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Bullying from behind a computer screen

In his new book, "Life Strategies for Dealing With Bullies," Jay McGraw writes about how and why kids become aggressors and what victims can do to stop harassment. In this excerpt, he writes about a growing trend: "cyberbullying."
/ Source: TODAY books

In his new book, “Life Strategies for Dealing With Bullies,” Jay McGraw writes about how and why kids become bullies, and what victims can do to stop harassment. In this excerpt, he discusses a growing trend: “cyberbullying.”

Chapter two: E-Bullying
Sandra hadn’t spoken to Lynn in weeks. The two had been pretty good friends up until they had gotten into an argument at another friend’s house. Someone told Lynn that Sandra was spreading rumors about her. Sandra knew this wasn’t true and told Lynn. But Lynn didn’t believe her.

Sandra is hurt that Lynn won’t talk to her, but she hopes Lynn will get over it. But then one evening, Sandra signs on to her MySpace page and reads a bunch of mean messages that Lynn has written about her. She’s called Sandra names, made fun of her clothes, and even dissed Sandra’s parents and family.

Pretty soon Lynn is leaving messages about Sandra every few days. She tells mean jokes about Sandra and even gets some of her friends to write bad stuff. She also starts sending nasty text messages to Sandra’s cell phone, calling her “liar” and “cow.”

Sandra grows more and more frightened by Lynn’s behavior. She has known Lynn for a long time, but she didn’t know she could be so mean. Sandra begins to wonder who else is reading the messages and whether people who don’t really know her believe these things. She begins to stay away from places where Lynn might be and hangs out less with her friends.

But it just gets worse. Lynn begins posting even meaner things about Sandra on her own site. She and some older boys post ugly drawings of Sandra and spread rumors about her.

Even after Sandra takes her own Web page down, the online attacks continue. Night after night, Sandra goes to Lynn’s website and sees new insults and cruel jokes. There are even some threats, including a few that are really scary. Sandra notices how some girls at school are starting to stare at her. And of course, the text messages keep getting worse.

Sandra tries to keep quiet about the incidents. She doesn’t want to show how the insults hurt her, but it hurts too much. After about two months of putting up with the website, and weeks of crying alone in her room, Sandra finally tells her mother about it. Her mom contacts Lynn’s parents the next afternoon. Lynn’s mom has never paid much attention to her daughter’s online activities, but when she hears about what her daughter has been doing, she makes Lynn take her site down and apologize to Sandra. She also demands that the text messages stop. They do.

Lynn and Sandra never become friends again. They stop talking and avoid each other as much as possible. Sandra has a tough time patching things up with some of the other kids who’d joined in. Sandra was accused of some very mean things, and some of the kids believed the lies. It will take a long time for Sandra to get her good name back.

Online bullying (also known as “cyberbullying”) is a newer form of bullying than the others we have talked about. Online bullying involves using the Internet to attack, insult, threaten, and spread rumors about other people. As more kids spend time in chat rooms and on message boards and other places on the Web, some of them take their conflicts with other children online too. Bullies like to have an audience watching them while they act out. Technology has given them a bigger audience than ever before.

Fast fact: The number of children reporting online harassment has gone up by 50 percent since 2000. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Once children were pushed around mostly on the neighborhood playground or the schoolyard. When it comes to bullying nowadays, though, the Internet has made the playground a whole lot bigger.

Cyberbullying also makes it easier for bullies to hide their identities. As a result, online bullies aren’t always the biggest or toughest kids in the neighborhood or at the school. Sometimes bullies who harass other children online are just kids filled with anger or hatred, who think that the Internet gives them the best way to express their feelings. Of course, online bullying can also just be another outlet for people who are involved in other, more direct forms of bullying. A child who is bullied online often has to deal with other forms of bullying too. And it’s usually from the same child or group of children involved in the online conflict.

Cyberbullying can take a lot of different forms. In Sandra’s case, there were two clear examples of cyberbullying: First Lynn and others left nasty messages about her on personal websites. More and more kids are creating websites that involve some form of attacks on other children: sites that “rate” other children, sites where people post hurtful messages and images, and sites that give personal information about others that can be used to embarrass them.

Second, Lynn sent Sandra mean text messages. Cyberbullying doesn’t just begin or end with PCs or Macs. Cyberbullying can also involve mean messages or photos sent over cell phones. Children have reported having their number bombed with message after message filled with terrible insults from other people. Text-message bullying is a distant relative to old-fashioned phone bullying, where people would call up different homes and make crank remarks, shout insults, or just hang up and call back over and over.

Some other forms of Internet bullying include:

E-mailing mean pictures: Nowadays cell phones can take videos and still photos. As a result, bullies use these devices to embarrass other children. People have talked about bullies taking bad pictures of them with cell phones and e-mailing them to other people. There have also been cases where bullies have e-mailed pictures that they claimed were of their victims but really weren’t. Stealing someone’s online ID: Another way bullies can hurt people online is by pretending to be them in chat rooms and on message boards. Children imitate another child’s sign-on name and then show up in a popular room where that user may hang out online. They will then start to say mean or embarrassing things about the child, pretending it’s the victim saying these things about himself. Or the bully may make it seem as though the person he/she is pretending to be is saying something bad about other people. Many conflicts have been started because someone went online and pretended to be speaking as someone else. This is one of the sneakiest and most hurtful forms of cyberbullying, because it makes it harder for you to know who is behind this act.

Stealing passwords: In some cases, someone can get hold of your password and make your life miserable. Sometimes they will use the password to sign on as you and make trouble with your friends or even strangers. In other cases, bullies use the stolen password to sign you up to receive junk mail from different websites, including places where dangerous strangers may hang out. Or the bullies might even give your password to others, who can use it to hack into your system and even steal your private information.

Stolen passwords can lead to more than insults and rumors being posted online. Bullies have given stolen passwords to criminals, who use them to break into bank accounts and use credit cards. They can steal a lot of money this way. Stolen passwords have contributed to crimes not only against kids, but also against their parents. This can lead to trouble far beyond what a child bully may cause for a classmate or neighbor.

Keeping kids out of online games: Interactive games have been popular for years, and they have become a way for bullies to pick on others. Children have discussed how they are sometimes not allowed into certain game rooms or onto certain teams during games because bullies keep them away. In the same way that smaller children are sometimes not allowed to join in basketball or football games, online bullies can keep less popular people out of online social groups during gaming activities.

Staging fights to post on YouTube: In many cases, online bullying can be a sign that a child is being picked on physically, too. There have been recent reports of incidents where kids have attacked other kids and taped the fights to post online later. These attacks have led to some horrifying footage, showing girls and boys being kicked and punched and shoved, having their hair pulled and their bodies bruised. Although this constitutes physical bullying, the bully adds to the humiliation of his or her victim by broadcasting the mean acts for all to see. In one well-known case, some girls beat up another girl from their school and shot video of the attack while some guys acted as lookouts for them. The video was then posted on YouTube for everyone to see. Eventually, seven teen bullies were arrested for the attack and charged with battery and false imprisonment.

Sending viruses: Some bullies intentionally send out code that is meant to damage a victim’s computer or software. There are also viruses that let kids spy on what other kids are doing or even take control of their computers.

  • Chapter summary
  • Online bullying involves the use of computers, websites, message boards, and other online forums to hurt other kids.
  • Cyberbullying is another name for online bullying.
  • The Internet now gives bullies a bigger audience.
  • Online bullying can sometimes indicate that physical bullying is also going on.
  • Online bullying can involve forms of verbal bullying when kids leave nasty messages or texts on others’ phones or computers or Web pages.
  • Online bullying can also provide a place for relationship bullying as some kids sometimes keep others out of online games and other activities.
  • Bullies sometimes steal people’s online identities and send embarrassing or threatening messages to others.
  • Online bullying can lead to financial and other crimes.

Excerpted from “Life Strategies for Dealing With Bullies” by Jay McGraw. Copyright (c) 2008, reprinted with permission from Simon & Schuster.