6 of the Most Hideous Cyber Bullying Tactics Used By Students

Jon Konen
District Superintendent

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Back to the main Bully Prevention Guide.

I loved this meme from Facebook I recently read, it states…

It seems both my son's should be classified as "Wifi Explorers." They constantly look for Wifi hot spots so they can stay connected without using their data. As parents, we are thankful for the data limits we can set on their devices through our phone carrier. Once that limit is reached their data usage stops. Usually, the last week of every month is difficult for both of them and we tended to see more of them at home. Yeah!

Obviously, we try to limit the amount of time they are on their devices. They both love the outdoors and spend quite a bit more time in the wilderness, in fact much more than most of their friends. Students, like many adults, cannot understand the need to take a break from social media and news. This addiction is chronic. Unfortunately, social media companies are now finding new strategies to hook their consumers.

Having dinner with a friend's family recently, their seventh grade daughter said to me, "Phew. I almost ruined that streak." When I asked what that meant she said she has a 79-day streak…meaning she has made a post (communication) between her and a friend for the past 79 days.

This record keeping scared me as a parent and as a school administrator. The hidden data and analytics strategies gets kids hooked at a completely different level and feeds on many of their innate competitive personality traits. Social media giants such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter, are finding new strategies to get kids involved and interacting with their product in hopes of garnering more users...and, it is working! Here are some quick facts:

  • Facebook just surpassed 2,000,000,000 users (Facebook).
  • 52,000 photos are posted to Instagram daily as of time of this blog (Instagram).
  • Twitter used by students has risen; 74% of the 500,000,000 million users are between the ages of 15-25 (Twitter).
  • Students downloaded Snapchat on 25% of all Android phones sold (Snapchat).

The social media explosion has created a new platform for bully behavior to cultivate. There is an infinite number of ways students can now bully on these platforms. In fact, as each new platform becomes popular, a new form of bullying is generated. As educators and parents, we must be proactive, learn how to use the latest social media applications ourselves, and continue to have conversations with our students and children.

After conversations and interviews with several administrators, I wanted to bring attention to six of the most hideous ways students use social media to bully other students. Obviously there are many more, but these are dealt with by school staff routinely. Parents and educators need to be cognizant and ready to tackle these situations.

PU #66 - "Outing Someone"

One the most popular types of bullying currently is "outing someone." Simply put, this is where a student uses social media to post private information on a public platform. This information can be hurtful. I have dealt with this situation every year as an administrator. A large majority of the referrals are from the girls. In fact, according to a recent post from dosomething.org, "Girls are about twice as likely as boys to be victims and perpetrators of cyber bullying."

"Outing" someone's personal and private information can obviously cause a lot of harm. Like a virus, out somebody on social media can be as contagious. For example, one person writes a post so 300 of their followers can read it. Then those 300 multiply and can turn a piece of information into a "viral" posting. Viral means a post that reaches over a million people in a short of amount of time (In 2011, some argued "viral" is 5-million views in 4-7 days…obviously in 2017 this has increased due to the increase in people on social media).

Obviously, friendships can be lost, and unfortunately, one of the most common outcomes is depression. Depression can lead to a whole host of other problems: addictions, aggressive behaviors, and even suicide. Bullied students are 2-9 times more likely to commit suicide (Dosomething.org).

PU #67 - Teasing, Taunting, and Name Calling

Bullying tends to start with name-calling. As it is repeated over time and there is imbalance of power, it can turn hurtful and considered bullying behavior. Continually teasing, taunting, and name-calling on social media can be hard to stop. Many times the student receiving the messages ignores it or does not report the bullying behavior for fear of retribution or idea of not being a "tattle-tale." In some sad circumstances, these students believe that adults in their life cannot help them if they did report the incidences.

Parents need to check their child's social media accounts routinely, ask questions, and have open conversations about friendships and posts they find. I believe parents need to have the username and passwords of their child's accounts. Parents of the bully need to be involved in their student's social media accounts, also. Recent litigation has been holding parents responsible for not supervising their child on social media when there are damages (See below).

PU #68 - "Catfishing" and Creating Fake Accounts

Popularized by the MTV show in its sixth season, Catfish, this type of bully behavior consists of a person creating a fake profile usually on social media to meet another person. The victim of this bully behavior believes they are creating a relationship or friendship with the person. Communication goes on for an extended amount of time.

In a true bully situation, the person can be doing it for a multitude of reasons. Often the bully is doing it to hurt the other person by creating what that person believes is a new relationship. The person experiencing the "catfish" creates feelings of some sort for the other person only to be hurt or let down in the end.

What makes the MTV show so popular is that the hosts are calling out these bullies and having them explain themselves on live TV. It can be addicting to watch, but it definitely is sad, hurtful, and creates a need for vengeance in many of the endings.

The many different forms this takes on in schools can be abundant. From a fake Facebook Account to a fake dating site, the bully studies their victim. The amount of time a bully puts into setting up a "catfish" account may seem ridiculous. In my eyes, it is and the consequences should be at the suspension level if it affects the school environment and brought to a school official's attention.

These situations are harder to investigate as a school official, and sadly, many times they are not reported. Many of the victims feel ashamed they were duped into believing they were in a relationship or friendship.

Students and parents must be cognizant and have conversations. Sometimes something that is too good, actually might be…how we build trust in relationships is vital in the mentoring and modeling by parents and school staff.

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PU #69 - Inappropriate Pictures and Comments or Inappropriate Sexting

Bullying can take many forms with just one click. Posting a picture that is inappropriate, a comment that is hurtful, or inappropriately sexting images and comments to someone repeatedly is a form of bullying. These images or comments can be spiteful and damaging to the victim.

School officials deal with this situation frequently. It can be a little more concrete for school staff when holding students accountable because a time, date stamp, and name usually are connected to the image or comments. Students can use a "screenshot" to get a copy of the hurtful images or comments and can report it to an adult.

Unfortunately, there are new applications that becoming popular that do not have a name attached to the comments or pictures posted. Anonymous posts almost make it impossible to hold students responsible for their behavior. Some popular applications for school staff and parents to be aware of are the following: Whisper, Secret, Wut, and Yik Yak. Many schools have banned the use of such apps during school time. Strict consequences and school policies are being set around the latest social media.

PU #70 - Forwarding Hurtful Information

Many times a student does not start a hurtful post on social media, yet they forward it on to their friends and contacts. The argument most often from students and parents is that the post originated from someone else. School officials state that they entered the bullying circle by forwarding it on. Consequences may not be the same for the student forwarding it on, but it should not be overlooked, as they were contributors.

The recent controversial TV show called, 13 Reasons Why, depicts 13 reasons why a young girl committed suicide. I understand that it was created to open dialogue about suicide. I have personal problems with the show because I feel it glamorizes suicide and has inspired recent suicides.

Rumors being passed by a student can be considered bullying as I stated before…they have now entered the bully circle. The same should be for spreading rumors on social media. Many times a student says, "I really don't believe what the post states." I then ask, "So, why did you forward it on then?" The answer usually is, "I don't know, I only passed it on to my friends."

The ability for anyone to keep private information secret seems to be deteriorating across all age levels and mediums in the world. The feeling, if even for a brief moment, gives students a feeling of power and excitement. We must teach kindness, tolerance, and empathy. How would it feel if the information being circulated was about you?

PU#71 - Threats, Intimidation, Harassment

Students tend to have more courage writing something on a social media platform than they would in person. This can be good and bad! Some students get frustrated with peers and make comments that can be intimidating, threatening, or harassing.

When these comments continue or are combined with other bully behaviors, a serious offense has occurred requiring adult intervention. Setting up a reporting system with a parent at home, or with at least one trusted school official is a vital strategy to get it handled.

Life threats or threats of physical violence require immediate attention. Police and school administration should be involved every time. As school staff investigates, the situation can become more complex and other students may be connected to the situation. The amount of time and students involved should not be deterrent or limiting factor to effectively dealing with the bully.

Intimidation seems to be more questionable when school officials investigate. The bullies physical stature and words used towards the student are subject to critical review. When it is done repeatedly and there is an imbalance of power, bully behaviors need to be dealt with swiftly and effectively. Intimidation comes into question when school officials, parents, and even the students perceive the actions and words of the bully differently. Adequate information will need to be gathered in order to support further school actions.

Harassment occurs when a bully continually inflicts harmful or upsetting behaviors towards another student that are disturbing or threatening in nature. The repeated nature of harassment requires immediate attention from school administration, and even police officials.

When cyber bullying is damaging or causing injury, police and the court system can become involved. Depending on the state's laws on bullying, most include the following information when a personal injury lawsuit is initiated (According to socialmediatoday.com):

  • The defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff (the injured party)
  • The defendant breached that duty (by acting unreasonably or recklessly)
  • This breach proximately caused the plaintiff to suffer an injury
  • The plaintiff actually suffered an injury (or damages).

PU #72 - Drop the Phone!

We must continue to have conversations with students about social media, being proactive with our dialogue, and continue to understand and learn the latest technological platforms. This may sound like a lot of time that you do not have, but the consequences for not could be much more severe with your students or child. You may want to limit the number of social media sites your child is currently using. For example, my wife and I let our sons have one social media account per year starting in 8th grade. Each year, they added another, but found that most of their friends were only able to manage 2-3 accounts. Each time we added a social media account, we also created our own account. We made sure that they friended or allowed us to follow them on their account. We were then able to monitor routinely their conversations and interactions with their peers. This was done randomly, and most of the time we were monitoring their friends and the interactions they had with our sons. We could then model positive interactions with peers. To be honest, it was shocking what many students are willing to say or do on social media. We wondered if their parents knew…probably, not!

The more time you put into creating strong relationships and role modeling positive interactions, the more successful your child will navigate social media! The best way to communicate is to put the phone down and pretend it is 1993!

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Jon Konen