June 22, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

When 'digital bullying' goes too far

Two years ago, Ryan routinely spent two to three hours a night instant messaging with classmates. Then he noticed a pattern: "It made me feel terrible."

Kids, the 13-year-old said, spent the better part of their evenings insulting one another online. "They'd start getting really mad at you, and sometimes it wouldn't even make sense," said the Manhattan teenager, who asked that his last name not be used. "It made me really cautious about what people were really saying behind my back. Leaving IM and walking around, I still was thinking about it. It felt really horrible."

Ryan--whose experience disturbed him so much he avoided instant messaging for nearly two years and now uses it only occasionally--is far from alone.

News.context

What's new:
Kids are mocked and threatened routinely via text messaging and IM--the media of choice for bullies in the digital age.

Bottom line:
Children who make themselves accessible to parents and friends via phone, game console or other gadgets also expose themselves to unwanted communication. However, help is available if kids know where to turn, experts say.

More stories on this topic

According to a recent survey by U.K. children's charity NCH, one in five kids has been bullied via digital phone or computer. Bullying by text message was the most common form of abuse reported, with 14 percent of children interviewed saying they had received upsetting messages on their mobile phones. The interactions run the gamut from disconcerting to downright terrifying.

"You've got 'you're big, you're fat, you smell and nobody likes you' right through to 'we know where you live and we're going to burn down your house and you're going to die,'" said John Carr, head of the children's technology unit for NCH, formerly known as the National Children's Home.

Carr said he's especially concerned about bullying via mobile phone. These days, roughly 55 percent of kids ages 13 to 17 have cell phones, estimates Linda Barrabee, wireless market analyst for The Yankee Group. For many kids, a cell phone is nothing short of an appendage.

"Mobile phones are among a child's most precious possessions," Carr said. "This is their space, something they control. When something goes wrong with the mobile phone, they feel especially vulnerable."

It's a potential flip side of the digital lifestyle: Children who make themselves accessible to parents and friends via phone, game console or other always-on gadgets also open themselves up to unwanted communication. What's more, the time-honored humiliation of being taunted in front of others can now live on in perpetuity on cell phones and Web sites.

"There's no sanctuary anymore," Carr said. "It's more pernicious and more insidious than it was in the olden days."

The NCH survey, titled "Putting U in the Picture (PDF file)," collated responses from 770 youngsters ages 11 to 19. One in 10 said someone had used a camera phone to snap their picture in a way that made them feel uncomfortable, embarrassed or threatened. Of those, 17 percent believed the images had been forwarded to others.

The report cited instances of so-called "happy slapping," an extreme form of techno-bullying where physical assaults are recorded on mobile phones and distributed to Web sites and other phones via video messaging.

Happy slapping has drawn particularly wide attention in Britain, where several high-profile cases have aroused concern among parents, educators and legislators. Over the weekend, British police announced that they had arrested three 14-year-old boys in connection with the alleged rape of an 11-year-old girl whose attack was videotaped and sent to peers at her North London school.

Scarred for life
Earlier this month, another British girl had surgery to remove a pellet from her leg after a young man allegedly shot her with an air rifle while his friend photographed the assault with his mobile phone.

And in May, a Hercules, Calif., high school student was charged with felony assault for allegedly punching a classmate in a school locker room in a videotaped incident that was posted on the Internet. The 17-year-old victim ended up with a crushed jaw and a black eye.

StopTextBully.com But the damage doesn't have to be physical to be profound.

In 2003, the parents of Quebec teenager Ghyslain Raza sued his classmates for digitizing and publishing a private video Raza made of himself practicing "Star Wars" light saber moves. Raza was the target of worldwide ridicule after the video was uploaded to the Net.

Some viewers sympathized with the embarrassed teenager. Web sites dedicated themselves to buying him an iPod (which he received) and to having him appear in the final "Star Wars" film (he didn't). But Ghyslain's parents claim their son was so humiliated, he's undergoing psychiatric treatment and may be scarred for life.

Bullying, said Carr of the NCH, "can turn you into a recluse and sap your self-esteem."

Still, in this age of ubiquitous file sharing, an incident that

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22 comments

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Grow a freaking backbone why don't ya....
OK I don't want to turn into some old man who starts spouting out "Why in my day" crap but for the love of god people need to stop pussifying the children of this country. Seriously. The kids who are blowing their fellow students away with handguns and whatnot? These are the idiots who have been turned into a quivering pile of emotional jello. I was picked on in school as a kid. High School wasn't much better but you know what? I wasn't being treated with kit gloves and I dealt with it. As for the increased violence. Don't blame tech. Blame society for pushing the notion that everything has to increase in pace. The demands on today's school kids is at least 10 times more stressful then it was 10, 15, 20 years ago. If you don't think this is the case I'd suggest taking a look at Japan who has some of the highest child suicide rates in the world. One guess as to why this is...
Posted by Jonathan (832 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yes!
School children need to grow some balls. Oh boo frickin hoo
someone is making fun of me with a cell phone instead of to my
face, i'm going to go cry to my mom. Give me a break.
Posted by montgomeryburns (109 comments )
Link Flag
Couldn't agree more.
Don't worry, though -- liberal parents will soon find this thread and begin commenting with rhetoric such as "I bet you don't have kids".
Posted by katamari (310 comments )
Link Flag
I agree, for the most part
If you find people on IM that insulting then just ignore them, they do include ignore buttons with those services for a reason. If they threaten you of course, that's different, but technology only makes it possible to more easilly deliver the threat, it has no influence on actually carrying it out.
The demans on school children (in the west anyway) are no higher today than they were in the past. I think this way because I'm still in high school and I see no difference in the demands we have today versus the descriptions of the demands that were placed on students in the relatively recent past.
Posted by (41 comments )
Link Flag
Agree!
It is so easy to blame on technology, since "technology" cannot defend itself :)
Posted by 201293546946733175101343322673 (722 comments )
Link Flag
Adults versus Kids
Adults aren't allowed to do this kind of cr*p so why is it OK with you for kids to do it? "Kids will be kids" as an excuse is bullpuckey.
Posted by WDS2 (183 comments )
Link Flag
So what is your solution?
"Deal with it" isn't exactly actionable advice for a confused kid. You've established that mowing down with machine guns the very classmates who had tormented them is unacceptable, and complaining or exhibiting emotional fallout of any kind from bullying apparently makes them "*******," so what is this middle ground you're advocating?

There's no question that most bullies are themselves insecure and terrified of rejection, which is why they attack those they see as easy targets rather than developing actual personalities. And in many cases, other like-minded kids join in, seeking acceptance through conformity. But aside from seeking intervention by adults, which is exactly what this article is about, there's only so much a bully's victim can do, except fight back (which often escalates the problem, and/or gets the victim in just as much trouble as the bully), or withdraw, which you seem to think makes them weak.

I have to say, I'm glad all this technology wasn't around when I was in high school. The power of the internet, and in many cases cell phones, to turn otherwise normal people into complete raving a-holes is well-documented, and I'm sure that only compounds the pressures of high school.
Posted by Ikthog (43 comments )
Link Flag
Disagree. . .
Some bullying over the internet/text messages/emails is absolutely horrible. You say grow a backbone when in reality the children doing the bullying should learn respect. I have personally undergone internet bullying that changed my life forever. This isn't something that people need to "get over" or "grow a backbone and deal with" This is a problem that society has as a whole. The bullying over the internet/text messages is different than bullying to somebody's face which is why this is so wrong.

Something needs to be done about this because people are getting hurt and people think it's okay when in reality it's not
Posted by rebelwhisper (1 comment )
Link Flag
And a brave,or cowardly,new world it is
indeed.Yes I have read of beatings and rapes digitalized as amatateur hour 'entertainment'.
And people have become ever braver in their anonymity to insult and attempt to intimidate.
Oh yes and some may call me a wimp for not adapting so well.Maybe I am.I have always been very pro free speech so what is wrong with me ?
Maybe on the internet I have seen it used to often to cry fire in the theatre just for kicks or fraud.

On the other hand,I have seen on ragingbull.com or yahoo stock message boards, gross lies and fraud all for the purpose of making a buck or cheating someone out of theirs.I have seen penny stock company press releases that are only for fraud and there is no 'authority figure' to go to,the SEC does not even patrol these areas or these releases.They allow a penny stock mafia to run free.

And I have seen the same penny stock 'execs' go to lengths to threaten and abuse or have insiders post threats or abuse to those who speak out against their frauds.Just look at the penny stock fraud insiders to the frauds who tout on ragingbull,visit it.It is like the wild west of internet cyberfraud and the SEC does nothing and you can't go to police or your broker if you're robbed.

If you're looking for just one example try ragingbull's CMKX message board where unfortuneate souls have been lied to and defrauded by Canadian and LKas Vegas criminals including the infamous mafiosi Mr.Maheu of Howard Hughes fame,using fraud claims of 'naked shorting' as they dump unaudited shares that would make German money printing of the 30's seem conservative.All by unending promises of diamonds and gold never found much less mined.
And using even Christianity or whatever scam to brainwash their defrauded cult.

As one example of this do a google search, 'wolfblitzzer0' and find in law.com or 'wolfblittzer0'and this link

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.miaminewtimes.com/issues/2005-02-10/news/feature_6.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.miaminewtimes.com/issues/2005-02-10/news/feature_6.html</a>

to find how how just one alias on ragingbull trying to do good by confronting the penny stock pump and dump of Universal Communications or 'ucsy' CEO Michael Zwebner was harrassed and even the real Wolf Blitzer and CNN who were lucky enough to afford their own lawyer were attacked by the CEO just because he could use shareholder money for frivolous litigation and yes continue even then touting and dumping shares of a non-producing shell of a company without even getting the SEC's attention even then.Money from 'air',or dumped shares,more so than the 'water' from 'air' they claim.

Yes say those who are abused or defrauded are wimps or naive and deserve it,whether they be children or naive adults and you may be correct,I don't know.

But there are no real laws that protect the individual even though the government or criminal corps may successfully abuse or intimidate individuals.Free speech may be curtailed yet but I fear it will not be for purpose of protecting the weakest or stopping fraud.

On ragingbull alone,(where search engines don't go for some reason),I have seen the cyber chatter of penny stock fraud and lies and illegal pumps and dumps that can easily be used for money laundering and no one does a thing.I knew a day in advance,(FROM RB'S 'JAG NOTES' OR 'JAGH'message board),a $100,000 + paid letter-ad to President Bush would appear in the Washington Post on February 8 claiming fraudulently that 'naked short selling' was a danger to SS investments in the market.

Whatever one thinks of investing SS funds in the market this was a fraudulent lie by a known criminal and even far right political gang who had used the fraudulent claim in the past to pump and dump stocks with penny shares the SEC has refused to audit and claim the dumped shares are 'naked shorts'.The SEC or the FBI had and still have a good record on ragingbull of the premedited nature of the securities fraud,the Washington Post does too,but no one does a thing.

Maybe free speech will be curtailed but I fear it will not be to stop the real abuses but to protect the powerful in government and their corporate criminal partners unfortunately.

If you are robbed or threatened or abused in your own home you can at least put in an official complaint of what was stolen or injuries inflicted.On the internet even this all breaks down.
Posted by (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
High School
Back in my day when I was in high school in the early 1990's, I was picked on for being a geeky type. But, you know what? I now make more money than most of those bullies together. It was fun to see them at the reunion a few years back.

But, text messages like "We know where you live, and we are going to burn down your house, and you will die"? I'm sorry, reguardless of you or others think, that is a threat and should be treated as such. The cell carriers keeps logs on this stuff for billing purposes, so all it would take is a police report and a supeona to prosecute the punk.
Posted by Maelstorm (130 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Talk About Geek
I really really REALLY hate that Richard guy in WB's "Beauty and the Geek" show :)
Posted by 201293546946733175101343322673 (722 comments )
Link Flag
yes, and like all criminal activities...
... it should be reported to the police. it is pretty damn good evidence if you have "I'm going to kill you, your whole family and burn your house down" sent to your mobile. take it to the police and put pressure on them to act. hell, get a good solicitor and he will make sure that the bully and his family wish they were never born.
Posted by Scott W (419 comments )
Link Flag
Don't Forget MMO Bullying
Hey, it happens everyday, and in a few times a month, I will read something on the news that some kids in Korea/Japan/Hongkong/Taiwan/China/Singapore are fighting in Internet Cafe because one group of people get defeated in virtual world, so they get their revenge in real world :)
Posted by 201293546946733175101343322673 (722 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Here's what you do,
tell the guy that says he will burn down your house to try it. He'll probably wait one or two nights, then show up. Just before he torches your house, blow out his knees with a shot gun, and while he screams in misery and tries to crawl away, pour lemon juice on the stubs, if he survives that, dump salt on that. Then hang his corpse on the fla pole at your school to serve a warning to people that you will not tolerate childish stupidity.
Posted by (461 comments )
Reply Link Flag
calm the ****down
i'm assuming you were bullied as a kid... you sound just like a person i know. "blow his kneecaps off with a shotgun". that is the stupidest thing you could do. besides most bullies don't have the bottle to do anything that stupid. like i posted above, report it to the justice system. it is an offence that could be dealt with by the crown prosecution service (or the US equivalent).
Posted by Scott W (419 comments )
Link Flag
Survivor of Bullying
Featured Book Feb. 2006
WomensSelfEsteem.com recommends the book -
A Childhood Taken Away By a Mother and Grandfather.
Author- Linda Sommer Farley
ISBN: 1413775195

About the Author and the Book- Linda Sommer Farley was born in Springfield, Illinois. She has been married for forty years and has ten grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter. Her story tells us what life was like for her growing up. She shares with us the trauma of having an abusive mother with a gambling addiction, and how it effected her throughout her early life. Linda Sommer Farley came from a large family, of eight children. She was the sixth of her siblings and she shares her memories of being solely responsible for her younger siblings when her father was at work and her mother was away gambling. She also expresses her embarrassment of growing up poor, and the challenges she was faced during her school years due to her poverty. Linda also allows us to feel her pain, her fear, and her total loneliness, when her grandfather abused her at one point in her life. Linda shows her readers how to be strong, and keep moving onward and upward.
Linda Sommer Farley's reasons for her book are simply to reach out to others that are suffering and to show them that they too can rise above it all and change their lives. Her book is inspirational as well as motivational. Linda Sommer Farley is a proven author and survivor.
Posted by Survivor111 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Interesting...
I find it interesting that in all of the rush to find a new "victim" group, the underlying issues are ignored: IM and online communication is changing the fabric of our society, and not always in positive ways.

First, context: I'm no luddite. I'm a software developer who's done nothing but computers and the Internet for over a decade. I've programmed, eat, slept, and breathed computers since I was 12. I'm hardly your "turn off your phone and go live in the woods" nutjob.

But increasingly, I wonder. I see, over and over, how our stimulation-addled, anonymous culture is beginning to treat lives as disposable commodities. I've seen people eschew real-world relationships in order to spend more time IM'ing or texting or MySpace-ing, or whatever the new fad is this week. I've seen *real suffering*, all in the name of being "trendy" and hip.

I'm seeing more and more people who seem to believe that it's acceptable to be incredibly rude and offensive to each other, just because they're shielded with the anonymity of an online handle or safely ensconced in their car. I get on a bus and I have to listen to the gal next to me jabbering away about her latest pap smear or the guy she's screwing at top volume on her cell phone. To an earlier generation this simply wouldn't be acceptable; it's not just the technology, it's the very rudeness... it's the absolute disregard for the feelings or personal space of the people around you.

No, I'm not in favor of pampering (or, as one poster elegantly put it, "pussifying") our kids. But this isn't about that. This is about our culture, and its slow degeneration into a pack of narcissistic, popularity-obsessed boors.

Is this really the reward we get for all our hard technological work? A society where nobody actually *cares* about anyone else but themselves (except as someone to be used or bragged about), and where everyone is simply a disposable commodity -- an entry on a "friends" list; easily added and just as easily deleted?

Hmm.
Posted by prothe113 (32 comments )
Reply Link Flag
People who use the internet to bully are the ones who need to grow a backbone! If you can't say it to my face, i'll assume that you're the coward for posting it online. Teens, i being one and knowing and having experienced this, should be more prudent about what they say online in general and carry out private conversations in person. If a person isn't trustworthy enough to you in person, what makes you think that they will be online? Don't make friends over the internet, because these are the ones who can hide their snickers and filter what they really mean before they type...You meet real people in REAL life. As for the cyber bullying? That's right, grow a backbone, but also realize that the person saying what they are saying are the disrespectful, unrefined, ignorant, and insecure personal they shine to be, and are in no way deserving of your time and tears. That's for people you love. Still, don't let that discourage you from being the good Samaritan and telling an adult you trust, to help the poor misguided sucker. You'll feel better if you don't keep those concerns to yourself and to an adult rather than another peer. GOOOOD Luuuck!

From a Fifteen Year Old Teen Who Believes in the Possible Refinement of the Youth
Posted by AriKarenina (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
People who use the internet to bully are the ones who need to grow a backbone! If you can't say it to my face, i'll assume that you're the coward for posting it online. Teens, i being one and knowing and having experienced this, should be more prudent about what they say online in general and carry out private conversations in person. If a person isn't trustworthy enough to you in person, what makes you think that they will be online? Don't make friends over the internet, because these are the ones who can hide their snickers and filter what they really mean before they type...You meet real people in REAL life. As for the cyber bullying? That's right, grow a backbone, but also realize that the person saying what they are saying are the disrespectful, unrefined, ignorant, and insecure personal they shine to be, and are in no way deserving of your time and tears. That's for people you love. Still, don't let that discourage you from being the good Samaritan and telling an adult you trust, to help the poor misguided sucker. You'll feel better if you don't keep those concerns to yourself and to an adult rather than another peer. GOOOOD Luuuck!

From a Fifteen Year Old Teen Who Believes in the Possible Refinement of the Youth
Posted by AriKarenina (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yeah, try bullying your boss and see where that gets you.

I think our culture does need a little refinement... nothing wrong with not wanting to be continually harassed. Why do people enjoy this sort of thing? It also takes all your focus and energy away from what is really important. Improving your own life.
Posted by jennyct (1 comment )
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