Cyberbullying

Week 4 of our EDLD 5316 Digital Citizenship course has been rich with learning opportunities! This week we:

Case Study 1 – Patrick Halligan

The tragic case of Ryan Halligan, who ended his life after enduring multiple forms of online bullying by his peers, is one that should never be repeated. Sadly, Ryan is not alone, and these types of situations have occurred all over our nation. Some examples are shared here, on Hidden Kids. It is the responsibility of all involved in raising youth to develop strategies and solutions for combatting cyberbullying. This is noted in a Gifted Child article by Dr. Del Siegle, “Parents and educators play an important role in helping young people understand the consequences of poor decisions in a digital age where favorable, as well as unfavorable, text and images spread exponentially.”

Ryan was the victim of several forms of cyberbullying including:

  1. Denigration: “Dissing” someone online. Sending or posting gossip or rumors about a person to damage his or her reputation or friendships.
  2. Outing: Sharing someone’s secrets or embarrassing information or images online.
  3. Trickery: Talking someone into revealing secrets or embarrassing information or images online. (Siegle, 2010).

These actions contributed to Ryan’s feelings of inadequacy, and depression. As he did not report the cyberbullying to his parents, school staff, or other trusted adult there was not a positive resolution to the situation. However, Ryan’s father is now able to make a positive impact on students, parents, and school staff by sharing his website which includes resources for preventing cyberbullying. Additionally, he visits schools to share Ryan’s experiences and advises students, parents, and school staff on steps to take when cyberbullying begins to rear its ugly head. Additionally, Ryan’s case contributed to the 2004 Vermont Act 117; 16 V.S.A. § 11(a)(32); An Act was enabled in memory of Ryan Patrick Halligan who was severely bullied electronically. The penalty is to have schools develop a plan to notify parents of bullying along with the victim and expulsion may be a consequence.

Although the offenders may not have received discipline in school for their behavior, they likely endured some psychological repercussions.  If similar bullying occurs in Vermont schools now, they have an obligation to share that with parents and deliver a consequence.

As a school technology leader, I would take several steps to minimize cyberbullying:

  1. I would advocate for and implement frequent communication with students, parents, and school staff information about cyberbullying. It is essential to humanize these topics and include true stories such as Ryan’s.
  2. I would ensure that our school district had superior content monitoring and filtration software on the network and on devices to ensure that such activities were not occurring on the school district network or school-issued devices.
  3. I would encourage school leaders to make bully reporting safe so that students do not have a fear of social repercussions when they report cyberbullying.
  4. I would do my absolute best to contribute to and help develop positive school climate.


In this talk at George Mason University, Sameer Hinduja, the author of Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard, states that students in schools who perceive a more negative school climate, report more cases of cyberbullying. He goes on to discuss positive social norming, in which school staff, can create a ripple effect of positive school climate, rather than a negative climate. It is the moral obligation of school leaders to be observant and alert to potential bullying and cyberbullying and consciously take steps to build positive school climate so that students are able to put their efforts and energy into building each other up rather than creating painful and dangerous scenarios.     


Case Study 2 – Kylie Kenney

Although Kylie Kenney’s situation is similar to Ryan’s in many ways, it has a happier ending. When Kyle’s classmates created the website called “Kill Kylie Incorporated” and then sent out messages pretending to be her, they were engaged in at least two forms of cyberbullying:

  • Denigration: “Dissing” someone online. Sending or posting gossip or rumors about a person to damage his or her reputation or friendships.
  • Impersonation: Pretending to be someone else and sending or posting material to get that person in trouble or danger or to damage that person’s reputation or friendships.

According to the Deseret News article, the two students responsible for the online bullying were eventually suspended. Additionally, the police had to be involved because their bullying included death threats. It is likely that until then, the students that did not know Kylie very well naively thought that what they were doing was harmless and that they would not be caught. After this situation, Kylie accompanied Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff to speak to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to shine a light on the need for legislation regarding cyberbullying. Since then, Utah state law includes additional regulations regarding cyberbullying.

A s school technology leader, I would take the same stance as noted previously in the case of Ryan Halligan:

  • Training students, parents & staff frequently
  • Utilize content monitoring & filtration on the network & devices
  • Ensure safe (potentially anonymous) bully reporting
  • Advocate for and encourage positive school climate.

Hopefully each of these steps would have a positive effect to reduce the occurrences of cyberbullying.

Reflections & Resources

For our discussion posts for this week, we viewed Monica Lewinsky’s TED Talk, The Price of Shame. 

I remember very vividly when this scandal with Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton occurred. It seemed like the story was everywhere! On late night TV shows, the news, tabloids and more. Back then it seemed overwhelming and shocking, and Monica Lewinsky was the one every person blamed for the scandal.

The story that Monica described was painful, as was the story of Tyler Clementi that she shared, who took his life after experiencing online bullying. Her story could have been exponentially more painful if it had occurred now, when social media is in constant use by millions of people. Can you imagine the level of pain she would have had to endure while reading comments of thoughtless people hiding behind a computer or smart phone screen?

Monica very eloquently reminded the audience that we are making progress and heading in the right direction, and that we should reinforce empathy and compassion to ease the shame of mistakes people make. However, positive reinforcement is not quite enough. In Texas we have David’s Law, which is named after a boy that took his own life after he was relentlessly bullied online.

“This law allows schools to combat and prevent cyberbullying by empowering them to investigate and address off-campus cyber-assisted bullying if it materially affects the school environment. “

 I had the opportunity to hear David’s father speak and tell his story at a high school. That was incredibly impactful and made an impression on the students! This images shows the positive impact that David’s law is having in the issues associated with bullying in Texas schools.

Additionally, we viewed a video featuring poet Shane Koyczan which was moving and provided an opportunity to consider how the bullied feel. Models such as this, and well as the cases of Ryan, Kylie and David should be shared with students to remind them to be empathetic and compassionate, rather that working to build shame in others.

We also engaged in reading some very meaningful content. What I found helpful and engage was the book called Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying by Sameer Hinduja and Justin Patchin.  I have not read the entire book yet, but I especially enjoy the scenarios outlined in the book. Of course accessing one resource can lead to YouTube rabbit hole, which is what happened to me. So I also came across multiple videos featuring the authors. I especially enjoyed these two featuring Sameer Hinduja presenting at George Mason University and at the World Anti-Bullying Forum. In both videos he shares his definition of cyberbullying as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices” and shares current (for the time) statistics about cyberbullying, as will as contributing factors to and the effects of cyberbullying.

One of the most useful sites I encountered was https://cyberbullying.org/ which provides information and resources to define and prevent cyberbullying. Additionally, it compares and details the laws regarding cyberbullying in each state of America.

Reviewing the case studies of Ryan and Kylie were helpful because it reminded me that each case is different, and can quickly become dangerous if not bought to the attention of trusted and engaged adults. This led me to examine the current state of cyberbullying. Sadly, with the pandemic, reports and statistics are not terribly promising. Security.org reports that due to an increase in social media use as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns, cyberbullying was on the rise, with twenty-one percent of students reporting that they have been cyberbullied.  With the latest statistics, Broadbandsearch reports that 42% of cyberbullying occurs on Instagram.

Just as the pandemic has set back teaching and learning, and created instructional gaps, it has also set the stage for an uptick of cyberbullying. Just as I believe that our students will continue to make learning gains, I choose to believe that as time goes by and educational communities are rebuilt, positive school climates will be able to make a shift once again toward minimizing cyberbullying. Our students’ lives depend on it!


https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/establishing-rules – Just in time tips for parents about setting limits and boundaries around screen time and digital wellness.

Cyberbullying Warning Signs – An extremely valuable resource from Cyberbullying.com to share with parents

https://enough.org/stats_cyberbullying – Recent statistics about cyberbullying in the United States

References:

Image Credits:

People illustrations by Storyset

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