Bullying has plagued people of all ages for many generations. Now, with the expansion of the Internet, bullies are able to threaten and harass people at an even greater level through cyberbullying. Stopbullying.gov, a government supported website aimed at spreading awareness, defines cyberbullying as any bullying that involves electronic technology such as computers and cell phones. Instances of cyberbullying aimed towards adults are generally referred to as cyber-harassment or cyber-stalking, whereas cyberbullying generally refers to harassment directed towards children.
Since cyberbullying can largely remain anonymous, it can be very difficult to trace the harassment back to a specific user. The effects of cyberbullying also last longer because the inappropriate posts or messages may be difficult to delete and therefore, have a permanent presence on the Internet. Cyberbullying is also not reserved to the Internet, since cyber-bullies often also target their victims in person. However, due to the expansive nature of the Internet, victims face cyberbullying at all times of the day.
Examples of this harassment includes sending vulgar or threatening messages directly to another person, posting inappropriate information about another person online, pretending to be another person online with the intent of ruining a reputation, posting inappropriate pictures of another person online, harassing another person with a multitude of text messages, or hacking into another person's online account. Cyberbullying can take place through email, in online chatrooms, on webpages, or through text messages. Advanced features on social networking sites have also led to increased avenues for cyberbullying. For example, the ability to tag other people in a picture on Facebook has led to instances of cyber-bullies posting inappropriate pictures of other people and tagging them in these pictures.
The unfortunate case of Megan Meier, a 13-year-old girl from Missouri who committed suicide in 2006, brought national attention to the devastating effects of cyberbullying. Megan's neighbor, Lori Drew - an adult female, impersonated a teenage boy on MySpace, a social networking site, and engaged in a relationship with Megan. The relationship ended with a fight and the boy proceeded to post online that the world would be a better place without Megan. Megan hung herself a short time after.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests certain steps that can help prevent and end cyberbullying. For example, parents should make sure to listen to their children's complaints of bullying in order to take proper steps to end the harassment. The Department of Health and Human Services also suggests that victims of cyberbullying should not respond to harassing posts. Instead, they should make sure to save the posts and report them to the appropriate service provider. Service providers may help locate cyber-bullies. Cyberbullying may be criminal in nature if it involves violent threats, extortion, constant telephone calls or text messages, stalking, hate crimes, or child pornography. In these cases, victims may engage the appropriate law enforcement agencies such as the Police or FBI.
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