Saturday, August 13, 2011

Answers to some Questions on Cyberbullying

A friend is doing a talk on Cyberbullying and asked for some suggestions. Unfortunately I'm not the sort of person who can write "just a little" and as it turns out, my response is too long for Facebook. As such, I've decided to "post here and link there". In any case, she may find your own comments/responses to be better than my original statements;

So here are the Questions;
  1. When does freedom of speech cross over to cyberbullying?
  2. What productive strategies have you used when encountering online bullying?
  3. Parents/Teachers: Do your school districts have a cyberbullying policy or guidelines which they enforce?
  4. Psychologists/Therapists: How serious can this kind of trauma be to individuals enduring online attacks?

When does freedom of speech cross over to cyberbullying?

For many people, this threshold is reached shortly after the person being attacked starts complaining. For people on the spectrum however, this threshold may be reached quite some time before they even notice that they're being attacked.

People on the autism spectrum can be extremely naieve and will sometimes not see the difference between a "friendly joke" and an attack. By the time they realise that they're being attacked, the damage is usually already done.

What positive strategies have you used when encountering online bullying?

There are four main responses and I feel that all of them are valid, often in conjuntion with each other;
  • Regulation
  • Blocking
  • Positive Propaganda
  • Counselling

Regulation; All systems, societies etc have at least some form of legal protection against harmful activities. Most of these exist primarily to protect the system itself (ie: The school system, the Facebook system etc). That doesn't mean that you can't lean on their legality in the fight against bullying.

Just like normal bullying, you should not let cyberbullying be ignored. You must "stand up to the bullies". One way to do this in the cyberworld is to ensure that the bullies are made aware that they are in breach of regulations. If that means posting a legal warning notice on their facebook page for all to see, then so be it. Perhaps their friends will talk some sense into them.

It's very important for victims of cyberbullying to stay on the correct side of the law. Don't attempt to abuse or bully back. Stay calm and stay legal. Here's a sample message you could use with facebook;

You are being placed on formal notice that your online behavior towards constitutes a violation of Facebook's anti-bullying behavior and will not be tolerated.

If you continue this behavior, the authorities will be notified and legal steps will be taken.

By doing this, you've alerted the person (and their friends to the cyberbullying issue). You've given them fair warning and you're now in a much better legal position (even if they delete the message).

Also, don't forget to register with your service's anti-bullying support page and do a search on Facebook - there are plenty of anti-bulling groups on there too who are very willing to help.

Blocking; Most systems these days have an unfriending or blocking service. Use it to block those bullies out of your life. In real life, you wouldn't hang around the same areas that your bully does - so don't do it online.

Positive Propaganda; The internet is forever. You can't erase part mistakes but you can rise above them. Find positive things about your life and post them. They may not necessarily overtake the negative but they can cetainly change the tide.

Here's an example; You should remember the Star Wars kid, one of the most famous viral videos on the internet. If not, go to youtube and search for Star Wars Kid to see all the different versions of his video. It doesn't matter how many times the videos are taken down, they just keep popping up again. This poor boy spent a while in a psychiatric ward after this issue but he's now a lawyer - Google: "star wars kid lawyer" to see positive propaganda in action - his "good news" is mentioned on several sites.

Counselling; Everyone who has been through a difficult experience needs counselling. In some cases, good counselling could have made the difference between life and death. Even if your child isn't showing obvious signs of reacting to a bad bullying experience, why take the risk? Send them off to counselling (and parents, don't go with them). Let them get it out of their system and learn their own strategies for dealing with it.

Parents/Teachers: Do your school districts have a cyberbullying policy or guidelines which they enforce?

Like all systems, schools and districts have cyberbullying policies. Unfortunately, they're in place for their own legal protection - not really for the protection of students.

My son's school has every student sign an anti-bullying policy. This is great legal stuff but when a friend was badly cyberbullied, the school did nothing. When it eventually became a police matter, the school was forced to act on their policies. Don't wait for things to become bad. If local cyberbullying occurs, alert the local police.

Psychologists/Therapists: How serious can this kind of trauma be to individuals enduring online attacks?

Every single bit of online (or otherwise) bullying is doing damage. We've all heard about students who snap and take their own lives - or those of their fellow students. These are the stories which get the real publicity.

For every real case of fatal violence, there are hundreds of other cases of kids taking weapons to school (arguably for self-protection). Each of those incidents only needs the right conditions to turn from precautionary to fatal.

Then there are the kids who self harm and the kids who take their bullying experience and internalize them only to bring them out in agressive episodes (often directed at their own children) in later life.

Every single instance of bullying has the potential to be a life-damaging experience.


Diane J Standiford said...

Great post!

Anonymous said... << Might want to read this. Cyberbulling is fairly complex, and may be perceived to be occurring where it is, in fact, not.

Miguel Palacio said...

When does freedom of speech turn into bullying, period. What comes to mind is the Westborough Baptist Church who go around to the funerals of veterans and hurl insults. Why is this even allowed? It's no longer freedom of speech. They have crossed the line into intimidation.

Yet, if a teenager tells a cop, why are you beating that person, that teenager can have her face smashed into the ground, be sat upon and handcuffed. I see a double standard, with two types of bullying.

Miguel Palacio said...

It has been almost impossible to block groups such as the Westborogh Baptist Church. Though I've seen a few people sprout up lately calling themselves CopBlock. I wonder how effective they are and what they mean by CopBlock. All I know is that amongst some of the things they do is make videos of police brutality and post them. But, as to actual "blocking" idk.

Forgive me if I'm wrong. Too often I see cops cop an attitude with people. It's, IMHO, a form of bullying. Perhaps that's where the expression came from: to "cop an attitude". Maybe they're just trying to exert their authority, but in my autistic mind, it only detracts from their authority and turns them into the bad guy. Maybe it's that autistics have been already subjected to their fair share of bullying and it pushes just s few too many buttons.

I'm not saying cops should be outlawed, but bully cops, abusive cops and brutal cops should be outlawed. Too bad there hasn't been more citizen arrests of suck knuckleheads. But, of course, no matter how righteous, the law would never be in the favour of such citizens. I'm not espousing vigilantism, though I've seen a fair share of it.

Just recently, two policemen were shot dead in their vehicle. Almost point blank. By a revenge seeker. These police were not even the ones involved with any of the police brutality for which the revenge-seeker was killing them. Yet, in my view, it is definitely a symptom of when the society goes *snap!*.

Not justifying it, just explaining it.

I wonder how many cyber bullies grow up to be cops? Yeah, I know, not all cops are bullies, but, it seems, an inordinate proportion of them seem to be. I wonder why?

Miguel Palacio said...

I wonder if the Star Wars kid's experience inspired him to become a lawyer? Interesting to see life's turns.

Interesting to see also how the massacre of 9 African Americans turned into a rebellion against hatred, bullying, oppression, persecution and terrorism.

As with cyber bullying, this positive rebellion must begin early, before they grow up to be brutal cops, Klansmen, or Neo Nazis.