Bullying isn’t just occurring on the playground anymore. It’s taken up residence on the Web, where it has spawned a harsher breed — and has spread to adults. Experts attribute the growing problem of cyberbullying to the anonymity of the Web — where people spew mean comments they wouldn’t dream of saying face-to-face.
Sameer Hinduja of cyberbullying.us says cyberbullying can be anything from nasty e-mails and instant messages to slanderous Web pages.
Hinduja, an assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at Florida Atlantic University, co-authors the site with Justin Patchin, an assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. The site features their research as well as other findings about cyberbullying.
The absence of the feedback that comes from face-to-face interaction amounts to meaner, nastier remarks online, Hinduja said. “If I say something to your face, I might see that those words inflicted some pain and step back,” he said. “Behind a keyboard, behind a monitor, you don’t really have those constraints on what you say,” Hinduja said. “You have a measure of anonymity and so you feel like you’re protected.”
While youth are more vulnerable, adults are at risk too. “Some adults are somewhat careless and don’t think about what they post online, be it a video, picture or contact information,” he said.
Keeping your personal information private is especially important to keep cyberbullies at bay, experts say.
Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy and security lawyer who runs wiredsafety.org, a Web site geared toward protecting adults from cyber harassment, says guarding your private information is the first step in prevention.
“With adult harassment, even though there are laws, you have to protect yourself,” she said. “Don’t put out information that other people can use against you.”
Aftab said you should not respond to online bullies. “The moment you respond in any way,” she said, “it feeds the fire of cyber harassment.”