On Friday, Sept. 30 students received an important message from the Vice President of Student Affairs, Esther Peralez, which did not include many details but was clearly about cyberbullying. By the tone and content of the email, Western students are (evidently) involved as the perpetrators, victims or both.
What used to be the behavior of children on the playground has now entered the high-tech world. Cyberbullying is well defined in our Student Handbook as harassing, teasing, intimidating or threatening another person by sending or posting inappropriate and hurtful email messages, digital pictures, images or web site postings, including blogs and social network systems.
The Wired Safety Group at wiredsafety.org defines it further by stating it is when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child. The website also reports that children have killed each other and have committed suicide after having been involved in a cyberbullying incident.
By getting involved as a cyberbully, you can lose your ISP or instant messaging accounts because cyberbullying is a term of service violation or breach of contract with the software provider. Parents are the best defense to correct this behavior and are in the position to make the most difference if their child is the perpetrator or victim.
Schools that try to get involved are often sued and lose the case on the basis that they are trying to exceed their legal authority for actions taken off campus. Students also have the constitutional freedom of speech to help defend their actions, even if their freedom upsets another person.
Wired Safety Group recommends that a provision be added to the school’s acceptable use policy reserving the right to discipline the student for actions taken off-campus if they are intended to have an effect on a student or they adversely affect the safety and well being of a student while in school. This makes it a contractual, not a constitutional, issue.
If it feels like this column is talking about children and not college students it’s because most of the time cyber bullying activities involve children. What needs to be said is that these actions are childish. It is actually a shame that our student handbook even needs to cover this topic. Using electronic devices to anonymously harass people is cowardly.
The best advice to follow if you are a victim according to the Wired Safety Group is to “stop, block and tell.” First, stop. Don’t do anything. Take a few minutes to calm down. Next, block the cyber bully or limit all communications to those on your buddy list. Then tell a trusted adult; you do not have to face this alone. You can also report cyber bullying experience to wiredsafety.org if you are a victim.