One-third of all teens who use the Internet have been the victims of cyber-bullying, or harassment online, according to a study released Wednesday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
Girls are more likely to be cyber-bullied, as are teens who lead active online lives, the study finds.
“Bullying has entered the digital age,” the study’s authors write. “The impulses behind it are the same, but the effect is magnified.
“In the past, the materials of bullying would have been whispered, shouted or passed around,” they note. “Now, with a few clicks, a photo, video or a conversation can be shared with hundreds via e-mail or millions through a Web site, online profile or blog posting.”
The Pew report is the result of telephone interviews with 935 teenagers nationwide. The most common types of online bullying reported include receiving threatening messages, having private e-mails or text messages forwarded without consent, having an embarrassing picture posted without permission, and having rumors spread online, the Pew study states.
Some 38 percent of online girls reported being bullied, compared with only 26 percent of online boys. Older girls in particular were the most likely to report being bullied: 41 percent of online girls between the ages of 15 and 17 reported such experiences. Older girls also received more online threats, the study finds.
Nearly four in 10 users of social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, meanwhile, said they have been cyber-bullied in some way, compared with only 22 percent of those who do not use such sites.
“This is a significant and growing problem, and the Pew study has good validity,” Nancy Willard, executive director for the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use and cyberbully.org, told TechNewsWorld.
Indeed, the Pew numbers match closely those from a study last year by i-SAFE, spokesperson Jeff Godlis said.
That study finds that 32 percent of high school students and 17 percent of middle school students have said “mean or hurtful” things online, Godlis told TechNewsWorld. Eleven percent of high school students and 8 percent of middle school students in that study even said they had been stalked online, Godlis added.
Limits on Freedom
“There is an unfortunate and mistaken perception about free speech that it is absolute, and has no bounds,” Willard said. “But there is no absolute right of freedom of speech. People have the right to speak freely online until such time as they injure another.”
Teens and children who spend time online must be educated not to place themselves in situations where they will be at risk, such as online communities where people are treating each other badly, she said, and also to not post material in electronic form that someone could use against them.
Two standards for victims to follow are “One: Don’t retaliate, and two: Save the evidence,” Willard explained. They should calmly tell the bully to stop, terminate the connection, and file a complaint with the Web site, if necessary, she said. “And if those fail, they need to talk to an adult.”
Parents should be sure to tell their kids that they will help if bullying arises — without restricting online access, she added. “Kids often don’t report bullying to their parents because they’re afraid adults will overreact and make matters worse,” she explained.
Role of Schools
Meanwhile, schools have a role to play too, Willard said: “Schools have got to understand that while this may be off-campus speech, it is causing severe problems at school, and they can, legally — and should — respond.”
Comprehensive Internet safety education needs to be a part of school curricula, focusing especially on the necessity of guarding personal information, Godlis added.
“Before the Internet, bullying used to take place on the playgrounds, and it was face-to-face,” Godlis concluded. “Now it’s everywhere, and can come from anywhere in the world.”