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

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April042007

Stop Cyberbullying: A Look Back at Last Week

Last week I unilaterally declared March 30 as Stop Cyberbullying Day. The response has been overwhelming. Let’s take a look at how the blogosphere mobilized to address cyberbullying.

Let’s recap what happened. It all started when blogger Kathy Sierra received online death threats that she perceived to be as real, causing her to cancel all public appearances and contact the police.

Almost immediately after she posted this, the rest of the blogosphere began an intense debate over what behavior is appropriate online, and how inappropriate behavior should be discouraged. In the midst of all this, I blogged about what happened to Kathy and declared Friday, March 30 as Stop Cyberbullying Day.

What that meant exactly I left to educators and the blogosphere; I just asked them to set aside some time that day to talk about cyberbullying and other forms of online harassment.

Many bloggers accepted my challenge. In fact, as of this morning, there have been hundreds of responses by bloggers around the world. The collective wisdom that’s been published so far has been quite extraordinary. (Though bloggers being bloggers, many of them set aside the notion of blogging on one specific day, and have been talking about the issue whenever they felt like it.)

Blogger Vicky Davis, for example, offered advice on her blog, as well as a warning about using cyberbullying to restrict access to Web 2.0 tools in schools:

When the leaders of the Dark Ages became afraid of thoughts and dissension, they burned books. We cannot afford to burn blogs (as ill-thought out DOPA would do) and the trail we have blazed into a new, more productive society through the Internet’s new communication tools. The Human Genome project shows what amazing things can happen through collaboration. If we want important breakthroughs to happen faster, we must promote effective techno-personal and collaborative skills in the classroom. We cannot walk away and ignore the fundamental change in our society: Internet-enabled communications. Those who are vicious and hateful will not walk away from the Internet. It is imperative that the level headed and wise should not abdicate their responsibility to civilize the Internet and make it a safer place. We are educators. We teach. We stamp out ignorance. In our classrooms we hold the essence of what our online life will be like in 10 or 20 years. If we do not all do our little bit, we will be sorry. Do your part to stamp out cyberbullying and most importantly, share!

Tim Stahmer took a few moments to write about some of the responses to cyberbullying that don’t work well, while noting how kids’ behavior is modeled on adults’ behavior:

Passing laws don’t work. Retaliation is usually worse behavior than the original. Ignoring bullies may feel good but hiding from a problem only delays facing it.

If we look at what works in teaching ethical behavior to kids, lectures, threats, promises, and preaching rarely do much good.

Kids model their moral behavior after the peers and adults they respect. Unfortunately, these days that includes a variety of media figures acting like fools or worse for the public theater.

Lisa Stone, one of the founders of the women’s blogging group Blogher.org, reposted a piece she wrote last October in which she offered this advice to victims of online trolls: ignore them.

it’s my opinion that there’s only one solution: Ignore them.

That’s the most powerful thing you can do….

…This is our virtual world — we created it. The most powerful thing we can do when we encounter a person who is abusive online is to refuse to acknowledge them. Deprived of the spotlight, their own hateful little lights will blink out.

Buh-bye!

Don’t link them, don’t talk about them, don’t read them. As far as we’re concerned, they don’t exist. And amongst ourselves, I think it’s time to bring the issue out of the closet, demystify it, circle our wagons and learn to roll our eyes about it together, even laugh at it. Who cares?

Over at EduBlog Insights, Anne Davis explores how cyberbullying is a problem that goes well beyond the Internet, with its roots in our offline culture.

This is not just a cyber problem but it is a society problem. To combat it we need to address it at home, in school and throughout society. It makes me sick at heart to have such incidents occur like the one with Kathy Sierra. My heart goes out to her and I think her blogging about it shows courage. She needs our support. Then some of the conversations that have followed about the incident are alarming in different ways. All the analyzing, second guessing and side issues about the situation take us away for the issue at heart. To me that issue is that some coward has used the anonymity of the Internet to threaten, strike fear, and display totally inappropriate and unacceptable behavior. This type of harassment is what we have to combat.

This points out how more than ever we need to be given the responsibility for teaching appropriate and responsible behavior on the Internet. We can’t do that if we shut down sites and hide our heads in the sand. We need to start early, have many conversations about safe, responsible, and acceptable behavior online as well as offline. We need to have sites available so that we can encourage and promote good relations, foster understandings, and truly work on nurturing global communities. We also need a society that shuns activities that encourages mean spiritness and laughing at the expense of others. We need a whole lot more press about the good things that are happening instead of an incessant listing of trivia about…well, you get the picture, I know.

Will Richardson, meanwhile, goes straight for the bullet points:

I keep imagining what the parents of those girls would think if they heard that. And this is, I think, more about parenting than anything else. And it’s about how we act. What we do teaches our own kids volumes more than what we say.

I won’t speak for other parents, so here’s what I’ve set as my own path for helping my own kids deal with the inevitabilities of this extremely complex and wide-ranging social issue.

  • Talk to my kids about what bullying is.
  • Start conversations about how to deal with being bullied.
  • Help to empower them to stand up for themselves and others.
  • Point out bias and objectification when I see it.
  • Point out gratuitous violence when I see it.
  • Point out victimization when I see it.
  • Model appropriate responses to inappropriate contacts or content.
  • Model empathy and inclusiveness.
  • Model cooperation instead of competition.
  • Model a peaceful presence in the world.

Fingers crossed…

Across the pond in the UK, the BBC just published a news story in which an educators union demanded that more be done to prevent cyberbullying by students against fellow educators:

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers has warned of the distress caused to teachers by anonymous, malicious comments on websites.

“Offensive” comments and mocking video clips should not be allowed to undermine teachers’ authority.

Such public attacks “belittle and bully” classroom teachers, says the teachers’ union.

The union’s general secretary Mary Bousted says that the public mockery of teachers “robs them of dignity and self-esteem”.

Such “verbal abuse” needed to be curbed, the union says - and it is calling on the government to “take all reasonable steps to protect the integrity” of teachers….

… A survey quoted by the union claimed that 45% of teachers had received an attack by e-mail, 15% had received threatening texts - and that 10% had been upset by messages written about them on websites.

Lastly, I’d like to thank the educators who have joined the Stop
Cyberbullying
social network I set up last week. Declaring March 30 as a day to focus on cyberbullying is an easy way to get public attention, but that attention is always fleeting, which is why it’s necessary to have an ongoing dialogue on the subject.

That site, and others like Bullying.org, StopCyberbullying.org and BlogSafety.com can serve as ongoing tools in the fight against online harassment - because every day should be a day in which we take a stand against cyberbullying. -andy

Filed under : Events, Safety

Responses

Thanks for prompting me (and others) to make a post with cyberbullying as the topic on that particular day. I know that I will follow up with other posts over time. Your link to the Technorati stats are likely woefully short of what the real numbers probably were as regardless of the use of tags, I find that Technorati does not do a very good job of surveying what is really happening out here in the world of blogging. A minor beef of mine.

What is really important is that educators and others are writing about the issue and sharing stories and resources.

Cheers… Bob

First Defence

Students should not be allowed cell phones with camera’s or video capability, or mp3 players in the school and classrooms. It is primarliy in the school that images are captured and so too is the privacy of the bullied student.
It is the first defence that the principals can take against cyberbullying. Bullied students will tell you that many of the images are captured at school. Teachers themselves can become victims of cyberbullying by students and risk having their reputations damaged.
Eliminate camera and video phones from high school students, strongly and systematically enforced by the principal and you will have won the first defence against cyberbullying.

Frank Greco
Toronto

Frank—
I use webcams and video phones to TEACH! Digital storytelling is one of the most powerful tools that you can use. We must deal with the behavior and get our eyes off of the “gadget.” I like the example of running with scissors.

We need scissors at school and yet they could kill someone. Instead, we require students not to RUN with scissors because if they did, it could hurt them.

Additionally, it is a basic ethic of digital citizenship to obtain permission from a person before publishing anything including that person in a digital artifact. If someone captures it at school and uploads it, it must be dealt with at school.

School is now 24/7. And we are fighting change. However, it is a mistake to think that eliminating “gadgets” will do the trick.

In the very near future, parents will all want their children to have a cell phone on them at all times b/c of the GPS capabilities. Additionally, in the next generation of the iPhone we will probably use them instead of laptops. The laptops now have built in webcams. We must teach students how to be effective, ethical digital citizens. I find that a mentality of eliminating cell phones and digital footage isn’t realistic.

But, YES, digital footage at school is a huge issue that must be dealt with. I believe, however, in education not in elimination.

This conversation about cyberbullying is very closely connected to the current conversation about the comments Don Imus directed at the Rutgers women’s basketball team. I believe one of our greatest failures as educators right now is that we have taught students to think about our subject areas, but we have not taught students to think about ethics, morality and character. I believe we need to take more opportunities to teach our students and our personal children to really THINK about what they are doing and why they are doing it, about how to be responsible with all the technology they have access to… I teach in a very poor school, so my students don’t have the same access to technology, but they need to learn how to use their time and their words more responsibly. It’s all connected.

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