Friday, February 21, 2014

The Role of Guidance Counselors and Mental Health Professionals in Addressing Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a mental health issue, a lack of Internet literacy and technology skills issue, and a lack of impulse control, coupled with boredom, easy access to technology, and the need for their 15 megabytes of fame. All have to be addressed to prevent cyberbullying.

But once it starts, the most crucial professionals are the guidance counselor and mental health professionals. They are the only ones capable of putting the target humpty-dumpty back together again. They are the only ones able to get peer counselors to step in and help put out the raging cyberbullying fires that were set across the Internet. They can prevent serious emotional scarring and keep students from seeing despair so deep that suicide looks like an option.

Parry’s chiropractor told her that unless you treat whiplash within the first 36 hours, the physical damage can be both painful and permanent. But early treatment can relieve the pain and prevent serious physical damage. The pain of being targeted by others in your class or school, a former best friend, or boyfriend/girlfriend is often too hard to bear alone. Yet, students are fearful or are embarrassed to share their plight. Gentle support and understanding can be perhaps even more valuable than treating whiplash in the first day and a half. If handled right, the target will be able to eventually put this in perspective. If mishandled, there will be scars for life.

Suicides are increasing. We can no longer sit back and tell them that “sticks and stones will break their bones, but words will never hurt them”—they know better. Words do hurt and can wound them deeply and permanently. Cyberbullying doesn’t make them stronger. It hurts.

Unless the guidance counselors and mental health professionals are willing to step forward and lead in framing solutions to the problem as a whole and to each victim of cyberbullying, we are all lost.

We’re counting on you! Don’t let us down.

Moldova and Iraq! Thank you to our new readers!

It is very rewarding to see so many new readers from so many diverse places in the world!

bun venit și vă mulțumesc

نرحب وشكرا لكم

The Role of Network Admins in Addressing Cyberbullying

Frequently, the most talented technology experts within a school system operate the networks.

They also have teen assistants who have knowledge of both the technology and the students and their online activities.

They can be invaluable in the search for the real cyberbully. By stepping back and watching the chatter within Facebook school groups and triangulating it with what they can locate on the network servers, many cyberbullies can be found and confirmed without having to get subpoenas and go through legal process.

Always make sure that the network administrators are part of the team created to address cyberbullying in schools. They are an often overlooked expert resource.

Valerie Schmitz holds a double Ph.D. in Instructional design and Technology Education, as well as a Masters in Educational Leadership:

“School computer network specialists are responsible for a variety of tasks ranging from simple helpdesk calls to protecting the security of student records. While not always professional educators themselves, these specialists are also being asked to address student behaviors and interactions. Specifically, as our children have brought bullying into the virtual world computer network specialists now must implement tools to address cyberbullying.

Rather than wait until a high-profile incident has occurred, schools must proactively collaborate to implement procedures to address cyberbullying. While school personnel such as guidance counselors, teachers, and administration can be proactive by implementing awareness events, dialogue, or educational events, school network administrators can also be proactive by implementing network secure access restrictions.

Many educational networks are not presently using an authentication system for Internet access. This essentially means that when anyone accesses the Internet it is completely anonymous. Individual teacher and student authentication accounts will require users to "sign in" and take personal responsibility for their actions online. This proactive effort ensures that anonymous cyberbullying is not an option for our learners and that anyone who does choose to cyberbully will be identified based on authentication logs. 

While the problem of bullying and cyberbullying is certainly vast and rooted in many causes, simple authentication is one tool that school network administrators may choose to use as a proactive tool.”

The Role of Technology Educators in Addressing Cyberbullying

Many cases of cyberbullying result from a lack of technology skills or Internet literacy skills. Students either fail to, or don’t know how to, use security tools and practices, protect their personal information, and accounts or understand the consequences of their tech actions.

They think that they are anonymous online. They don’t realize how long what they post online stays online. Caching and archiving are beyond their understanding. And without knowing how Google and other search tools find and digest things online, they can’t appreciate what damage they can do with a few careless clicks of the mouse.

Who will teach these skills? Technology educators, that’s who!

Students are sitting ducks for cyberbullies and everything else that can go wrong online if they don’t know how to use some cyber self-defense. Their passwords are easy to guess or hard to remember. They share them with anyone who asks, except their parents. They rely on unreliable information, found on whacky websites. 

They download spyware, malware, and malicious code. They give away their and their parents’ information to anyone who promises to give them an iPod for catching the jumping frog. They share information with someone who seems nice online, and believe that cute 14-year-olds really are what and who they say they are.

Eighteen percent believe that they have closer friends online than off. 

Thirty-four percent believe that an online friend can be as good a friend as someone they know in real life. 

Seventeen percent are meeting people in real life that they had only known online. 

Eighty-five percent have reported being cyberbullied and 70% have reported cyberbullying others.

They are often gullible, careless, and clueless. The technology teacher coupled with the librarian and library media specialist have to set them straight.

The Role of Librarians and Library Media Specialists in Addressing Cyberbullying

Parry Aftab first wrote about her gratitude for librarians while still an associate at a big Wall Street law firm. The corporate librarian had been invaluable in her success, finding information that no one (pre-web) could find and giving her pointers on information she had come across.

Her high esteem for librarians didn’t end there. Although she had admired school librarians, she hadn’t learned about library media specialists until a good friend, Della Curtis a Ph.D. in Library Media Information, introduced her to these secret weapons.

They understand how the technology works and what is credible and what isn’t. They have the best lists of trusted and reliable sites and understand what students do there. They can find anything online in two seconds flat and match it with other offline information that makes it relevant. 

Parry even created a Super Librarian graphic to reflect how she saw school librarians and library media specialists. When Parry was asked to speak at the Free Speech session for the ALA’s annual meeting many years ago, Della and other library media specialists prepared her.

No WiredSafety school team can be created without either a school librarian or library media specialist. When they speak, follow Parry’s lead—be sure to listen and take careful notes!

The Role of Teachers in Addressing Cyberbullying

Teachers play two important roles in addressing cyberbullying in schools. They are primarily educators and are expected to convey credible information and approaches to the students. But perhaps even more importantly when cyberbullying is implicated, teachers are often the “trusted adult” students turn to when they are targeted by cyberbullying or learn of others being targeted.

In addition to teaching students not to lend their efforts to aid the cyberbully, teachers can help encourage their students to report cyberbullying when they encounter it. While it is wonderful that teachers are trusted with this crucial information, they are often unprepared to advise their students on next steps. With good cause, they fear legal liability for mishandling any of these reports and don’t know how to preserve the student’s confidence while reporting the cyberbullying. Teachers may be reluctant to turn them over, especially if they promised the students to keep their identity confidential.

If an anonymous tipline or tip box is created, teachers can remind their students to use it. School administration and school policing staff can act on these tips and take action quickly as necessary to shut down the site or profile or stop the cyberbullying itself.

Education can help considerably in preventing and dealing with the consequences of cyberbullying. The first place to begin an education campaign is with the kids and teens themselves. These programs need to address ways they can become inadvertent cyberbullies, how to be accountable for their actions, and not to stand by and allow bullying (in any form) to be acceptable. 

We need to teach them not to ignore the pain of others.
Teaching kids to “Take 5!” before responding to something they encounter online is a good place to start. Jokingly, we tell them to “Drop the mouse! And step away from the computer! That way nobody will get hurt!”

Encourage them to “Take 5!” to help them calm down if something upsets them online or offline to avoid their acting out online. This may include doing yoga or deep-breathing. It may include running, playing catch, or shooting hoops. It may involve taking a bath, hugging a stuffed animal, or talking on the phone with friends. They can create a Take 5! Bulletin Board illustrating their favorite Take 5! activities or discuss them with others in the class.

Each student has their own way of finding their center again. If they do, they will often not become a cyberbully, even an inadvertent cyberbully. This method even helps with offline bullying and impulse control in the classroom.

There are several ways teachers can educate kids not to support cyberbullying:
·         Teach them that all actions have consequences;
·         Teach them that cyberbullying hurts;
·         Teach them that they are liable to being used and manipulated by the cyberbully;
·         Teach them that the cyberbully and their accomplices often become the target of cyberbullying themselves; and
·         Teach them to care about others and stand up for what’s right.

We need to teach our children that silence, when others are being hurt, is not acceptable. If they don’t allow the cyberbullies to use them to embarrass or torment others, cyberbullying will quickly stop. It’s a tall task, but a noble goal. In the end, our students will be safer online and offline. We will have helped create a generation of good cybercitizens, controlling the technology instead of being controlled by it.

The more teachers know about cyberbullying and how it works, the better they can address and prevent it. Art Wolinsky, WiredSafety’s Director of Technology Education has created professional development materials just for teachers. Check them out at

The Role of Principals in Addressing Cyberbullying

The schools have a valid concern and legal obligation to maintain discipline and protect their students while in their care. But in this tricky area, especially when damages for infringing on students’ rights can exceed the annual salary of much-needed teachers and other educational resources, schools cannot afford to guess. Until the law becomes better settled, the schools need to be careful before acting, seek knowledgeable legal counsel, plan ahead, and get parents involved early.

So what’s a principal to do? Talk, educate, and mediate…it’s what they do best. Bring in the students and parents. Create peer counseling and mediation boards. Set policy. Create awareness programs. Principals shouldn’t panic or react in a knee-jerk manner. I would suggest they take their lead from a very experienced school superintendent in New Jersey.

A teenager in that high school, after getting angry with certain teachers and administrators, lashed out by posting some pretty vulgar and insulting things about them on a personal website. He wrote the site from home and posted it online. It wasn’t posted on the school’s server, but was available to everyone with Internet access once they had the URL. URLs of classmates’ sites get passed around quickly, and many of the kids in the school accessed the site from the school’s computers.

When the word got back to the teachers and administrators, they were understandably furious. They sought help from the police, who threatened to charge the teenager with harassment (but they wouldn’t have been able to make that charge stick).

Everyone involved seemed to lose their head, but the superintendent managed to keep his. He recognized that this wasn’t a school disciplinary matter and that the parents needed to be involved. He called in the parents, who were appalled and took this situation as seriously as they should have. Together they worked out a suitable apology and a way to handle the case without blowing it out of proportion. The press had a field day. This superintendent stood firm against the anger of the teachers and the pressures of the community. He was right.

Months later he shared something with Parry. He told her that he had met the young teenager at a school event, and the student apologized once again. He also thanked the superintendent for handling the situation with grace. The boy had acted out in anger and hadn’t thought about the consequences of his anger. Eventually, even the teachers came around. We could use many more like him.

This advice works just as well when cyberbullying or social-networking use is discovered. A good principal sets the tone of the school, hopefully with wisdom, kindness, consistency, and respect.

The Role of Schools in Addressing Cyberbullying

When schools try and get involved by disciplining the student for cyberbullying actions that took place off-campus and outside of school hours in the US, they are often sued for exceeding their authority and violating the student's right to free speech. They also often lose. 

Schools can be very effective brokers in working with the parents to stop and remedy cyberbullying situations. They can also educate the students on cyberethics and the law. Parents can be educated as well in presentations and with newsletters and handouts.

What schools do best is educate and create awareness. They can bring together all stakeholders and create a community-wide approach to addressing the problem. Students can be involved in helping frame solutions and creating programs and policies.
Schools are often the first to know and to know the most about the student dynamics and what works and what doesn’t. Their early knowledge is important to keep things getting out of control, fast! Anonymous reportlines can be set up to encourage students to report what they see.
If schools are proactive, careful, and creative, they can avoid the claim that their actions exceeded their legal authority for off-campus cyberbullying actions. 
We recommend that a provision is added to the school's acceptable use policy reserving the right to discipline the student for actions taken off-campus if they are intended to have an effect on a student or they adversely affect the safety and well-being of student while in school. This makes it a contractual, not a constitutional, issue.
Work with a team of parents, members of the school community, law enforcement, and students to articulate the policy and determine guidelines for enforcement. The more the policy is a result of this collaborative process, the less likely it will be challenged or that a challenge would be successful.

The cyberbullying programs must be top down (on risk) and bottom up (on measures). All stakeholders must be involved and their expertise and perspectives considered. Even when a program is in place and working, it should always be adaptable, articulated, and communicated to all stakeholder groups.

Cyberbullying - Don’t Support It…Report It!

Digital alerts are very helpful. But these miss cellphone bullying and game bullying entirely. They may also miss images that were photoshopped. For these and other less obvious attacks, you need real and solid intelligence. And that can come from only one source—the students.

Create old-fashioned suggestion boxes where students can anonymously report cyberbullying when they find it. Create an online report form and promise anonymity as well. Teach the students what constitutes cyberbullying so they know what to report. Let them know what information you need and what will happen to reports. Remind them that false reports will be acted on, to discourage cyberbullying –by proxy when they report their target as the cyberbully to have the school do their dirty work.

They need to understand that asking for help isn’t showing weakness, it shows wisdom. The tattletale stigma should be addressed.

Then have the students promote a “report it, don’t support it” message. They can do skits, posters, write and perform rap or pop songs, or shoot their own PSAs. Have them look at the issue and define it their way. Get their help in creating reporting methods too.

Devote lots of time to teaching them to tell and teaching the trusted adults what to do if a student does confide in them. This may be the most important tip we can give you. Cyberbullyinghas contributed to suicides when the target feels alienated and faces it alone in the dark. The right response is crucial. So is being trusted with their confidences.

Cyberbullying Spot Checks

The faster you can respond to any cyberbullying campaign, the faster it stops. In addition to setting Google Alerts, which Parry recommends throughout this StopCyberbullying Toolkit, you have to keep an eye out for school groups and networks online. 

Create a profile in every one you can find. Ask students where they all are. Then just ask anyone on the list to let you in. Like buzzing a button at random at any apartment building you want to be allowed into, “buzz” the first one on the list and keep going until someone lets you in.

Sit quietly. Don’t comment or correct anyone’s grammar. But, every so often, review the posts. Select students are random and review what they and their friends are saying and follow the trail of cyber-breadcrumbs to friends outside of the network.

If you are aware of an offline bullying brewing, check those students online. Forewarned is forearmed. In the same way you will spot check lockers, backpacks, and bags brought into school or a school event, you need to do the same spot checking online.

To make sure no student is unfairly targeted, work out a procedure for spot checking and make sure everyone knows what and where to report cyberbullying when they find it. 

Get the guidance counselors involved too. If students are at risk offline, they are especially at risk online. Teach them how to keep an eye out for these students online. That’s where Googling them comes in.

Talking the Cyberbullying Talk

What we have here is a failure to communicate! (With thanks to Cool Hand Luke.) Unless you understand the terminology you can never solve the problem. You are talking about one thing and students or parents think you are addressing something else.

When Parry was asked to be the only female speaker at Microsoft’s first privacy and security event many years ago, she was thrilled and honored. When they assigned her the task of creating the presentation on defining terms, she was crushed. “Defining terms!,” she complained to one of her law partners who was there. “Why? Because I am a lawyer? Because I am a woman?” 

While she ranted (quietly), her trusted sidekick and law partner, Nancy Savitt, explained. “You can’t solve anything unless you can plot your course. You have to define the problem. To do that you need a common language. Think of people from one country trying to solve a problem with those from another country when each speak a different language and have no common basis of communication. This is no different. You may think of 'privacy' as protecting personal information. I may think of it as defining civil rights about what you can and can’t do in your own home or bedroom. Someone else might think of it as seclusion. Unless we know which 'privacy' we will be addressing, we’re wasting our time.”

As with most important matters, Parry listened to Nancy, enough to include the “Talk the Talk” theme here.
Here are some of the most important terms you need to understand and use consistently if we are going to work together towards the common goal of stopping cyberbullying.

StopCyberbullying Terms

Lots of terms apply to cyberbullying. It will help to come up with common terms we can all use. These are helpful when discussing the issue, so everyone understands what we are talking about.

“Accidental Cyberbullies”: another term for “inadvertent cyberbullies,” this type of cyberbully was careless or clueless and hurt the other person by accident. They may have sent the message to the wrong person, left out a “jk” or “J” or mis-communicated their message.

“Account takeovers”: when someone takes over your account, changing your login/password or account information so you can’t use it or access it.

“Click and Runs”: this term describes cyberbullying that takes place when the cyberbully is bored and looking for entertainment. They cyberbully someone for their reaction, which is monitored online and offline.

“Cyberbullying or cyber-harassment”: when someone uses technology as a weapon to hurt someone else. When minors are involved, it’s called “cyberbullying.” When adults are involved (18 and over) it’s called “cyber-harassment.”

“Cyberbullying-by-proxy or cyber-harassment-by-proxy”: when someone does something to manipulate others into doing their dirty work for them. (“Bullying refers to minors and “harassment” is reserved for the same activities conducted by adults (18 and over).)

“Cybering”: the online equivalent of phone sex, but with the communications being typed instead of spoken. If it involves sexual or nude images or videos, it is “sexting” or “sexing”, not cybering.

“Cybermobs”: large numbers of people who engage in mob behavior online by hacking, harassing, attacking and spreading nasty messages. They are often the unwitting victims of master manipulation by the abuser, who has orchestrated the situation to do his or her dirty work. They are frequently also self-righteous and believe that they are righting wrongs online. The damage they do can ruin reputations permanently.

“Dupes”: for the purposes of cyberbullying, “dupes” are people who have been manipulated into cyberbullying others in a cyberbullying-by-proxy campaign. They engage in harassment or cyberbullying activities after being convinced that they are doing the right thing, giving someone something they deserve or believe that the person they are targeting started it by harassing them first. The person is being manipulated by the real cyberbully into falling for this. It’s a cyberbullying-by-proxy campaign designed to get others to do their dirty work and the “dupes” fall for it.

“Extortion” or “coercion”:  for the purposes of cyberbullying, extortion often takes the form of an online threat or a threat offline to do something online. It includes when someone threatens to disclose secrets or embarrassing images, puts an unreasonable amount of pressure on you, threatens to do something to you, someone or something you care about or post something online, takeover your accounts or attack you online in order to convince you or force you to do something or not do something.

“Flamers” and “flaming”: nasty comments, insults and rude communications posted online for various purposes, including anyone holding opposing opinions or doing things they don’t approve. “Flamers” tend to act alone in their attacks and are highly opinionated, attacking anyone with other opinions or if they find them offensive in any way.

“Hacking”: a commonly-used term to cover all non-consensual digital intrusions. For the purposes of cyberbullying, “hacking” involves the use of technology to damage, alter or destroy data, online accounts or digital devices or content of the target.

“Inadvertent Cyberbullies”: another term for “accidental cyberbullies”, this type of cyberbully was careless or clueless and hurt the other person by accident. They may have sent the message to the wrong person, left out a “jk” or “J” or mis-communicated their message.

“Mean Girl Cyberbullies”: Always mean but not always girls, this type of cyberbully attacks reputations and engages in cyberbullying designed to socially exclude or humiliate their target.

“Photoshopping”: named for the Photoshop™ software tool that allows photos to be altered or edited, this involves teens manipulating the real photo of someone else to make it appear that they were doing something they hadn’t really done, such as putting their head on someone else’s naked body or replacing the bottle of soda they were holding in a photo with a bottle of alcohol.

“Posing”:  when someone pretends to be someone else online, either through setting up a new account while pretending to be that person, using an account with a screen name similar to theirs (using a lowercase “L” instead of a “1” in the name), communicating anonymously or taking over someone else’s account for the purposes of hurting that person.

“Power Hungry Cyberbullies”: this type of cyberbully is often also an offline bully. They use threats or physical force in real life and threats and fear tactics online. There is a subset of this type of cyberbullying, called “Revenge of the Nerds.”

“Privacy Invasions”: for the purposes of cyberbullying, include misuse of someone’s passwords that had been voluntarily provided to the abuser, unauthorized use of passwords and online accounts, digital surveillance, stalking or monitoring (“spying”), unauthorized access of someone’s digital accounts, devices, activities, content and communications, coerced or pressured access to friends, digital communications, photos and videos, private messages, profiles and game accounts, text messages and cell phone call logs, public sharing of private facts, intrusion into someone’s private space or time and “hacking” for data access purposes.

Revenge of the Nerds”: this type of cyberbully is a special online profile of a power hungry cyberbully. They too want to see their victims sweat and use threats and fear tactics. But they are often the victim of power hungry bullies in real life and unable to fulfill their physical threats. They aren’t a “tough guy,” just playing one online.

“Set-Up”: when someone poses as someone else and communicates with the target to see what they would do, using it to teach them a lesson or test them.

“Sexting”: taking and sending sexual, sexually provocative or nude images to someone via any digital device including a cell phone (such as a webcam, online or using a photo-sharing (such as Flickr) or video-sharing (such as YouTube) network). Typed communications are not “sexting.” They are “cybering.”

 “Spying” or “digital surveillance”: using technology to monitor someone else’s digital communications, such as spyware or physically reviewing cell phone, text or other digital communications without the permission of the person whose account is being monitored or reviewed. It also includes audio or video surveillance.

“Trolls”: are people who like to stir up trouble online and see what happens. A juicy rumor campaign can “feed the trolls,” allowing them to act out and giving them the attention they crave, especially in virtual worlds and interactive games.

Cyberbullying is More Than Just Another Medium for Bullying

Experts who understand schoolyard bullying often misunderstand cyberbullying, thinking it is just another method of bullying. However, the motives and the nature of cyber communications, as well as the demographic and profile of a cyberbully, differ from their offline counterparts about 50% of the time.

One of the biggest problems Parry encounters is with traditional bullying experts who don’t truly understand cyberbullying but provide advice anyway (which is often very wrong). 

They tell victims and their parents to use printouts to help prove the cyberbullying (which is utterly worthless given the ease in which typed communications can be altered).

They often tell young victims to stand up for themselves when dealing with a cyberbully (which works offline, but only provokes more cyberbullying online).

While cyberbullying is a tactic used by some traditional bullies, most cyberbullying is very different. Only two of the types of cyberbullies have something in common with the traditional schoolyard bully and may slip from offline to online and vice versa. These are Mean Girls (always mean, but not always girls) and Power-Hungry (the ones who are the thugs of the schoolyard).

Cyberbullying is more about impulse control, technology tricks, and investigative forensics than about interpersonal behavior. It’s often less about conflict resolution than about getting their 15 megabytes of fame. Unless we recognize and accept this, we will not be able to effectively address the problem.

Parry Aftab and WiredSafety volunteers have been working on cyberbullying and cyberharassment cases since 1995. No one has done it longer or more than they have. We’re all unpaid volunteers. If you’re not sure whom to trust, ask us.

A Quick Overview of the K-12 Cyberbullying Risk Areas

Cyberbullying starts early. WiredSafety is seeing it start as early as second grade, peaking in fourth grade, leveling off, and then peaking again in seventh and eighth grade. Part of the problem is defining it. When students hear “cyberbullying” they often think different things. Some think it means a death threat, others think it’s a fake Facebook profile set up to humiliate others. Some think it’s using lewd language or posting mean images. (You can learn more about this in Parry's Talk the Talk article.  

It starts when kids start using mobile interactive technologies, such as cellphones, DSi and PSPs, and instant messaging. It continues through high school (although high school students hate admitting that they can be bullied and deny it continues through high school). It often follows their journey from technology to technology, as they develop and their interests and relationships change. The more they mature, the less they cyberbully. At the same time, the cyberbullying attacks become more dangerous and better targeted to hurt their victims.

Their methods and motives change with age. Fourth graders tend to blackmail others, middle schoolers use social exclusion, and high school students tend to sexually harass their former romantic partners. This tracks their offline bullying trends, but for some reason surprises people when they look at it from the cyberspace perspective.

Anonymity plays an important role in the rapid growth of cyberbullying. More than 65% of cyberbullying occurs anonymously, by masquerading as the victim or posing as someone else. This drives cyberbullying by making it harder to identify the cyberbully and allows the cyberbully to avoid having to face the real harm their actions are causing.

Public School Regulation of Student Speech on the Internet

Overview of the US Case Law

                School districts across the nation are grappling with difficult decisions regarding their ability to regulate or discipline cyber expression by students. While there are well-established guidelines for regulating student speech, lower courts are struggling to apply pre-Internet legal standards to student speech on the Internet.

            The U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled regarding the limits of regulating student cyber expression. However, several Supreme Court cases set the general guidelines for regulating student speech. While none of these cases involved the Internet, the principles set forth in them still guide the analysis regarding all student speech, including cyber speech. The standards established by these cases are as listed below:

          As a general rule, public schools can punish student speech only when it causes, or is reasonably anticipated to cause, a material and substantial disruption of the school environment or if it interferes with the rights of others.[1] This general rule is subject to the following exceptions:

o   A school can punish lewd, vulgar, or offensive student speech.[2]
o   A school may regulate speech for legitimate pedagogical concerns where the speech is school-sponsored or others might reasonably believe that the speech bears the school’s imprimatur – such as a student newspaper.[3]
o   Where speech occurs off-campus, but at a school sponsored event, a school can restrict student speech at a school event when it is reasonably viewed as promoting illegal drug use.[4]

With no precedential guidance regarding disciplining cyber expression from the Supreme Court, the lower state and federal courts have been issuing conflicting decisions regarding the issue. In February 2010, two panels of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals delivered contradictory decisions on the very same day. Both cases appeared to involve substantially similar facts and identical issues. The students created the profiles off-campus, using non-school computers, during non-school hours; however, the courts reached opposite conclusions.

            In Layshock v. Hermitage, the court found that school officials could not suspend a student for creating a derogatory fake Internet profile of his principal. The court reasoned that even though the student and several fellow classmates accessed the internet posting from school computers during school hours, there was an insufficient nexus between the off campus speech and any alleged disruption of the school environment.[5]

            In J.S. v. Blue Mountain, the court upheld a 10-day suspension of a student who posted a profile on MySpace that showed a photo of the principal and described him as a pedophile and sex addict. In contrast to Layshock, the court held that the likelihood of such an act significantly disrupting school activities warranted the school’s disciplinary actions.[6]

            In accordance with Blue Mountain, the 2nd Circuit applied the Tinker standard to off-campus speech concluding that school officials could regulate off-campus Internet speech where it was reasonably foreseeable that the acts could substantially disrupt the school environment.[7]

The uncertainty of the courts and these conflicting rulings have left school officials guessing about where the lines have been drawn. Unfortunately, there is currently a legal grey area regarding the regulation of cyber expression. Because of this lack of clarity, educators must turn to the standards identified by the courts in analyzing these situations. However, as highlighted by the inconsistent 3rd Circuit rulings, the factual analysis in determining whether or not an activity materially or substantially interfered with the school’s operations is highly subjective and unpredictable.

            While the law is still evolving, there are general guidelines that schools can follow. As a general rule, if the speech was created and distributed using school equipment, during school hours and/or on campus, schools may discipline students for inappropriate expression subject to the Tinker standard. The guidelines set out in Tinker are that public schools can punish student speech only when it causes, or is reasonably anticipated to cause, a material and substantial disruption of the school environment or if it interferes with the rights of others. On the other hand, if the activity occurred using the student’s own computer or mobile device, outside of school hours, and off campus, schools have very limited authority to regulate or discipline that activity, because such expression is generally constitutionally and statutorily protected. However, such speech may be subject to discipline under existing legislation if it is deemed harassment or poses a true threat.

[1] Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 509 (1969).
[2] Bethel Sch. Dist. No. 403 v. Fraser, 479 U.S. 675, 678 (1986).
[3] Hazelwood Sch. Dist. V. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260, 271-273 (1988).
[4] Morse v. Frederick, 551 U.S. 393 (2007).
[5] Layshock v. Hermitage Sch. Dist., 593 F.3d 249 (3d Cir. 2010).
[6] J.S. v. Blue Mountain Sch. Dist., 593 F.3d 286 (3d Cir. 2010).
[7] Doninger v. Niehoff, 527 F.3d 41 (2d Cir. 2008); Wisnewski v. Bd. of Educ., 494 F.3d 34 (2d Cir. 2007). 

How worried are we that our kids will be targeted by a cyberbully?

It happen. It happens more often than most adults know. And, rightfully we worry that our kids will be cyberbullying's next target.

But there are things you can do to minimize that risk, now, before it starts.

  • Digital self-defense, where you are careful about choosing passwords and sharing them, is where you start.
  • Then, you need to make sure that they are using privacy settings and not inviting in friends they don't know in real life.
  • Teach them not to provoke fights online and treat others with respect.
  • If someone says something mean to them, make sure they stop, block and tell! (Stop and not answer back, block the person or message and tell a trusted adult.)
  • Keep them off sites that are designed for older teens or adults and teach them not to lie about their age. It invites trouble.
  • And, if they are in a frenemy dispute and engaged in digital drama with someone, change their passwords to make sure no one gets in, and keep them occupied offline in things they enjoy.

Don't be afraid, be prepared instead.

Kenya! how exciting!

Digital communications are so important to Africa, form devices that connect from distant villages to micro development of apps. Thanks so much for visiting

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Who Is a Typical Cyberbullying Target?

Any child, preteen, or teen is a potential cyberbullying target. They don’t need to have home Internet access, a cellphone, or any cyber-connection. The cyberbullies are perfectly happy to have technology do their dirty work in destroying reputations or creating offline responses to online provocation.

Obviously, when friends have a falling out or romance takes a bad turn, cyberbullying is a viable option to settle scores and share hurt feelings. Seventy percent of cyberbullying comes from friends or acquaintances.

Bigotry, hate, and intolerance are big motivators, as well. Anyone who has been the target of offline bullying or is more vulnerable to it is a likely target, too. Jealousy plays a powerful role in motivating cyberattacks by those involved and their friends.

The more a student shares personal and private information, gets involved in heated online debates, or has an offline problem, the more likely they are to be targeted. The less careful they are, the fewer security settings and tools they use, and the less care they take in their communications, the more likely they will be targeted.

And, if their password is vulnerable, so are they. Eighty-five percent of grammar school students and 70% of middle and high school students have shared their passwords with at least one other person. 

The more Internet and technology literate the students are, the less vulnerable they will be. Many leave themselves open to attack, hacking, and having their personal information misused by cyberbullies. An easy mark is far more obvious online than offline.

Cyberbullying starts early and continues to adulthood if things don’t play themselves out or if they don’t learn how to protect themselves.

What Ages Are Impacted by Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying typically starts at about 7 years-of-age (younger in very connected communities) and usually ends (as “cyberbullying”) around 15. After then, the cyberharassment continues, but it changes. It usually becomes sexual harassment or is done for revenge against a former boyfriend, girlfriend, or former friend.

It is interesting to note that high school students deny that cyberbullying exists in high school.
Because high school students insist that “cyberbullying” is for middle schoolers and something that happens before they mature into high schoolers, Parry doesn’t call it “cyberbullying” in high school. She calls it “cyberharassment” or "digital drama" instead.

Many cases of cyberbullying also occur right after a child receives their first IM or cellphone account when they often try to see what they can get away with. Some don’t appreciate the consequences of their actions. (Many stop when they understand the consequences or how much their actions are hurting others, which points to the need for early education.)

Password theft and misuse and the theft of points or game “gold” from their friend’s game account are often the earliest forms of cyberbullying among 6- to 7-year-olds. Interestingly, the younger kids use extortion as their preferred method of traditional cyberbullying.

Parry is seeing a peaking of cyberbullying in fourth to fifth grade and then again in seventh to eighth grade.
Cyberbullying has been trending younger and younger as the kids are using these technologies at earlier ages than ever before. Virtual worlds, such as Webkinz Jr. and Disney’s Club Penguin and Fairies, become popular with kids as young as three or four. PBS and other trusted kid-brands are getting involved with kid-social worlds, too.

At the same time we are seeing cyberbullying trend downward in age, it is also trending upwards as a result of the growth of social networking sites and texting. 

There have even been cases in law school. (As defined, remember that cyberbullying is only between or among minors, and technically this would fall into the “cyberharassment” category. Cyberharassment of adults by adults began before children had access to the Internet and continues to grow.)

Why Do Students Cyberbully Each Other?

Who knows why students do anything? When it comes to cyberbullying, they are often motivated by anger, revenge, or frustration. Sometimes they do it for entertainment or because they are bored and have too much time on their hands and too many tech toys available to them. Many do it for laughs or to get a reaction. They may do it because they think it’s fun.

A growing number do it to make a point to others, to improve their profile’s popularity or video’s page views, or to get attention for their “15 megabytes of fame.” And sometimes underlying issues of conflict, hate, revenge, bias, jealousy and contempt turn into cyberbullying.

Each of the four types of cyberbullies (and the one sub-type) does it for their own particular motive:

·         The Power-Hungry cyberbullies do it to torment others and to enhance their view of themselves as being in charge.

·         Revenge of the Nerd cyberbullies (a sub-type of Power-Hungry cyberbullies) may start out defending themselves from traditional bullying only to find that they enjoy being the tough guy or gal.

·         Mean Girl cyberbullies do it to help bolster or remind people of their own social standing.

·         Vengeful Angel cyberbullies think they are righting wrongs and standing up for others.

·         Inadvertent cyberbullies never meant to hurt anyone, but because they were careless hurt them by accident.
While the tactics may differ, most are motivated by anger, lack of impulse control, frustration, ego-boosting, revenge, jealousy, the need to teach someone a lesson, the desire to impress others, to make a point, to be funny or become more popular, to draw attention to their online posts and presence, by boredom, or by being careless, thoughtless, and typing without thinking.

Because their motives differ, the solutions and responses to each type of cyberbullying incident have to differ too. Unfortunately, there is no "one size fits all" when cyberbullying is concerned.

cibersecuridad en espanol

Bienvenido a mi blog. Perdona mi español, pero este es un maravilloso recurso en español sobre cybersafety de FTC de los EE.UU. Varios de nosotros nos ayudó a escribirlo.

Tons of new readers in Hungary, Ukraine, Canada, India, Chile, Indonesia, Philippines, UK and Australia! Thank you!

It is so inspiring to see how much interest there is globally in child protect and digital best practices. I am very honored to see how many new readers are visiting

Understanding Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a growing problem. It affects at least 85% of the 45,000 middle schoolers I polled in person last year, yet only 5% of them will tell their parents. In a smaller poll, 70% of students admitted to having cyberbullied others.

It has become a silent epidemic, stalking our children on social networks, instant messaging, interactive games and cell phones. While the more dramatic stories have made the headlines, from Megan Meier’s suicide following harassment by a neighborhood mom posing as a cute sixteen year old on MySpace, to  cheerleaders beating one of their own on video, most cases are less newsworthy, but no less painful .

Cyberbullying has many stakeholders, from families whose lives are shattered by the loss of teens who chose suicide rather than face repeated torment, to students who are afraid to check their e-mail, to teachers being attacked online by students, mental health professionals trying to stay ahead of their patients, to the media trying to grapple with covering a story without further exploiting the victims, to regulators  who are seeking answers and the industry who is struggling in its effort to identify and manage risks while attempting to herd cats. More, perhaps, than any other single issue, cyberbullying takes a village to address. In this first ever international cyberbullying conference, every member of the village will have a voice. Together we can fashion solutions and encourage change. And by the end of the two days, all stakeholders will know about being part of the solution, instead of part of the problem.

What do we need to know to address the problem and help frame meaningful solutions? What is the role of the Internet industry, media, government, advocacy groups and schools?  Over two concentrated days, WiredSafety will help all stakeholders understand the problem better and find manageable solutions and collaborations. It will give community participants a chance to be heard, and the industry, media, advocacy groups and regulators a chance to listen and share their own viewpoints.

Internet Sexual Predators and how they operate - overview for industry, school network admins and everyone

Minors are targeted by traditional sexual predators online and through the use of digital technologies more often than many people realize. The number of reported cases vastly underestimates the real problem, as young people often fail to report victimization or attempted victimizations. They do this out of fear, shame or feeling that it was somehow their fault that this occurred. 

In addition to traditional sexual predators, young people are frequently targeted by their peers, either following a break-up, as part of a sexual harassment cyberbullying campaign or through “sextortion” (when someone uses sexual images created by the victim voluntarily to blackmail them into performing sexual acts or taking more images against their will).

Network administrators and moderators are often in the best position to spot risky behavior, grooming or inappropriate contact. You are an important part of the team when protecting minors from sexual exploitation and predation.

The kinds of sexual exploitation risks that exist online:

Direct grooming of minors for offline meetings: Most have heard about cases where adult sexual predators contact minors online, seeking to create friendships, trusted relationships or romance with a minor. Dateline’s Chris Hansen’s “To Catch a Predator”and similar television series highlight the range of predators willing to show up at a minor’s home expecting sex.

When these cases started, in the late 90s, the predators often posed as another minor to get in under the young person’s “stranger danger radar.” They would be a cute teen (glossy photos and all) and convince the minor that they were their long sought-for soulmate. Later they may confess to being slightly older, expressing concern that their “soulmate” might reject them for their white lies about their age, professing that it was done merely out of love.

If done correctly, the victim would protest that “there is nothing [they] could do to cause them to stop loving them,” and forgive them within a short period of time. They would often even be flattered that an “older” lover would be interested in them (making them feel more attractive and mature). They are often additionally flattered that someone would go to such lengths to earn their love, even by lying about their age.

While they may confess to being older, they rarely confess to their true age initially. They may claim to be 23, and really be 41 (such as in the case of Katie Tarbox who was sexually molested by an investment banker from Los Angeles posing as a 23-year-old.)

More recent trends show that the teens (and preteens) are almost as willing to engage with someone who admits to being an adult at the start of the grooming process. These teens (and preteens) may otherwise be at risk (such as broken homes, special needs, self-destructive, facing a family or personal crisis) and see this as a way out, diversion or a path to love and security offered by a “caring” adult.

 Sometimes these at-risk teens and preteens actively solicit relationships or sexual encounters with adults for the same reasons or merely for attention.