Today, thanks to the blessing and curse of highly personalized electronic media, there’s even less easy escape from bullying.  Where students used to worry about being bullied at school, now beginning in middle school, they also fear that everyone at school will see them bullied all over cyberspace—for example, on MySpace or Xanga, or through instant messaging, text messaging, e-mail, blogs, cell phones, or chat rooms.

Cyber-bullying (also called online bullying) is willful, recurrent harm inflicted through the medium of electronic text; it’s using the cyber world to harass through personal attacks or other means.  One of the more recognized instances occurred when Eric Harris, one of the killers in the 1999 Columbine massacre, put up a Web site that discussed murdering fellow students.  Another was “the Star Wars kid,” whose classmates uploaded video of him posing as Darth Maul onto Kazaa in 2003.  The footage was downloaded and modified extensively, causing him extensive embarrassment, resulting in psychiatric treatment and his dropping out of school.  In 2005, People magazine noted that a thirteen-year-old boy had committed suicide after his classmates taunted and teased him about his size for a month via instant messaging.

One national poll revealed that at least a third of teens have had mean, threatening, or embarrassing statements made about them online.  In Illinois alone, researchers estimate that a half million kids have been victimized by cyber-bullying.  Ten percent were threatened with physical harm (which is a crime).  There’s even software that allows people to text and instant message people as if they are someone else.  There is no conventional way of tracking down the impostor.  The anonymity allows bullies to be even more malicious.

Australia’s Department of Education and Skills reported that one in five students have been victims of cyber-bullying.  Yet one in three students never reported the incident.  Canada has taken a lead in this arena with tougher laws; under its Criminal Code, it is a crime to communicate repeatedly with someone if your communication causes them to fear for their own safety or the safety of others.  IT is also a crime to publish a “defamatory libel,” writing something designed to insult a person or likely to hurt a person’s reputation by exposing her to hatred, contempt, or ridicule.

Next time:  The uncomfortable truth about victims.

Paul Coughlin is the author of numerous books, including No More Christian Nice Guy and No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps. He also co-authored a book for married couples with his wife Sandy, titled Married But Not Engaged. His articles appear in Focus on the Family magazine, and he as been interviewed by Dr. James Dobson, FamilyLife Radio, HomeWord, Newsweek, C-SPAN, The New York Times, and the 700 Club among others. Paul is founder of The Protectors, the faith-based answer to adolescent bullying, which provides curriculum for Sunday Schools, private schools, retreats, and individuals that trains people of faith to be sources of light in the theater of bullying. 

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