A girls sits in the dark, looking at her phone with concern.
Cyberbullying in College (and beyond)

Over the years, I have worked in a large metropolitan area in several occupations such as Police Officer, Detective, Police Academy Training Instructor, Middle School Administrator of Drug and Violence Prevention Programs, High School Teacher, and College Professor. All of these positions have provided me with remarkable stories, invaluable knowledge, and experience regarding bullying and cyberbullying.

What is Cyberbullying?

Once upon a time, before the Internet and modern technology devices (the good old days that your grandparents often talk about when they were kids), the bully often preyed upon their victims in neighborhoods, on school playgrounds, and even college campuses, tormenting others with “Face to Face” verbal or physical assaults. Today, in our technological age of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram, the modern cyberbully now has the ability to torment his or her victim online using any number of social messaging apps or social media sites with a variety of technological tools such as Computers, iPhones, Tablets, or Gaming Consoles. Unlike the old “Face to Face” days, the modern cyberbully may now launch their Wi-Fi cyber-attacks from the comfort of their homes and often with complete anonymity. The one major thing missing in a cyber assault is the cyberbully might not have the added pleasure of personally seeing their victim suffer in psychological or physical pain.

How many College Students are being Cyberbullied?

As part of my research, I reviewed a number of studies that examined the extent of cyberbullying on college campuses (6; 10; 13; 14; 21; 24; 28). The percentage of college students cyberbullied varies depending on the study. However, when looking at the research, the range of college student participants reporting personal cyberbullying incidents seems to fall between 10% (24) and 21% (21). The National Center for Education Statistics (22), estimated that in 2018, 19.9 million students would attend different colleges and Universities in the United States. There is a possibility according to this research that 1.9 million college students experienced a cyberbullying incident in 2018.

Examples of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying may take on several forms while the victim is at home, school, or work. Some of the most common types of cyberbully attacks mentioned by different authors (2; 5; 8; 16; 30) include:

Dissing
Often the cyberbully posts online humiliating, cruel, hurtful false information or materials about the victim. This cyberbullying act may damage the victim’s reputation or perhaps destroy friendships.

Exclusion
This is a deliberate act of intentionally leaving a person out from an online group or conversation. Social isolation or rejection can be very hurtful to many college students and for some cause psychological or emotional pain.

Fraping/Impersonation/Catfishing/Masquerading
The cyberbully creates an online social media account using a false identity perhaps to torment the victim. Another example is when the cyberbully logs into the victim’s social networking account and posts inappropriate content using the victim’s identity.

Harassment
This involves the cyberbully sending the victim electronically abusive, rude, threatening, offensive, profane, malicious, embarrassing, defamatory, or hurtful messages to an individual or group. These electronic messages or perhaps communications during a live cyber chat are unwanted or unsolicited by the victim.

Outing
This could be a cyberbullying crime where the cyberbully unlawfully distributes online the victim’s personal information. The “Outing” could be in the form of pictures, videos, or written text disseminated into cyberspace without the victim’s consent. The public electronic sharing of sensitive or personal information could cause the victim severe psychological harm.

Trolling/Flaming
This is an intentional, deliberate act by a cyberbully trying to provoke the victim. The cyberbully may electronically attack the victim using insults, wild accusations, or untrue statements to anger the victim. The cyberbully is looking for an online argument and perhaps are trying to bait the victim into making a regretful emotional response.

Many cyberbully actions may be a violation of State or Federal laws.

There is a great site that has an interactive map of the United States where you can learn what State laws apply to the cyberbullies actions. The Cyberbullying Research Center maintains this current map at https://cyberbullying.org/bullying-laws.

 

How to Prevent Cyberbullying

For a crime to occur three elements found in the Crime Prevention Triangle (1) must exist. The triangle elements are the ability, desire, and opportunity. If we can eliminate one of these elements, the crime may not occur.

Today, many cyberbullies have the technological ability and equipment to carry out their cyberbullying activities. The prevention answer might be with trying to remove the desire to commit the cyberbullying or the opportunity to cyberbully.

In summary of a number of studies, below are a few of my recommendations to help prevent cyberbullying for school personnel, students, and Law Enforcement/Campus Security Officers (3; 4; 8; 11; 12; 17; 19; 20; 23).

School Personnel

Schools should consider investing in research-based cyberbullying prevention or intervention programs for personnel who work directly with the student population. University officials and counselors will need to first educate themselves about the harmful aspects of cyberbullying and then teach others on campus.

Some colleges hold cyberbullying prevention events at the start of each new school year. These prevention events bring about awareness, and they also let the students know this type of behavior is unacceptable or illegal. Other prevention methods by some Universities involve distributing informational brochures, displaying posters, and posting Web page announcements about cyberbullying. These prevention methods or public notices help to inform students of the school rules, school policies, or legal ramifications regarding cyberbullying before it becomes a severe problem.

Lastly, Universities might consider starting or supporting a school-wide anti-cyberbully campaign to help prevent cyberbullying. Some Universities have other prevention programs or campaigns currently in place, for example, decreasing binge drinking, reducing smoking or vaping, reducing illegal drug use, stopping hate crimes, or preventing sexual assaults. Perhaps an Anti-Cyberbullying campaign modeled after an existing program that is widely supported by students might be very successful. Many prevention campaigns encourage peer disapproval of certain behaviors which becomes a powerful motivator to help prevent undesirable hurtful actions such as cyberbullying.

Students

The first steps are to protect your private online information and limit details of your personal life. Make sure all security protections are activated on your social media accounts and lock down your phones, tablets, computers, or gaming systems to prevent any unlawful use by others.

Educate yourself on what is cyberbullying and the harmful effects. Students also need to become aware of what to do if they are a victim of cyberbullying and what they can do as a friend to discourage cyberbullying of other students.

In the event of a cyberbullying incident, do not respond to the cyberbully, do not retaliate, block the cyberbully, and lock down your social media accounts.

Students also should educate themselves of the existing State and Federal laws, school policies, and school rules and policies of conduct that pertain to cyberbullying.

Law Enforcement/Campus Security

Law Enforcement and Campus Security Officers need to become aware of the current State or Federal Laws that exist in their area that pertains to Cyberbullying. Many of the cyberbullies’ activities are violations of existing State or Federal Laws. However, some Security and Law Enforcement officers are not familiar with what constitutes a cyberbullying crime.

In the event of a cyberbully crime, Security and Law Enforcement should learn how to “protect the electronic crime scene” and how to preserve electronic evidence.

How to Report Cyberbullying

Please call 911 if you or someone else is in immediate danger or risk of harm.

School Related Cyberbullying

If the cyberbullying is occurring at school or the cyberbully is using school resources such as school technology equipment or the school’s Internet service contact a school official. Many schools have codes of conduct and technology policies in place that address cyberbullying. If you are a Springfield College student, refer to the current “Responsible Use of Information Technologies Policy” pp. 70-72 inside the Springfield College Student Handbook for the guidance of how to report cyberbullying incidents.

Work-Related Cyberbullying

Sometimes a person is cyberbullied while at work. Contact your employer, immediate work supervisor, or your Human Resource Department to report the incident. Most employers have rules or policies in place that prohibit cyberbullying behavior.

Personal Home Related Cyberbullying

If the actions of the cyberbully are occurring on your internet device, contact your iPhone Service Provider, your ISP Internet Service Provider, or the security departments of the social media platforms or social media messaging apps that the cyberbully is using. Most Social Media Messaging Apps and Social Media Sites have policies in place regarding cyberbullying behavior.

If you feel the actions of the cyberbully constitute a crime preserve the evidence and contact your local police department. Possible cyberbullying crimes might include threats of violence, sending child pornography, sexually explicit messages, hate crimes, stalking, extortion, or threats to damage another person’s property.

Conclusion

Today, cyberbullying is on the increase and is affecting more college students for various reasons. The cyberbully can electronically strike almost anyone, anywhere, and at any time with their deliberate harmful actions. Social media sites along with social messaging apps are very accessible, devices that connect to the Internet are plentiful, and free WiFi seems to be everywhere. There are rules, policies, and laws that exist to help protect people from cyberbullying behaviors. Sanctions and penalties placed on a cyberbully are helpful and support prevention efforts. However, cyberbullying victims, witnesses, and bystanders can also help reduce the bully’s negative cyber behaviors by taking the following actions:

  1. Become educated and aware of the cyberbullying problem.
  2. Maintain Internet Security settings, protect passwords, and block unwanted messages.
  3. And show disapproval of the cyberbullies’ behaviors when observed, and never participate in cyberbullying attacks.

The Internet is a place where millions of people work, learn, or play. If we combine our best prevention efforts, together, we can reduce cyberbullying.

About the author

Timothy Manzke

Timothy Manzke retired from the Milwaukee Police Department as a Detective after twenty-five years of service during which time he was assigned to the Criminal Investigation Bureau, Gang Crimes Unit, and Criminal Intelligence Division. Manzke then began a three-year grant project for the Milwaukee Public Schools in four Middle Schools as a Drug and Violence Prevention Coordinator. In 2000, Manzke became an Associate Faculty Member for Springfield College and has developed and taught courses for the Milwaukee Campus and Online. Manzke has worked as an Area Chair for Criminal Justice, a Certified Advanced Facilitator Trainer, and a New Faculty Mentor.

References

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