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College of Human Ecology

K-State experts discuss combatting cyberbullying

Friday, October 27, 2006

MANHATTAN -- Bullies have emerged in cyberspace and are striking across the country, able to steal a child's pride instead of lunch money, according to experts at Kansas State University.

"Cyberbullying consists of a person who uses the anonymity of the Internet to ridicule, make fun of or put down another person on an Internet conversation site, such as a chat room, a bulletin board, Myspace or Facebook," said Tony Jurich, K-State professor of family studies and human services.

"The victim may be an active participant in the conversation site or may be quite unaware that he or she is being victimized. Cyberbullying can be done by friends, acquaintances or total strangers, although it is typically someone who at least knows the victim," he said.

While the act of bullying is nothing new, the cyberbully has certain advantages over the traditional bully, Jurich said.

"At the heart of any bully is actually a coward who uses their advantage to humiliate, demean or embarrass. Instead of working on their own issues, bullies pick on others to feel better about themselves," he said. "The difference is the cyberbully gets more coverage and a wider exposure. One catty remark can hit thousands of people in a very short amount of time."

This increased exposure can make it difficult for victims of cyberbullying, Jurich said.

"To challenge someone after being put down online takes courage," he said. "Kids think, 'It's already out there and I can't do anything about it.' They often feel helpless."

In addition to increased exposure, the Internet also provides a degree of safety to cyberbullies.

"In person, a bully must deal with feedback in the form of body language, eye contact, etc.," Jurich said. "But through cyberspace, you benefit from the safety of isolation. Cyberbullying takes the face off a person -- you never see the tears."

However, the benefits of cyberspace can quickly turn problematic for the cyberbully.

"It's easy to write the first thing that comes into your head and then hit send before thinking of the long-term consequences," said Mike Ribble, instructor in the department of educational leadership and instructional services coordinator/Web coordinator in the College of Education. "Users forget, however, that even though they may delete a message, it is usually stored on a server or backup for future review. So, users need to think about what they say."

Ribble teaches the K-State course, Digital Citizenship in the 21st Century.

"To a degree, the cover is an illusion," Jurich said. "Once you post a remark, you have no control over where it will go, so you're also more vulnerable. Remarks can easily get back to a person which can perpetuate the animosity."

To combat cyberbullying, it must be addressed at home, in school and through society as a whole, according to Jurich and Ribble.

"Parents must equip their children with skills to deal with bullying appropriately," Jurich said. "Students should be smart about what they reveal. The less information that a child or adolescent puts out on the Internet, the safer they will most likely be, but it is no guarantee. Even if kids would turn off their computers, they can still be victimized by cyberbullies who use the Internet to ridicule them for something thathappened at school.

"So, it is important that children know the steps to take if they are a victim of cyberbullying. Communicate the importance of printing a hard copy of an insulting remark and make your children aware of the proper authorities to alert, such as other parents, teachers or even the police," Jurich said.

Schools also must take an active role in combating cyberbullying, according to Ribble.

"In the past, it was up to parents and families to teach basic etiquette to their children before they reached school," he said. "The problem with the new technologies is that parents have not been informed about what is appropriate behavior, so very often parents are also learning from their peers.

"As a digital society, it is time that school technology teams decide what they consider appropriate and what is not. Schools must also help students understand the concept -- 'I'm given rights; I have a responsibility to myself and society to act in a certain way,'" Ribble said.

Finally, society as a whole must take steps to eliminate cyberbullying, according to Ribble.

"As a society, we can't push technology aside and say these problems don't exist," he said. "We have to recognize the potential danger that could lie in the future if we do not prepare for the next generation. Technology has the potential to bring people together, but it also has the ability to divide."

This article was posted on Friday, October 27, 2006, and is filed under College News, Family Studies & Human Services.