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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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March302007

Stop Cyberbullying Day: My Own Story

When you’re a blogger, you expect a certain amount of criticism regarding the things you publish. What you don’t expect, though, is to have your life temporarily hijacked. As part of my contribution to Stop Cyberbullying Day, I thought I’d share with you my own experiences with online harassment.

I’ve been publishing online for a long time now - approaching 13 years, as it turns out. And over those years I’ve had my moments, saying things that were outlandish or provocative, leading to a certain amount of criticism from readers. It comes with the territory; every blogger writes stuff they later regret, but generally a mea culpa or two settles things down and life goes back to normal.

Then in 1999, I wrote an online travel journal about a backpacking trip to Turkey. My wife - girlfriend at the time, actually - and I worked our way from Istanbul all the way to Mount Ararat and back, drinking copious amounts of apple tea and practicing my mediocre Turkish throughout the trip. It was definitely one of our best adventures, so I wasted no time in publishing my daily travel journal.

Like all bloggers, I love a good blog entry title, so when I wrote the journal entry representing the day we made our way into the Kurdish regions of southeastern Turkey, I decided to call it “Deep in the Heart of Kurdistan.” It seemed innocent enough - it’s what I had always heard the region called back at home, and I heard Kurds use it while I was there, though always when other people weren’t present. So I posted the blog entry, and that should have been that.

But it wasn’t. The emails started coming much later - probably two years later. I was pretty convinced I was being subjected to an organized letter-writing campaign, because I would get these emails from Turkey in which people would politely thank me for visiting their country and documenting my trip, but then ask me to remove all references to the word Kurdistan because there is no political entity in Turkey called Kurdistan. Each time, I received one of these letters, I would write back, reciprocating with the same polite tone, explaining that my use of the term was not to connote an official political region, but a cultural region. Most of the time, they would write back and agree to disagree. They felt I was wrong, but they didn’t push it further than that.

Then someone hacked my website. At first I didn’t notice it, because they didn’t hack the homepage. But I started getting emails from educators saying they had tried to reach a certain section of my EdWeb site and found the page blackened out, with foreign-language graffiti in large red type. To my shock I discovered the page had Turkish slogans on them. My ability to speak Turkish had faded terribly in those intervening years, so I asked Turkish friends to help translate it. The general response was, “Let’s say it is not very polite.” The problem was easy enough to fix; I reinstalled the lost content and strengthened my password. Hopefully that would be the worst of it.

Another year or so passed, and suddenly I received an email - from myself. It was an email claiming to be from my personal Yahoo account, to my other email account. At first I thought it was spam, since spam sometimes mimics your address so it can be opened by your friends and colleagues. When I read the email, I was shocked to discover it wasn’t spam at all. Someone had hacked into my account and was now taunting me with emails sent from it, saying he had done so because I had used the word Kurdistan online. Over the next couple of weeks, he played with me like a cat playing with a mouse. When he got bored, he’d give me access to the account again, then crack into it one more time just to show that there was nothing I could do to stop him from accessing my account. He would point out all the things I had in the account - the email lists I managed, online purchases, contact information of friends. He never did anything with it - but he made sure I knew that he could if he wanted to. And the fact that my tormentor was overseas, there was little I could do to get law enforcement to help me.

Then one day it suddenly ended. He emailed me - again, from my own email address - and said he felt I had learned my lesson, and he would stop bothering me. He gave me the password he was using to access the account, then vanished.

It’s been well over a year since all of this happened, but I still hold my breath for a moment whenever I try to access my email account. I love being able to express myself on my blogs, but a small part of me feels like I’m walking on egg shells, worried that the next thing I write my prompt someone to steal my online identity - or worse.

I usually don’t talk about this, but the whole point of Stop Cyberbullying Day is to shine a bright light on these problems, from the pettiest of online taunts to all-out cyberstalking and threats. Remaining silent only empowers those who seek to exploit, harass and bully us. While we may not be able to fight fire with fire - stooping to the level of the bullies accomplishes nothing - we can still fight back with our dignity intact. Bullies remain bullies only as long as they feel they can get away with it.

Anyway, that’s my story. If you haven’t already, please post your own contribution to Stop Cyberbullying Day and tag it I’m streaming a collection of all of these contributions and other cyberbullying-related resources at the Stop Cyberbullying social network, which I encourage you to join. That way, we can continue the conversation long after this day has passed. You can also receive the stream of tagged resources through this RSS feed and the group messaging tool Twitter.

And there are lots of good resources online for you to get involved. Bill Belsey, who introduced me to the term cyberbullying many years ago, is the creator of Bullying.org and Cyberbullying.org, where you can make a difference in combatting bullying, both offline and online. Meanwhile, Parry Aftab’s amazing group WiredSafety.org, publishes the resource Stop Cyberbullying, which is based on her years of experience in tackling the problem. As I’ve mentioned previously, Nancy Willard’s Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use is an oasis of online safety resources, including ones related to cyberbullying. And if you’re looking for video resources, be sure to check out the growing collection of public service announcements and other resources being posted at the social network I set up for today’s activities.

So whether you blog about cyberbullying today, share your story, talk to your kids or students or simply educate yourself about the problem, you’ve contributing to the solution. Let’s all work together and stop cyberbullying now. -andy

Filed under : Events, Safety

Responses

Wow, I’m sorry. I have a student who hacked into her mother’s email this way. They start young. I have been reviewing ethics, online safety, & anti-cyberbullying with this grade a lot…

Andy,
I am a teacher at an elementary school in Georgia. Naturally I oppose bulling of any kind and the account of your experience made me feel very insecure about the integrity of my email account. Your story has also prompted me to wonder about on-line ethics in general.

I wonder, due to the magnitude of responses you received and based on the drastic measures some of your opposition took to discredit your content, did they consider you to be a cyber bully when you wouldn’t change your title? The hacker may have felt like some kind of a vigilante taking desperate measures. His/her actions were illegal but are they punishable by international law? I don’t know. Many people were clearly enraged, offended by your innocent post. My question is this, how do we know when we can use our freedom of speech without being perceived as a bully by someone else?

Freedom of speech doesn’t exist in all countries so people are bound to react differently than we might expect them to in the USA. Are we only bullies when we are anonymous as wikipedia suggests? How carefully must we watch our words? Journalists live by a diferent code than the average person when it comes to the integrity of the written word. Is there a good rule of thumb for the rest of us to consider when blogging?

Andy, I’d like to commend you on your efforts to bring a focus to cyberbullying and cyber ethics in general. I’m always astonished at what people will do to other people in the name of “revenge” or teaching them a lesson or whatever. With the internet, people are now doing so anonymously which seems to a certain group of writers more bravery than if everyone had to post their real name. Thanks for the links and the information.

For Stop Cyberbulling Day, I had my middle school classes do some research on cyberbulling at http://www.cyberbully.org/docs/cbstudentguide.pdf answering the questions at the end of the guide and complete PowerPoints projects to show to the elementary school students. I had a thought that maybe the younger students would listen more carefully to the information if it were given to them by older students that they looked up to than by a teacher.

I think it is sad that things like this happen. I am a teacher and it makes me wonder how many students are doing this to each other. I think children are smart enough to figure this out. It is wonderful that you are trying to make people aware of cyberbulling. I think we need to make more children aware of this also.

The extremes people go to harm others is unending. Now we have cyberstalking to add to the list of options for terrorizing a person’s daily life. What amazes me is the frustration I am experiencing in my “Technology in Education” online course. Our final project involves linking different documents to a webpage and posting it to a portfolio on the university’s website. I am diligently trying to decipher these technological codes in order to fulfill my assignments while other people have the time to committ vandalism on the Internet.
I understand that certain comments and descriptions can often unintentionally offend people and they have the right to state their grievances but resorting to cyberbullying reflects a deeper animosity than the improper use of ethnic titles.
It is unfortunate that people use their own emotional instabilities as platforms for their acts of vengefulness.

Our Investigations firm assist the general public in helping them combat internet harassment. Feel free to stop buy or write a topic or post on this subject.

www.InternetHarassment.com

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