The author of the article, Megan Feldman, discusses most of the same issues I mentioned in my blog, but what Megan makes apparent is that kids and teens aren’t the only ones getting bullied online and that bullying isn’t only occurring on social networks.
As Meghan Pearce, a PR rep from Arizona found out, gossip websites are a sweet spot to find some of the most crude, most sexist and most degrading comments about men and women (mostly women) in an effort to completely destroy that person’s reputation and self-esteem. Pearce was unfortunate enough to find a picture of herself on a gossip website called TheDirty.com, a place where random pictures of men and women are put on display for anonymous users to post their own demeaning comments. Pearce was no exception to this as the bully-readers of The Dirty used a picture from Pearce’s MySpace to call her fat and make fun of her nose. I can’t help but wonder: would these people say the same hateful things to Meghan Pearce’s face? My guess is probably not.
If you are a regular reader of my blog then you know that cyberbullying is a problem that I address a lot; however, there’s always one aspect of cyberbullying that is prevalent among them all, and that’s that social interaction on the Internet, be it direct or indirect, allows the communicator to be anonymous. But given that, it’s fair to say that anonymity has a spectrum, one that ranges from a somewhat anonymous online persona like you see in virtual worlds and such, to a completely anonymous identity in order to say and do things that you wouldn’t do in real life. Perfect example: gossip websites.
“The Web is being used, especially anonymously, to say things that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face,” says Michael Fertik, CEO of Reputation Defender, a firm that is dedicated to removing malicious comments about their clients. “When people’s identities are hidden, they’re more likely to be aggressive. It’s a lot harder to hurt people when you’re looking them in the eye.” A point that Princeton student, Connor Diemand-Yauman, has taken to heart and started the group Own What You Think, a group of 2,800 people who are leading the fight against what they call “anonymous character assassination”. The group members sport shirts that say “anonymity=cowardice” in an effort to abolish anonymity on the Internet.
It can be argued that one of the reasons anonymity is such a problem on the Internet, as it pertains to cyberbullying, is because it’s hard to combat. As previously mentioned, in addition to free speech arguments, there is a federal law in place which protects websites from being held liable for comments, and most importantly, forfeiting the identity of the ones responsible for leaving such heinous comments, blogs and posts about other people. I said it before and I’ll say it again, this law is outdated and needs to be given more attention by lawmakers as cyberbullying is becoming more and more of a real issue.
This, parents, is one major reason why at Yoursphere we verify identities. Identity verification eliminates anonymity, allows us to hold members accountable for their actions within our community, and allows us to ask parents to verify their children’s age.
In my opinion, despite what the law says, website operators have a moral obligation to not only ban online bullies, but to share their identity with law enforcement or schools if necessary. As Feldman points out, the footprints that cyberbullying can leave behind are extensive, as they relate to a person’s reputation. Nowadays, resumes aren’t the only thing that matters when it comes to getting into schools or job hunting. Most businesses don’t hesitate to Google future employees and/or check their Facebook/MySpace profiles—something that would only act as a disadvantage to any victim of cyberbullying.
The fight against cyberbullying needs to start somewhere, and in my opinion, that ‘start’ has to come from a myriad of places. First, at home, second at school, and third, with a change in the federal law that is undoubtedly encouraging more and more Internet anonymity. Nevertheless, it’s good to see that there are groups of people standing up against cyberbullies (Princeton group and Reputation Defender).
In the meantime, here are some tips for both you and your child(ren) when it comes to dealing with instances of cyberbullying:
1. Talk to your kids about “treating others online the way you would treat them if they were standing next to you.” “Be kind online,” (it’s a Hoal household motto).
2. Refrain from posting personal information about yourself on social networks, i.e. phone number, address, school, etc.
3. Don’t post pictures that could be used as ammunition for cyberbullies—discuss with your kids that there is a line that needs to be drawn as far as what’s appropriate to post online and what isn’t.
4. If you or your child is a victim of cyberbullying, there are many ways to record the bullying and report it to the website operators in an effort to remove the content. In extreme cases, this evidence can also be useful for the police.