"Cyberbullying" is when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, phones, or other technology. It has to have a minor on both sides, or at least have been instigated by a minor against another minor. Once adults become involved, it is plain and simple cyber-harassment or cyberstalking. Adult cyber-harassment or cyberstalking is NEVER called cyberbullying. When adults try to lure kids into offline meetings, this is a sexual offense. But sometimes when a minor starts a cyberbullying campaign, it involves sexual predators who are intrigued by the sexual harassment or even ads posted by the cyberbullying offering up the victim for sex. The methods used are limited only by the child's imagination and access to technology. And the cyberbully one moment may become the victim the next. The kids often change roles, going from victim to bully and back again. Cyberbullying has led to suicide, and even to murder. Cyberbullying is usually not a one time communication, unless it involves a death threat or a credible threat of serious bodily harm.

Cyberbullying may rise to the level of a misdemeanor cyberharassment charge, or if the child is young enough may result in the charge of juvenile delinquency. Most of the time the cyberbullying does not go that far, although parents often try and pursue criminal charges. It typically can result in a child losing their ISP or IM accounts as a terms of service violation. And in some cases, if hacking or password and identity theft is involved, can be a serious criminal matter under state and federal law. Schools do all they can to help, but in a court of law, they often lose. Schools can be very effective brokers in working with the parents to stop and remedy cyberbullying situations. They can also educate the students on cyberethics and the law. If schools are creative, they can sometimes avoid the claim that their actions exceeded their legal authority for off-campus cyberbullying actions. We recommend that a provision is added to the school's acceptable use policy reserving the right to discipline the student for actions taken off-campus if they are intended to have an effect on a student or they adversely affect the safety and well-being of student while in school. Try to do all you can to help those who you feel are being cyberbullied, even if it means you might have to do it with no one looking.

Telling the difference between flaming, cyber-bullying and harassment and cyberstalking

It’s not always easy to tell these apart, except for serious cases of cyberstalking, when you "know it when you see it." And the only difference between "cyberbullying" and cyber-harassment is the age of both the victim and the perpetrator. They both have to be under-age. When you get a call, your first response people must be able to quickly determine if you need to get involved or whether it may not be a matter for law enforcement. It might help to start by running through this checklist. If the communication is only a flame, you may not be able to do much about it. (Sometimes ISPs will consider this a terms of service violation.) But the closer it comes to real life threats the more likely you have to get involved as law enforcement. We recommend that law enforcement agents ask parents the following questions. Their answers will help guide you when to get involved and when to recommend another course of action.

The nature of the threats:

  • Repeated e-mails or IMs
  • Following the child around online, into chat rooms, favorite Web sites, etc.
  • Building fake profiles, Web sites or posing as your e-mail or IM
  • Planting statements to provoke third-party stalking and harassment
  • Signing you up for porn sites and e-mailing lists and junk e-mail and IM
  • Breaking in to their accounts online
  • Stealing or otherwise accessing their passwords
  • Posting images of the child online (taken from any source, including video and photo phones)
  • Posting real or doctored sexual images of the child online
  • Sharing personal information about the child
  • Sharing intimate information about the child (sexual, special problems, etc.)
  • Sharing contact information about the child coupled with a sexual solicitation ("for a good time call ..." or "I am interested in [fill in the blank] sex...")
  • Reporting the child for real or provoked terms of service violations ("notify wars" or "warning wars")
  • Encouraging that others share their top ten "hit lists," or ugly lists, or slut lists online and including you on that list
  • Posting and encouraging others to post nasty comments on you blog
  • Hacking your computer and sending your child malicious codes
  • Sending threats to others (like the President of the United States) or attacking others while posing as you
  • Copying others on your private e-mail and IM communications
  • Posting bad reviews or feedback on you without cause
  • Registering your name and setting up a bash Web site or profile
  • Posting rude or provocative comments while posing as you (such as insulting racial minorities at a Web site devoted to that racial minority)
  • Sending spam or malware to others while posing as you
  • Breaking the rules of a Web site or service while posing as you
  • Setting up a vote for site (like "hot or not?") designed to embarrass or humiliate you
  • Masquerading as you for any purpose
  • Posting your text-messaging address or cell phone number online to encourage abuse and increase your text-messaging or cell phone charges
  • Launching a denial of service attack on your Web site
  • Sending "jokes" about you to others or mailing lists

The source of the threats:

  • You knows who is doing this
  • You thinks they know who is doing this
  • You has no idea who is doing this
  • The messages appear to be from several different people

The frequency of the threats:

  • It is a one-time communication
  • The communication is repeated in the same or different ways
  • The communications are increasing
  • Third-parties are joining in and communications are now being received from (what appears to be) additional people

How can I prevent it?"

How can you stop it once it starts?

Because their motives differ, the solutions and responses to each type of cyberbullying incident has to differ too. Unfortunately, there is no "one size fits all" when cyberbullying is concerned. Only two of the types of cyberbullies have something in common with the traditional schoolyard bully. Experts who understand schoolyard bullying often misunderstand cyberbullying, thinking it is just another method of bullying. But the motives and the nature of cybercommunications, as well as the demographic and profile of a cyberbully differ from their offline counterpart.

How cyberbullying works

There are two kinds of cyberbullying, direct attacks (messages sent to your kids directly) and cyberbullying by proxy (using others to help cyberbully the victim, either with or without the accomplice's knowledge). Because cyberbullying by proxy often gets adults involved in the harassment, it is much more dangerous.

Direct Attacks