Cyberbullies are people who send mean images and text to others. Generally, most people consider harmful material sent from a minor to another minor cyberbulling; the same behavior when adults are involved is called cyberharassment. Cyberbullies are a big issue for children, especially with growing use of the Internet and digital devices like cellphones with camera and texting capabilities. As a result, many school districts and youth advocates are working to combat cyberbullying, and to educate people about the behavior so that they can put a stop to it.
Harmful material can take a wide range of forms. A cyberbully might, for example, send cruel instant messages or emails. Cyberbullies also post harmful material on websites, often in very public locations so that other young people will find the material. Essentially, cyberbullying is garden variety bullying, taken to a whole new level; instead of just involving a close group of bullies, for example, cyberbullies might attract millions of readers with harmful websites, and these readers in turn may start harassing the victim as well. Cybervictims may be popular, well liked people one day and pariahs the next.
If cyberbullying doesn't sound serious to you, it should. Victims of cyberbullying have been forced to switch schools or miss large amounts of school in order to avoid hurtful taunting and humiliation. Children have even committed suicide over cyberbullying, and several instances of serious school violence such as shootings have been linked to cyberbullies. Since victims often feel alone and targeted, they are sometimes extremely shy about speaking up and asking for help, especially if they are young children.
Cyberbullies can be subject to severe legal penalties, although the law in regards to cyber harassment is still being shaped. Harmful material could be considered defamation, for example, and cybervictims can sue people who post such material. If someone receives repeated unwanted emails and texts, this can be considered harassment, and it is possible to get a restraining order to get the behavior to stop. Many school districts are working directly with law enforcement to address the cyberbully problem, and there may be penalties outside of school as well as in for someone who is a cyberbully.
Many teachers and law enforcement are training together to learn more about the behavior and how to stop it. Several organizations offer services like presentations to parents, school officials, law enforcement, and schools. These organizations hope to stamp out cyberbullying by clearing defining it and showing people how to stop it.
Everyone can take a role in fighting cyberbullies. If you are a victim, you should save any harmful material you receive and turn it over to your parents or the police. It is also important to remember that you should not respond to a cyberbully, as bullies want to goad you into responding. You may also want to change your account passwords to ensure that no one can access any websites with your log-on information. Always report cyberbullying and any other type of harassment to a teacher or member of law enforcement, and don't hesitate to get your parents involved as well.
If you see one of your peers being harassed on the Internet, speak up. The victim could just as easily be you, and even if it means going against your friends, you have an obligation to defend people who cannot defend themselves. If you can't get a cyberbully to stop, report him or her. Parents can also get involved in the fight against cyberbullies by bringing up concerns with teachers or the bully's parents, or working with law enforcement to put the behavior to a stop.