Yesterday, technology journalist Larry Magid posted an article in the Huffington Post called “Online Safety Tied to Real World Behavior”. In the article, Magid points to some interesting statistics related to real-world bullying and how it ties into cyberbullying.
Magid points to a recent study from the Cyberbullying Research Center: out of 4,400 11-to-18-year-olds, the researchers “found that 65 percent of students who reported being the target of cyberbullying in the previous 30 days were also the target of school bullying during that same time.”
As Magid makes clear in his article, 65 percent is no small number, nor is it a coincidence. A bully in the real world can easily, and more efficiently, bully the same victim(s) online. “The research also found that ‘almost half of cyberbullies were school bullies as well. There clearly is a lot of overlap in bullying behaviors.’”
Simply put, anonymity is what fuels cyberbullying. Though our identities are publically displayed, and somewhat accurate on certain social networks and websites, it’s only to a certain extent. That said, making duplicate profiles, blogs, and usernames (or just simply posing as someone you’re not) are a few ways that bullies can hide behind Internet anonymity. Magid calls this “disinhibition”, or “the feeling of being isolated from one another because of an artificial barrier.”
“Disinhibition plays a major role in Internet behavior but also has a offline component. You’re likely to say “excuse me” if you get in somebody’s way while walking down the street and all will be forgiven. However, cut someone off in traffic and you’re likely to get a couple of rude words and gestures.”
Fortunately, we’re at the stages in online safety where issues like cyberbullying and Internet privacy have gained enough national media attention that some actions (depending on the state you live in) merit judicial punishment. As parents, it’s important to teach our children these real-world consequences exist. When you talk with your children about manners, respect, making the right choices, personal responsibility, and the age-old “Golden Rule” (which still holds up by all accounts), try to incorporate these lessons into their online lives.
One thing I’ve done at home with my own kids, and I encourage parents to try it out, is role-playing. In a situation like cyberbullying, you can essentially “rehearse” the proper responses with your kids so they know what to do if it happens to them. Like Magid points out, kids live their lives on and offline; understanding and accepting this fact is first and foremost in helping them become responsible online citizens.