1.0 Problem

1.1 Definition

Cyberbullying describes the senseless school ground-like harassment individuals are subject to on digital mediums (Tokunaga, 2010). As the term insinuates, it is most applicable to youth populations by common denotation of online harassment for adult variations (Stop Bullying, 2015). Given the emphasis on children and adolescent groups, the problem should be understood in this parochial context.

1.2 Technological Ubiquity

The main issue with cyberbullying is not the bullying per se, but the cyber element given its ubiquity. Modern information systems have effectively interlinked the world with direct intersections in personal life at innumerable points (Lenhart, 2015). Children since the late 1990s have been fully submersed in the development of online social networking and the implications of the interactions they facilitate are not fully understood (Todd, 2015). What is known is that telecommunication usage among adolescent populations in United States is nearly universal (Lenhart, 2015).

1.3 Ineffective Controls

Despite the exponential growth of the internet and mobile communications, the containment and monitoring of antisocial behaviors has been incommensurable (Stamp, 2011). Securitization of these mediums unfortunately can conflict with rights to privacy and freedom of speech (Goldstein, 2001). Given content filters and user restrictions, the internet although open, is increasingly being filled with barriers that privatizes digital domains and makes external oversight difficult. With security tools afforded to adults often accessible to youth, immutable restrictions are difficult to achieve (Keith et al, 2005). Legislation has created an impetus to action, but jurisdictional powers are often left with little proactive recourse as case pursuance is dependent upon reporting (Zande, 2009; Menesini et al, 2009). This is compounded by the fact that the term cyberbullying may not imply legal denotations as bullying and simple slander are often not deemed of serious concern (Todd, 2014).

2.0 Harm

2.1 Health & Development

Severe and persistent harassment can denigrate the psychosomatic health of victims. Common consequences include anxiety and the perpetuation of negative thought patterns which can cause symptoms of depression (Hinduja et al, 2014). If the emanating source of these stressors cannot be mitigated, their continuance can lead to more corporal manifestations such as acne, headaches, insomnia, and tremors (AIS, 2015). Extreme reactions are rare, but these outliers remain potentialities given situational conditions and victim dispositions (Bottino et al, 2015). In these self-deprecation morphs into suicidal and homicidal ideations which can cause violent outbreaks (Hinduja & Patchin, 2007). With the vast physiological and cognitive changes youth undergo, the damaging effects of stress are exacerbated and can have long lasting impacts with duress internalized through adulthood (Todd, 2014).

2.2 Derealization

Given the torment of the victimizer is predominately a process of negotiated interpretation between the victim, there is great deal of subjectivity in this mode of harassment. The intentioned meanings of the acts are often difficult to gauge by nature of the distancing and abstraction inherent to interactions (Shariff, 2008). As the perpetrator and target often are graphical representations on a screen, the real symbolic value is diminished (Vandebosch et al, 2008). This derealization is an extremely important factor to consider in the harm calculus as youth is a time of experiential deficits (Larson et al, 2002). The material separation of the victim and victimizer means these harassments are less likely to be fully comprehended in a real world context (Simeon et al, 2006).

3.0 Contributing Factors

3.1 Personality

Dispositions of victims and victimizers in adolescent cyberbullying have been shown to greatly replicate those apart of traditional paradigm of bullying (Slonje & Smith, 2008). Victims tend to be passive, insecure, melancholic, and lack developed coping mechanisms (Cohn & Canter, 2003). Victimizers diverge from the traditional epitome of a bully given the format, with high social network status and physicality generally less applicable, but the desire to harass and the satisfaction derived from predation often remains (Bauman et al, 2012; Tokunaga, 2010).

3.2 Maturity

The aggregate level of cyberbullying appears to be generally greatest during adolescence, particularly during puberty (Williams et al, 2007). This is largely attributable to long understood biochemical changes and a desire to push social boundaries associated with physiological development (Nottelmann et al, 1990). In progression through secondary school, there appears to be a general waning in incidents, a trend seen to continue into early adulthood, although the nature of this decay is not fully explored and offending remains prevalent (Walker et al, 2011).

3.3 Familial & Curricular Relations

The nature of familial domestic relations greatly influences the behaviors of youth. Parents and guardians that abuse and neglect their progeny are far more likely to instill antisocial and dysfunctional character traits that underlie cyberbullying. Similarly, curricular and peer youth environments can also reinforce such delinquency when there is a lack of rule bounded oversight (Cohen & Canter, 2003; Hope et al, 2003). With cyberbullying revolving around peer relations in school and related extracurricular settings, the interaction of differing personality types generates factionalism and antagonistic cliques (Juvonen et al, 2003).

3.4 Telecommunications 

Over 90 percent of youth use telecommunications daily with 70 percent constituting social media interchanges (Lenhart, 2015). The prevalence of these online interpersonal communications means offenses are more likely to occur, a trend illustrated by the paralleled increased of victimization and online usage (Todd, 2014). As more of life is lived vicariously online, the hyperpersonal model of computer-mediated communication will become an ever more essential aspect of emotional wellbeing (Simeon et al, 2006).

4.0 Event Interactions

4.1 Offenders

Cyberbullies comprise a multifarious group given the material distance and abstraction native to this mode of harassment (Hinduja et al, 2014). Despite the cognitive emphasis of online communication mediums, intellectualism is not a requisite as most telecommunication programs are designed to be intuitive and user friendly. Many documented cases of online harassment utilize unsophisticated methods, although attacks that cross platforms, circumvent security protocols, and anonymize offenders arguably require greater technological expertise (Tokunaga, 2011; Zande, 2009). Behaviorally, victimizers can be well explained using a derivative the Cornish and Clarkes offender typology (Wortley & Lorraine, 2011).

    • Predators: Actions are intentionally malicious to the victim and involve premeditation
    • Provoked: Actions are emotional responses to previous victimizations or anti-social behavior that reciprocate harassment to either the original victimizer or upon another victim
    • Accidental: Actions are unintentional miscommunications due to the abstraction of online environments, message decontextualization, and misconceptions of about the victim

4.2 Victims

Research indicates that many individuals who are targeted in traditional bullying have a similar propensity to be victimized online as they are still associated with perceived physical or behavioral differences (Ybarra & Mitchell, 2004). Victims are categorized by maladaptive response techniques defined by a failure to retaliate with equal efficacy. Their behaviors are often either too passive or provocative, signaling vulnerability (Menesini et al, 2009; Sampson, 2002). As many victims are often not the intentioned targets of cyberbullies, their victimization represents unintended collateral damage for antisocial behavior (Todd, 2014).

    • Passive: Reactions are non-confrontational and internalized
    • Provocative: Reactions actively acknowledge and entice victimizers
    • Bystander: Reactions are generally in response to more public communications that are either openly disparaging or target a subject with a preexisting emotional bond

4.3 Location & Time

As computing systems can remain indefinitely active, there are no real physical or temporal bounds to cyberbullying (Zande, 2009). When analyzed in the institutional framework, the location and time elements become less protracted. Given most primary and secondary academic environments do not condone usage of personal electronic devices during instruction, this automatically leads to significant incident concentration during approved periods or where there is perceived absence of capable guardianship. During the school operational hours, this includes recesses, lunch, passing periods, and other curricular disjunctions (Earl, 2012). Immediately before and after school represents the largest potential spans as adult supervision is minimized (Stop Bullying, 2015).

5.0 General Responses

5.1 Community Prevention

Prevention programs must be comprehensive and employ a community-wide approach to maximize efficacy (Mason, 2008; Srabstein et al, 2008). A universal set of tools should be created that diagnosis and treat cyberbullying in all activity zones of adolescents (Stop Bullying, 2015). Although cyberbullying is endemic to academic life, the lack of true spatiotemporal bounds means incidents often occur outside of the confines of school creating enforcement dilemmas (Zande, 2009).

To ensure that cyberbullying is dealt with uniformly, surveillance and conflict resolution practices employed in schools should be similarly adopted by the larger community to prevent enforcement inconsistencies (Srabstein et al, 2008). It is especially important that the active monitoring of adolescent communications appear omnipresent to reduce perceptions of opportunity (Mason, 2008). As there are misconceptions as to what cyberbullying constitutes, families, businesses, and public facilities may need to be informed issue and its related factors from a legalized perspective (Cohen & Canter, 2003). Above all, since cyberbullying is predicated on negativity, communities should at all times promote these messages in positive, non-condemnatory tone that still clearly delineates repercussions (Shariff, 2009).

5.2 Connecting Cyberbullying & Bullying

Cyberbullying and traditional bullying are not mutually exclusive. Both forms are premised upon similar antisocial interactions and the mode by which offenses occurs should not change the perceptions of harm (Todd, 2014). Much traditional bullying is already highly psychological and not predicated on physical aggression (Zande, 2009). Despite cross-victimization being difficult to measure given the indirect communicational channels of cyberbullying, studies indicate that there is a salient relation (Ybarra & Mitchell, 2004). With their shared premises, targeting one type for prevention can lead to a diffusion of benefits (Bauman et al, 2012). As traditional bullying programs have historical precedence and efficacy, their proactive use could cause measurable reductions in cyberbullying. Current anti-bullying tactics based upon physical vigilance, reconciliation, and active usage of punishment schemes are all applicable (Smith et al, 2004).

6.0 Specific Responses

6.1 Cyber Awareness Education Programs

School educational programs must be created that address cyber security and cyberbullying prevention tactics within the academic paradigm (Stop Bullying, 2015). This can be achieved by utilizing curricula whereby students learn to interact with antisocial behavior in a mode that replicates cyberbullying, but where the associated harm is minimized. The purposeful use of case examples and simulations can parallel real life circumstances, showing adolescents and educators alike what constitutes cyberbullying (Cone et al, 2007; Valcke et al, 2007). Lessons should be conducted on digital devices including textual as well as audiovisual material to make the education more interactive and less abstract. After the definitional bounds of cyberbullying are illustrated, this should be complimented by coverage on specific tools and filters that show students how limit their accessible content and take target hardening approaches (Shariff, 2009). To create homogeneity and standardization in reporting, instruction upon the proper methods, outlets and circumstances for documenting victimizations must also be included (Valcke et al, 2007).

6.2 Self & Peer Reporting

Self-reporting remains the predominate manner by which cyberbullying cases are identified given semantic intimacy victims have with the experienced duress (Slonje & Smith, 2008). To facilitate this, school reporting practices should be clearly designated to encourage victims to seek formal solutions. Given the sensitive nature of the issue, students should be able to file a report with any staff member without reservation. It is vital that this is then followed by a formal student-staff consultation to allow for incident specifics to be discussed in order for proper recourse to be taken (Bauman et al, 2012).

Peer-reporting is similarly important to case discovery although it is less efficacious given the indirect involvement in the victimization process. Unless there are clear instances of abuse that use illegal content, it can be problematic to justify an intervention, especially when victims are uninvolved (Neary & Joseph, 1994). Nonetheless, these reports still succeed in identifying abuse and can give substantive weight to self-reported victimization claims (Todd, 2014). To increase peer reporting, anonymous reporting mechanisms should be made available and legitimate filings should be incentivized (Shariff, 2009).

6.3 School Ombudsmen

Centralizing the management of cyberbullying cases by allocating school ombudsmen would steel reporting and mediation functions. Ideally school counselors would fulfill these roles given their prior training in youth psychology (Ciavarella & Doolittle, 1970). Ombudsmen would be delegated to investigate all cases of cyberbullying and to use punitive resolutions only in severe or recurrent cases. Consultations would occur between both the victims and offenders as a part of the general inquiry and to determine social causations for the antisocial behavior (Whitted & Dupper, 2005). When appropriate, conflict resolution would include victim-offender mediations to combat the effects of derealization (Smith et al, 2004).

6.4 User Restrictions & Tracking

Academic facilities need to securitize their data management schemes to ensure access to sensitive materials is restricted and user activities are tracked (Goldstein, 2001; Stamp, 2011). Workstations and wireless networks should be encrypted and accessible only via user accounts issued by a network administrator. Additionally, content access on local area networks and the internet should be limited according to user account type. Students should be blocked from most social media and entertainment sites to minimize the possibility for antisocial interaction (Willard, 2014). The preponderance of personal networked electronic devices and data networks though mean youth populations can potentially circumvent many school network security protocols, which limits potential efficacy (Earl, 2012).

7.0 Limited Responses

7.1 Legislation & Law Enforcement

The creation of cyberbullying legislation has made documentable incidents convictable offences for minors (Goldstein, 2009). This escalation into the legal arena creates a de jure enforcement responsibility for not only for police and campus security personnel, but teachers, administrators, and school staff alike (Zande, 2009). Having clear punishment schedules for youth demonstrates the seriousness associated with cyberbullying and equalizes the traditional bullying comparison (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014). Although many legal statutes are decidedly interpretive, the law enforcement referral process means that school case managers do not need to fully ascertain its full criminal applicability as it becomes an issue of the justice system. Still, the incapacitation and deterrence effect from this legal formalization upon cyberbullying remains unexplored (Todd, 2014). As many punishment schemes mimic those of traditional bullying, it is plausible for there to be similar resultants, with highly punitive “Zero Tolerance” policies having little long-term efficacy (Cohn & Cantor, 2003).

7.2 Prohibit Personal Networked Electronic Devices

Situational preventative strategies are highly effective in cyberbullying. By nature of its reliance on technology, removal of personal networked electronic devices instantaneously prevents offending. As minors not emancipated, they are not endowed with the same liberties as an adult and thus school prohibition remains an effective strategy (Goldstein, 2001). Already in many education contexts, personal electronics are largely reprimanded and their use is sharply curtailed (Obringer & Coffey, 2007). Confiscation though presents a more serious issue given past security threats and the private data stored on such devices, so this should be avoided whenever possible.  To reduce non-prescriptive usage, physical surveillance is necessary to deter and detect users (Smith et al, 2004). As with all antisocial youth behavior, adult supervision and monitoring remains a powerful deterrent (Smith et al, 2004).

 

Appendix

Summary of Responses

The following tables summarize all general, specific, and limited responses. Employment of any combination of these will have a synergistic effect at controlling and mitigating victimizations. Nonetheless, given the semantic and interpretive nature of online antisocial interactions, enforcement practices must always consider the particular contextual factors of the school environment to design effective cyberbullying responses.

General Responses
Response How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
Community Prevention Engages the entire community creating omnipresent vigilance of youth populations and reduces enforcement heterogeneity Community ordinances should passed that require public facilities to abide by standard principles and use central reporting channels for serious incidents It will be necessary to provide private and public facility operators an incentive to actively uphold tenets such as tax deductions and awards
Connecting Cyberbullying & Bullying Links and redefines cyberbullying as an equivalent type of harassment, changing perceptions and case management practices Many schools have preexisting traditional anti-bullying programs and thus their scope should be expanded to redress cyberbullying Efforts should be focused upon students given their experiential deficits and reduced ability to understand emotional consequences of abstracted harassment

 

Specific Responses
Response How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
Cyber Awareness Programs Educates students and staff upon security risks correlated with victimization as well as gives methods for combating cyberbullying Programs need to be interactive and use simulations to replicate cyberbullying with the utmost realism, particularly making parallels to traditional bullying Will require considerable curriculum development and technical expertise to implement
Self & Peer Reporting Encourages victims and witnesses of victimization to file incident reports to allow for formal school action Students to should be able to report incidents to any staff member or via an incident form with cases forwarded to a school counselor for further inquiry Self-reporting must identify the victim and peer-reporting must include an anonymously filing mechanism
School Ombudsmen Allows for students and staff to console a central case administrator that explore case dynamics and facilitates mediations It ideal that the ombudsmen is a preexisting school counselor and versed in youth mental health Individual will require knowledge of cyberbullying legislation and technicalities of online communication modes
User Restrictions & Tracking Decreases open access of computing systems and catalogues user actions for documentation School or district-wide security protocols should exist to allow for synchronization with cyberbullying programs May increase propensity for technical failures and complicates usage of digital devices

 

Limited Responses
Response How It Works Works Best If… Considerations
 Legislation & Law Enforcement Creates legal obligation for school officials to deal with cyberbullying and involves official legal bodies There should be preexisting local and state laws to create a legal basis for school-based actions As school officials are not endowed with any substantive legal authority, it will be necessary to involve the police for serious cases
Prohibit Personal Networked Electronic Devices Removes opportunity to offend on privately owned devices during school operational hours Active physical surveillance of students is necessary to prevent usage Confiscation should be performed with caution given past school security threats and considering private data stored on devices

 

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