The posting below gives some good insights on dealing with a serious problem affecting both students and professors. It is from Chapter 8 – Digital Safety, Security and Citizenship, in the book, Digital Literacy Skills for FE (Further Education) Teachers, by Jonathan White. Published by Learning Matters, An imprint of SAGE Publications Ltd 1 Oliver’s Yard, 55 City Road, London EC1Y 1SP. www.sagepublishing.com © 2015 Jonathan White. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
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Cyberbullying as a term has grown in usage over the past decade to describe bullying that takes place in digital environments. Hoechsmann and Poyntz (2012: 145) define cyberbullying as ‘the use of new media to circulate hurtful or abusive texts about or images of others, and covers both the act of bullying and the circumstance of victimhood’. This is a good definition, but ‘new media’ is a term sometimes associated directly with social media, whereas cyberbullying can take place across a wide variety of media, networks, websites, platforms, apps and devices, in fact using just about any digital technology. Poore’s (2013: 189) definition is therefore much more succinct, while addressing all scenarios: ‘[cyberbullying is] any hostile act directed towards another person that occurs using digital technology.’
The problem of cyberbullying is increasing, with a number of reports highlighing how much bullying learners, and young people in particular, face in digital environments. In 2013, the helpline ChildLine reported an increase of 87 per cent in the number of calls they receive about cyberbullying in just one year (ChildLine, 2013) and the anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label recently published research reporting that 62 per cent of the 13-25-year-olds surveyed had received ‘nasty’ messages via smartphone apps, 47 per cent had received ‘nasty’ comments on their profiles and 42 per cent had received comments which were hate-based, such as being homophobic or racist (Ditch the Label, 2015).
Learners are not the only group to be targets for cyberbullying though. In 2015 NASUWT – the teachers’ union – reported that 60 per cent of respondents to their annual survey said they had been victims of cyberbullying by pupils and parents (NASUWT, 2015). Similarly, the Department for Education (2014a) reported that 21 per cent of all teachers have reported ‘having derogatory comments posted about them on social media sites from both parents and children’. The issue is therefore a widespread problem affecting all educational sectors and institutions.
Cyberbullying, like traditional bullying, could take many forms, but it is likely to fit into one of these categories or a mixture of them:
- Insults, offensive use of language, abusive language and hate-based comments aimed at individual or groups – about anything to which a person takes offence, but remember some characteristics, such as race, sex, sexual orientation and religion, are protected characteristics as defined by the Equality Act 2010. Abuse of this nature could lead to criminal prosecution.
- Threats and blackmail – this can include threats of physical violence, but could also include threats to share secrets, personal details or images and videos if the victim does not do something for the bully. This can quickly become blackmail. In some circumstances this could lead to criminal prosecution if the threats were found to have been made with serious intent, or if the recipient felt at risk.
- Sharing of photographs, images and videos of a person without their consent/without their knowledge – this could be bullying if this is a photo taken and/or shared without or against the person’s consent, or if it is used as a means to attack or belittle a person based upon their characteristics. Criminal prosecution could occur if inappropriate images of children are shared.
- ‘Naming and shaming’ and airing personal grievances – this involves a person posting comments about a person where they have a personal grudge against or issue with that person.
- Targeting and ‘trolling’ – this involves ‘sitting’ on social networks/media, forums, blogs, etc. to prey on a specific person or group for the purpose of relentless bullying, to attack them or to encourage them to partake in self-abusing behavior. This is usually done using a pseudonym or anonymously.
- Accusations and rumors – this involves posting or sharing posts about individuals which may or may not be true. The comments could be libelous and open to legal challenge if they cannot be backed up.
As cyberbullying can take many forms, it is sometimes missed or some incidents are not taken as seriously as others. Cyberbullying in all its forms can have a devastating effect on its victims and it is hard to predict and estimate how much certain types of bullying will affect an individual. Remember, no two people are alike, and will react differently from others.
Search online for stories in the media about incidents of cyberbullying in order to get an overview of the nature of incidents which occur, and to keep up to date with new digital technologies being used as mediums for cyberbullying. Most search engines have a ‘news’ search function which will find freely available news articles, or your institution’s library may subscribe to a news database giving access to a wide range of articles from newspapers and news services. There are many high-profile examples of cyberbullying taking place which have become news stories you may wish to search for and read about.
Visit my blog to read a post about two examples which received a lot of media attention in 2013: http://teachdigitalliteracy.com/2013/08/11/in-the-news-1/ (White, 2013). The case of the cyberbullying of historian Mary Beard highlights that consequences for cyberbullies can include criminal prosecution, but the cases of vulnerable teenagers bullied and abused to the point of suicide show the devastating effect cyberbullying can have on victims and their families.
Bullying through digital technologies can occur solely online in digital environments or may take place in both the physical and digital world. The availability of recording equipment through mobile devices, such as still and video cameras and audio recording, means that the opportunities to capture embarrassing moments and potentially use them for bullying in digital environments are greater than ever before. As the Department for Schools, Children and Families and Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (2009) pointed out, this may lead to ‘Situations [being] deliberately engineered in order to photograph someone in a humiliating way’. Incidents may also occur which begin in digital environments, but move into the physical world and turn into incidents in classrooms or elsewhere in the institution. It is therefore important to be vigilante for possible signs of problems and to realize that some incidents which occur may have deeper causes and long-standing issues which stretch beyond what has happened in college.
How to tackle cyberbullying
The first step is to ensure that a culture exists which takes cyberbullying seriously and encourages the reporting of it. Most colleges will have policy and guidance on how to deal with incidents of cyberbullying, and it may be appropriate to discuss the issue with your learners and let them know the incidents of cyberbullying, as with all bullying and abusive behavior, are taken seriously by the institution and can be reported to you and colleagues. Sometimes posters and information on the institution’s website or VLE will be displayed for learners to read.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families and Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills’ (2009) advice for dealing with bullying, including cyberbullying, lists the following steps to be worked through:
- Make the victim safe.
- Stop the bullying and change the bully’s behavior.
- Make clear to every learner that bullying is unacceptable.
- Learn lessons from the experience that can be applied in the future.
Teaching learners to understand what constitutes cyberbullying and to think critically before engaging in any activities which could be cyberbullying is extremely important, and you do not need to wait until a situation occurs before teaching these concepts. The most important skill to develop is how to identify and support victims of cyberbullying and find solutions to their issues. The most obvious signs that a learner is having problems are:
- Changes in mood, behavior, health, appearance and attitude.
- Standards of work start to slip.
- Attendance pattern alters significantly.
- Dramatic changes in friendship groups.
Individually, these are not evidence of an issue, but you may wish to have a meeting with the learner if you become concerned about a mixture of changes. In terms of digital technology use, you should look out for and possibly be suspicious if learners exhibit any of the signs above in combination with any of the following (based on signs described by Hinduja and Patchin, 2010: 3):
- Become obsessed and distracted with one or more social networks or messaging services.
- Isolate themselves from the physical world in favor of digital technologies. Conversely they may become suddenly very resistant to using digital technologies.
- Become very private or secretive about their digital technology usage.
- React uncharacteristically or seemingly disproportionately when a new digital communication arrives.
If you do identify that cyberbullying is taking place, it is important that you support the learners through describing what has happened using a non-judgmental approach. Making them feel supported in this way will allow you to identify their issues and needs and progress towards a solution. Identifying and dealing with the perpetrator(s) is easier if they are other learners, but could be more difficult if they are external. If you are not able to deal with the situation in your institution you should seek the advice of your safeguarding officer who will be able to advise on the best course of action. If the learner is under 18 there may be grounds to treat the incident as a child protection issue if there is ‘reasonable cause to suspect that a child… is suffering, or is likely to suffer significant harm’ (Children Act, 1989) from the cyberbullying, which may be physical or mental. Even if the learner is over 18, you could still speak to the safeguarding officer, as outside agencies such as the police may wish to investigate and bring prosecution under the Malicious Communications Act 1988 or the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.
If you want to seek the advice of professionals from outside your organization on digital safety and cyberbullying issues, making a call to the UK Safer Internet Centre (2015a) helpline could be a first step.
Craig is occasionally teased about his weight by learners in your group, but he laughs this off and you have not been concerned until recently. After you met with Craig about his falling attendance, he confided in you that the comments he receives in class have started to annoy him a little, but more recently he has started to receive negative comments about his weight and looks on a popular photo-based social network. Twice these comments were accompanied by a threat of physical violence. The comments were from a profile using a pseudonym. Craig is sure these comments must be coming from another learner in the class, as no one else comments on his weight. He is upset and worried.
Think about what you have learned so far and come up with a plan to help and support Craig to take steps to identify the perpetrators, stop the abuse and involve other professionals where appropriate.
If you or a colleague are cyberbullied
As a teacher or other member of staff, if you are cyberbullied by a learner, parent or other staff member, you should pursue the following steps, which are based upon advice issued in the UK by the University and College Union (no date) and the Department for Education (2014a, 2014b):
- Do not respond to the cyberbullying or try to resolve it on your own. Responding could make the situation worse and potentially lead to an escalation of the issue.
- Report incidences of cyberbullying as you become aware of them. Your line manager or a senior member of staff is usually the best person to speak to in the first instance. You may also wish to seek the advice of your union if you are a member of one. Don’t wait to report something, the quicker it is reported, the quicker it can be dealt with.
- Make sure the incident is investigated appropriately and help the investigation where possible. A member of senior staff with responsibility for e-safety or health and safety is probably the most appropriate person to investigate. If you are able to collect evidence such as screenshots and downloads of the offending images and text then do so. If you are unable to do this, make the person investigating aware.
- Make sure that the outcome resolves the issue and is satisfactory to you as the victim. Your institution should follow their own procedures for dealing with such incidents, but if these procedures are inadequate, a union representative could help you to take the matter further. If your institution is unable to resolve the matter in-house, it may be time to seek external advice. In the first instance you could contact the UK Safer Internet Centre helpline (UK Safer Internet Centre, 2015a) and you may need to bring the matter to the attention of the police.
References and further reading
ChildLine (2013) ‘Can I Tell You Something?’, ChildLine Review, 2012/13. Available at: http://www.nspcc.org.uk/globalassets/documents/research-reports/childline-review-2012-2013.pd
Crime and Disorder Act (1998) Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/37/contents.
DCSF and DIUS (2009) Safe from Bullying in Further Education Colleges. Available at http://www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk/media/7488/safe_from_bullying-fe.pdf
Ditch the Label (2015) The Wireless Report 2015. Available at: http://www.ditchthelabel.org/the-wireless-report-2014/
Hinduja, S and Patchin, JW (2010) Cyberbullying: Identification, Prevention, and Response. Available at: http://syrcindustries.com/download/cyberbullying_identifcation_prevention_response_fact_sheet.pdf
HM Government (2015) Cyber Streetwise. Available at: https://www.cyberstreetwise.com.
Hoechsmann, M and Poyntz, S R (2012) Media Literacies: A Critical Introduction. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Malicious Communications Act (1988) Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1988/27/contents.
NASUWT (2015) Huge Rise in Teachers Being Abused on Social Media. Available at: http://www.nasuwt.org.uk/Whatsnew/NASUWTNews/PressReleases/NASUWT_013930.
Poore, M (2013) Using Social Media in the Classroom: A Best Practice Guide. London: Sage.
UK Safer Internet Centre (2015a) ‘Helpline.’ Available at: http://www.saferinternet.org.uk/about/helpline.
UK Safer Internet Centre (2015b) Safer Internet Day. http://www.saferinternet.org.uk/safer-internet-day.
University and College Union (no date) Practical Steps to Ensure Internet Safety. Available at: https://www.ucu.org/uk/media/pdf/o/9/hsfacts_internetsafety.pdf
White, J P (2013) ‘In the news #1: Trolls, Abuse, Threats and Cyberbullying’, Teach Digital Literacy blog, 11 August. Available at: http://teachdigitalliteracy.com/2013/08/11/in-the-news-1/.
Willard, N (2012) Cyber Savvy: Embracing Digital Safety and Civility. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.