to turn off, disconnect,
and unplug, at least for a while. They should be encouraged to give themselves
a break. Encourage young people not to stay online or connected too long.
Families need to work at spending time with their family and friends offline.
Why not try a little less virtual reality and a lot more actual reality!
Sign on the
dotted line. Parents and
guardians should be strongly encouraged to create an Internet Acceptable Use
Agreement with their children. Bullying.org Canada has examples of such
contracts for families to consider using. It should be made clear the Internet
access and use is a privilege to be earned and honoured, not assumed right.
AUPs… ASAP! Schools and
school boards should update their computer and Internet Acceptable Use Policies
(AUPs) to include harassment done with mobile and wireless Internet information
technologies. Schools and school boards should work with their local parent
councils to include the idea that members of the school community are
responsible their online behaviour and actions away from the school every bit
as much as they need to be responsible and accountable for their actions and
behaviours There should be clear and serious consequences for anyone who
doesn’t follow the AUP that should be signed by both students and parents. The
updated AUP should specifically prohibit the use of ICTs for cyberbullying.
IF YOU ARE
A VICTIM OF A CYBERBULLY, WHAT CAN YOU AND YOUR PARENTS DO?
Do not keep this to yourself! You are NOT alone! Tell an adult you know
and trust! It is
very hard to solve such problems on your own.
Internet, Instant Messaging or mobile phone service provider
Such as MSN for
instant messaging: http://ca.support.sympatico.msn.com/contactus.aspx?productkey=messenger
reply to messages from cyberbullies! Even though
you may really want to, this is exactly what cyberbullies want. They want to
know that they’ve got you worried and upset. They are trying to mess with your
mind and control you, to put fear into you. Don’t give them that pleasure.
erase or delete messages from cyberbullies You don’t have to read it, but keep it, it is your
evidence. Unfortunately you may get similar messages again, perhaps from other
accounts. The police and your ISP, and/or your telephone company can use these
messages to help you. You might notice certain words or phrases that are also
used by people you know. These messages may reveal certain clues as to who is
doing this to you, but don’t try and solve this on your own. Tell an adult you
know and trust. GET HELP!
OF INFORMATION SHOULD BE SAVED?
To report cyberbullying, it’s really important to save as much info as you can.
The more you have saved, the easier it will be to track down the people
Save the following from
- E-mail address
- Date and time received
- Copies of any relevant e-mails with full
Save the following from Groups or communities:
- URL of offending MSN Group site
- Nickname of offending person
- E-mail address of offending person
- Date you saw it happen
Save the following from Profiles you see on
- URL of Profile
- Nickname of offending person
- E-mail address of offending person
- Date you viewed this Profile
Save the following from Chatrooms:
- Date and time of chat
- Name and URL of chat room you were in
- Nickname of offending person
- E-mail address of offending person
- Screenshot of chatroom
REPORT CYBERBULLYING E-MAIL
If you receive e-mail from cyberbullies, you can report it to your ISP with the
full headers displayed. The full header shows every stage of an e-mail’s
journey. Forwarding e-mail with the full header displayed will let the support
team track down where it came from.
WHAT TO DO IF SOMEBODY HAS STOLEN YOUR ACCOUNT
If somebody has stolen or “hacked” your account and changed all the
login details, you will need to get in touch with a support team to get it
HOW DO I REPORT CHATROOM CYBERBULLYING?
You don’t have to put up with abuse in chat, and the companies that run
chatrooms don’t want abusive people using their service.
- Highlight the chatter’s name
- Use the ignore button to stop all
conversation with that person
- Take a screenshot of the abuse
- Note the time, date and chatroom name
- Report to the chatroom moderator and service
- Speak to a parent or a teacher
Students should know that it isn’t their
there are some very strange people in the world. Students should not be ashamed
to tell somebody about any disturbing, threatening, weird or frightening
behaviour you encounter in chat.
People aren’t anonymous online, and with the right info saved, they can be traced by the Police and
Never arrange to meet with someone you have
met online unless your parents go with you. If you are meeting them make
sure it is in a public place.
Young people may need to delete your
current e-mail accounts, cell phone/pager accounts and set up new ones. If they have persistent cyberbullying
problems, it is recommend that they do this as soon as possible, unless they
are working with the police and their Telecommunications Provider to keep the
account (s) active to try and catch the cyberbully. Bullying.org is currently
in discussions with various Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Mobile
Service Providers (MSPs) to address these issues.
Youth Solutions–If being cyberbullied:
1. Do not respond/engage to the abuse.
2. Tale to someone about it. Ignoring
bullying often leads to it becoming worse.
3. Keep records/print off messages if
possible, to help identify bully.
4. If necessary get a new number,
account, give it out one person at a time and keep a diary to record any abuse.
Your tormenter may be closer than you think.
5. Take a break–Unplug.
Parent Solutions–If your child is
1. Make a more “talkable”
2. Place and keep the computer in an
open, common area.
3. Inform Internet Service Provider
(ISP) or cell phone service provider of abuse.
4. Do not erase messages; keep for
5. Software help–McAfee Parental
Controls filter both IM and Chat Rooms. Tracker programs.
1. Amend anti-bullying policies to
include text messaging, cell phone use and online bullying.
2. Make a commitment to educate
teachers, students and parents about cyberbullying.
3. Make sure parents know whom to
contact at the school if there is a problem.
4. Never allow a
known incident of bullying to pass unchallenged and not deal with it.
5. We need to
“Walk the Walk” of positive, respectful online communication and behaviour in
our schools and not simply “Talk the talk”. We need to strongly encourage
teachers and students to become engaged in collaborative, international projects
where there is a well-established, mutually respectful online community with a
solid track record in education. One outstanding example of this is iEARN, the
International Education and Resource Network, www.iearn.org.
iEARN has over one million k-12 student and teacher members in over 110
countries around the world, all of whom share iEARN’s vision of “Connecting
youth and making a difference!” Schools participate in students and
teacher-created projects that not only relate to curriculum, they also serve
iEARN’s vision of helping to make our world a better place in which to live.
How do I take a screenshot of offensive content?
A screenshot is a like a photograph of
your screen. It captures everything that you can see on your screen at the
press of a key and is useful for recording details you might want to report.
- Have the information
you wish to record open on your screen and press the PrintScn / SysRq key on
your keyboard. The image is now saved in a temporary memory.
- Open a new Word
document, right click your mouse and select Paste to insert the screenshot.*
- Make a note of the
date, location, e-mail address, name (nickname or real name) and any other
information that you think might be useful and then Save the file. * The
screenshot can be inserted into any program that accepts images.
How do I save an address in Groups?
If someone or something makes you feel
uncomfortable it is important to tell someone you trust who can help you to
report your experience to the right people. If you encounter potentially
illegal or offensive content in MSN Groups or have seen a Group that you
believe should be placed behind an adult advisory notice, save the URL and
contact the service provider immediately.
How do I report cyberbullying from a Hotmail account?
You can report cyberbullying messages
direct from your e-mail inbox and every report you make will actually improve
the intelligent filters that protect your account.
- Sign in to Hotmail
and click on the Mail tab to open the inbox.
- Select an e-mail you
suspect to be an abusive message. Tip
– a question mark is placed on all e-mail from unknown senders.
- Click the Junk
option and select from either Report or Report and Block sender, and then simply
follow the directions given.
How do I report Hotmail with full headers
If you need to report an e-mail to an authority or
organization, then include the full header so that action can be taken.
- Sign in to Hotmail, click Options (next to help) and select Mail
from the left-hand panel, followed by Junk E-Mail Protection.
- On the following screen select Mail Display settings.
- Under Message Headers select Full and then click OK. You will now
be able to forward mail with full headers displayed.
Further Information and Resources:
www.bullying.org, “Where you are NOT alone!”, is a multiple award-winning Web site that
was created to help people address the issues of bullying within a safe,
positive, moderated international community. www.bullying.org is the
most-visited and referenced Website about bullying in the world.
www.cyberbullying.ca and www.cyberbullying.org, “Always on? Always Aware!” is the world’s
first Web sites to specifically dedicated to the emerging issue of
cyberbullying. Bill Belsey is often cited as the first person to use this word
and define this behaviour.
Mr. Belsey is the creator and facilitator of the
annual Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week. Check the web site www.bullyingawarenessweek.org
for dates and details each year.
For more information about Bullying.org, please visit:
For more information about educator Bill Belsey, please
For more information, or to have me present to your school community about the issues of bullying and/or cyberbullying to your organization, please contact: billbelsey(a)gmail.com