Nancy Willard describes very carefully a handful of terms and phrases that describes how individuals can harm other individuals online. I like how she delineates each.
Digital Aggression – Use of digital technologies to intentionally engage in hurtful acts directed towards another.
Digital Threats or Distress – Posting information that is a direct threat or “leakage” indicating emotionally distress and the potential for violence against self or others.
Digital Abuse – Abusive and controlling use of digital technologies in the context of abusive personal relationships.
Digital Exploitation – Exploitative use of digital technologies in the context of close personal/sexual relationships.
Unsafe Digital Communities – Unsafe digital communities involve communities that support self-harm, such as anorexia or self-cutting, or engage in criminal activity or support hatred or violence, such as gangs and hate groups.
I mention these terms and phrases because I think we need to define precisely what can be done online that is considered inappropriate behavior. Each of these has a very specific range of online behaviors. Digital aggression is the phrase that most closely mimics cyberbullying.
What has been interesting about this topic is that our school has made an attempt to curb cyberbullying earlier this year by providing a lesson via Common Sense Media and it was not well received by my own advisory class. Not to say that the lesson was not effective, but there were a few individuals that felt discussing this topic would not help. I think if I provided a lesson about creating positive online behaviors like Nancy Willard describes, it would have had a greater impact.
Willard says that we should emphasize the positive choices that students are making online, and not focus on the negative. If we constantly tell students to not participate in cyberbullying because 75% of the student population do so, (as an example statistic) we are basically saying to students that quite a few are participating and that it must be the norm, and we run the risk of having more students engage in it.
I asked my students, as well as some colleagues about this topic this last week and it was interesting to note the wide array of responses. The most encouraging response came from some of my seniors. They felt that as students get older, especially after junior high school, less students engage in cyberbullying, but the general population over reacts to the topic and thinks a larger percentage engage in this than what is the truth.
I was very proud of one of my freshman students that stated to me that if anyone tries to engage in cyberbullying to them, they “block” them and ignore them. How great is that! If more students would have this type of attitude, we can try to eliminate this kind of online behavior. With current mobile device technology these days, we can take a more aggressive stance against cyberbullying by following the same actions.
What has been the most surprising comments about this topic came from colleagues. The ones I talked to felt the percentage of students that engaged in cyberbullying was close to 75%. I felt this was very large. They indicated that they felt some students that engage in this behavior is because they see their parents engage in it! I can see how this can be a factor. Kids usually learn behaviors from others, and it doesn’t help if they see this type of behavior from home. This is why it is so important to educate all people involved in engaging in an online presence. Parents are just as important to educate because they may not know how it is possible to bully online. Kids are more adept in learning new technologies than parents, and parents need to be able to at least understand what is possible these days with emerging technologies.
Curbing cyberbullying is challenging, but we can take a more proactive stance by encouraging kids and adults to create positive online presences. I do believe that the majority of people do this, but with national media highlighting the sad situations and effects of cyberbullying, it can be disheartening. We should all encourage people to post positively online.
Almansi, Claude (2011) Cyberbullying: An Interview with Nancy Willard. Educational Technology and Change. Retrieved from https://etcjournal.com/2011/02/14/cyberbullying-an-interview-with-nancy-willard-2/
Willard, Nancy (2011). Cyberbullying, Sexting, and Predators, Oh My! Addressing Youth Risk in the Digital Age in a Positive and Restorative Manner. [PDF] Retrieved from http://www.embracecivility.org/wp-content/uploadsnew/2011/10/digitalrisk.pdf