Cyberbullying Research Center https://cyberbullying.org Bullying and Cyberbullying Resources, Research, and Help Fri, 07 May 2021 14:10:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.6.3 Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L: When Can a School Discipline a Student for Online Speech? https://cyberbullying.org/mahanoy-area-school-district-v-b-l https://cyberbullying.org/mahanoy-area-school-district-v-b-l#respond Thu, 06 May 2021 19:34:12 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=34302 Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in a panel to discuss the pending Supreme Court case Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. Other panelists were Dr. Eric Kasper, a Professor of Political Science who teaches constitutional law at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and who directs the Menard Center for Constitutional Studies, and Darpana…

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Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in a panel to discuss the pending Supreme Court case Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. Other panelists were Dr. Eric Kasper, a Professor of Political Science who teaches constitutional law at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and who directs the Menard Center for Constitutional Studies, and Darpana Sheth, Vice President of Litigation for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The panel was moderated by Dr. Tim Shiell, a professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. We discussed the potential implications of the case for student rights when it comes to off-campus/online speech. Each of us began with opening remarks. Below are mine. What do you think: Under what circumstances can/should/must a school respond to online student speech?

When 14-year-old Brandi Levy didn’t make the varsity cheerleading squad as a sophomore at Mahanoy Area High School, she was pissed. She did what a lot of adolescents do: she vented on social media. The caption “F*** school f*** softball f*** cheer f*** everything” appeared on Snapchat with a photo of her with her middle finger raised. The cheerleading coach caught wind of the post and kicked her off the team for the year. Was this an appropriate response? Was it a legal response?

As someone who has coached youth sports for many years, I can empathize with the coach in this situation. There’s no doubt Brandi’s comments would impact the culture of the team. And Levy agreed to abide by certain rules as a condition of being part of the team, including to: “have respect for [their] school, coaches, teachers, [and] other cheerleaders” and avoid “foul language and inappropriate gestures.” She clearly violated these rules and therefore some form of discipline was warranted.  

But the foul language and inappropriate gesture occurred away from school and on the weekend. Does the school or coach still have the authority to respond? “What is the proper balance between a student athlete’s First Amendment rights and a coach’s need to maintain order and discipline” (Lowery v. Euverard, 2007)?

For over 50 years the standard for school involvement in off-campus affairs has been whether the speech or behavior in question resulted in (or was likely to result in) a material or substantial disruption at school, or if the speech or behavior infringed on the rights of other students. This stems from the landmark case Tinker v. Des Moines, 1969. While the most oft-cited quote from that case is “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,” also of importance, especially in light of the current case, is “conduct by the student, in class or out of it, which for any reason whether it stems from time, place, or type of behavior—materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others is, of course, not immunized by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.”

Mary Beth and John Tinker – Getty

In the current case, the Third Circuit would have us believe Brandi should not have been punished by the school. For those judges, it isn’t that the school disciplined Brandi too harshly, it is that they should have no role in disciplining her at all: “We hold today that Tinker does not apply to off-campus speech—that is, speech that is outside school-owned, -operated, or -supervised channels and that is not reasonably interpreted as bearing the school’s imprimatur.” Judge Thomas Ambro acknowledged the exceptional nature of this perspective, writing: “…ours is the first Circuit Court to hold that Tinker categorically does not apply to off-campus speech.”

Indeed, five other Circuits have addressed circumstances where schools responded to off-campus speech and all five applied the Tinker standard. In Wisniewski v. Weedsport Central School District (2007), the Second Circuit ruled that a student’s off-campus transmission of a digital icon depicting the killing of his teacher, though not necessarily a “true threat,” would create a disruption at school. “…it was reasonably foreseeable that Wisniewski’s communication would cause a disruption within the school environment….The fact that Aaron’s creation and transmission of the IM icon occurred away from school property does not necessarily insulate him from school discipline. We have recognized that off-campus conduct can create a foreseeable risk of substantial disruption within a school.…” In the Eighth Circuit, school discipline was allowed for two students who created a website that included sexually explicit and racist comments about classmates. “…the location from which the Wilsons spoke may be less important than the District Court’s finding that the posts were directed at [the school].”

Moreover, just a decade ago this same Third Circuit reviewed en banc two cases involving off-campus student speech (J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, 2011; Layshock v. Hermitage, 2011). Then, they concluded “The issue is whether the Supreme Court’s decision in Tinker v. Des Moines, can be applicable to off-campus speech. I believe it can, and no ruling coming out today is to the contrary.”

Pennsylvania, like many states, recognizes the need to give schools the authority to respond to off-campus events when necessary. Pennsylvania law allows schools to address bullying that occurs outside of a school setting if those acts “interfere with a student’s education” or substantially disrupts the “orderly operation of the school.” And the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court ruled that Tinker allows schools to regulate off-campus speech (J.S. v. Bethlehem Area Sch. Dist, 2002).

The substantial disruption standard from Tinker is imperfect, but has more-or-less worked.

The substantial disruption standard from Tinker is imperfect, but has more-or-less worked. In all of the cases that I am aware of where a school was sued and lost for improperly disciplining a student for off-campus speech (J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, 2011; Emmett v. Kent School District, 2000; Layshock v. Hermitage, 2011) a reasonable person would look at the facts of those cases and agree that the school overstepped its authority or responded in an overly heavy-handed way. There will never be a precise standard that will apply to all instances of student misbehavior at school or away from it, but “substantial disruption,” and whether the behavior “interferes” with the rights of students to feel safe, are pretty good measures when assessing the reasonableness of a school official’s actions.

Did Brandi’s comments result in a substantial disruption at school? Probably not. I tend to agree with the lower court’s conclusion that the off-campus messages were “insufficiently disruptive for the school to discipline.” But Brandi wasn’t suspended from school, she was restricted from the privilege of participating on the cheerleading team, and the Court has already demonstrated that students who want to voluntarily take part in extra-curricular activities have a reduced expectation of privacy (e.g., Vernonia v. Acton, 1995). Moreover, many courts have established that “There is no constitutionally protected right to play sports.” That’s from Angstadt v. Midd-West School District (2004) – another Third Circuit case from Pennsylvania (see also: Brentwood Academy v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association [2001]; Alerding v. Ohio High School Athletic Association [1985]; Niles v. University Interscholastic League [1983]).

And there are many others:

In the Eighth Circuit – Wildman v. Mashalltown (2001) – Like Brandi Levy, Rebecca Wildman was relegated to the junior varsity team (her sport was basketball). She wrote a letter on her home computer that was critical of the coach: “It is time to give him back some of the bullshit that he has given us.” When the coach found out, he demanded an apology. When Rebecca refused, she was cut from the team. In siding with the school in allowing the discipline, the court concluded: “The school did not interfere with Wildman’s regular education. A difference exists between being in the classroom, which was not affected here, and playing on an athletic team when the requirement is that the player only apologize to her teammates and her coach for circulating an insubordinate letter.”

In the Sixth Circuit – Lowery v. Euverard (2007) – In addressing whether the school can kick players off the football team for circulating a petition to get the coach fired: “Plaintiffs’ regular education has not been impeded, and, significantly, they are free to continue their campaign to have [the coach] fired. What they are not free to do is continue to play football for him while actively working to undermine his authority.”

And finally in the Second Circuit – Doninger v. Niehoff (2011) – The court evaluated whether the school could prevent a student from running from senior class secretary as a consequence of an off-campus LiveJournal web post referring to “the douchebags in the central office.” “Doninger’s discipline extended only to her role as a student government representative: she was not suspended from classes or punished in any other way….Doninger’s behavior was potentially disruptive of student government functions and Doninger was not free to engage in such behavior while serving as a class representative — a representative charged with working with these very same school officials to carry out her responsibilities.”

What is the proper balance between a student athlete’s First Amendment rights and a coach’s need to maintain order and discipline?

Suffice it to say, prior to the Third Circuit’s revolutionary opinion, the law was pretty much settled regarding when a school can get involved in off-campus incidents (e.g., the Tinker standard), and it was clear that students do not have an unfettered right to participate in extracurricular activities. These established standards were thrown into dispute in the instant case.

Brandi Levy – ABC News

Setting aside the constitutional issues of the particular case, as a researcher interested in the problem of youth cyberbullying, I fear that such a sweeping opinion that schools cannot respond to off-campus speech would make it difficult for schools to intervene in online incidents where behaviors perhaps don’t rise to the level of a true threat, but do create a hostile environment at school for a student. As the Fourth Circuit concluded in Kowalski v. Berkeley County Schools (2011), where a student created a MySpace page intimating that a classmate had herpes, “such harassment and bullying is inappropriate and hurtful and…it must be taken seriously by school administrators in order to preserve an appropriate pedagogical environment.” And with respect to the location of the speech, “where such speech has a sufficient nexus with the school, the Constitution is not written to hinder school administrators’ good faith efforts to address the problem.”

Brandi’s Saturday Snapchat statements were not of a bullying nature and probably did not result in a substantial disruption of the learning environment at school. She could not have been suspended from school for her comments, but consequences within the context of the cheerleading squad were justified. Coaches need the capacity to punish athletes who violate team rules. Similarly, schools need a clear framework to know when to respond to off-campus matters that threaten to disrupt their important work. Tinker allows for that, and therefore should be preserved.

Click here for my previous blog post on this case.

Click here for a full recording of the panel.

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Developing a Positive School Climate to Prevent Bullying and Cyberbullying https://cyberbullying.org/developing-a-positive-school-climate-to-prevent-bullying-and-cyberbullying https://cyberbullying.org/developing-a-positive-school-climate-to-prevent-bullying-and-cyberbullying#comments Mon, 12 Apr 2021 14:43:00 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=4585 [Note: To download a .pdf version of this resource, just click on the image above.] Spanish Translation Available Here Much research has shown that a positive school climate contributes to a variety of behavioral, emotional, and academic outcomes that educators hope to achieve. Our research demonstrates that students who report a positive climate at school…

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[Note: To download a .pdf version of this resource, just click on the image above.]

Spanish Translation Available Here

Much research has shown that a positive school climate contributes to a variety of behavioral, emotional, and academic outcomes that educators hope to achieve. Our research demonstrates that students who report a positive climate at school also experience fewer problematic behaviors online. Here’s what you can do to improve your climate and not only enhance student achievement, success, and productivity, but also teach youth to be safe, smart, honest, and responsible while using technology.

1. PROMOTE AWARENESS. School staff should dedicate time in the classroom and via assemblies to educating students about all forms of bullying in order to raise awareness of the risks, possible school-based and legal penalties, and the emotional, psychological, reputational, and even physical harm that can result. Students should realize that even if they are not bullying others, they have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their peers. If they see bullying, they should do something about it. Schools should also instruct, model, and reward appropriate and helpful behaviors, instead of only speaking out against and disciplining that which is inappropriate.

2. CULTIVATE OPEN LINES OF COMMUNICATION. Interaction between staff and students should exist conveniently and comfortably throughout the school. Staff should intentionally work to build an atmosphere of trust and continual dialogue regarding the issues youth are confronting. Students must know and feel completely comfortable with at least one adult at school whom they can approach to discuss any struggle they are facing – offline or online.

3. LEARN THEIR NAMES. Educators should take the time to learn the names of all of their students in order to build relationships, combat feelings of unimportance, promote connectedness and belongingness, and to reinforce critical feelings of trust, mutual respect, and safety. This is a simple but very powerful way for educators to show that they truly care about each and every child in their school.

4. DEVELOP STAKEHOLDER RELATIONSHIPS. Educators should work together with parents and others in the community, such as businesses, non-profits, law enforcement, and other youth professionals to properly address bullying and cyberbullying. Local organizations that care about these issues can assist in ways that are substantive (sponsorships!) and symbolic (messaging, endorsements, intangible support). Everyone can bring something to the table and help collectively combat these issues. Teaching teens to use technology with wisdom, discretion, and forethought is the responsibility of everyone in the community.

5. SET UP ANONYMOUS REPORTING. Schools should create safe and private ways for students to report issues of concern that they may otherwise feel uncomfortable, scared, or ashamed to openly share with the proper authorities. Nobody wants to be viewed as a snitch or tattletale. Reporting systems could include a form on a school web page, a phone number to receive confidential calls or texts, or a drop-box on campus for youth to use. As important as reporting mechanisms are, it is even more essential that schools investigate and respond swiftly and appropriately to all reports that come in. If not, students will quickly learn that nothing happens when reports are made, and they will stop doing it, and dismiss the school as oblivious, hypocritical, and apathetic.

6. INSTILL HOPE. School staff should work to cultivate a strong sense of hope and positivity across the student body to counter negative messages from those who bully, and to help buffer typical adolescent stressors. The best educators demonstrate care about more than just the academic or athletic success of youth. Administrators, teachers, and support staff can come alongside all students to build them up, show compassion and empathy, give them assistance when needed, and keep them inspired toward a great future.

7. BUILD POSITIVE SOCIAL NORMING CAMPAIGNS. Social norming is about changing prevailing mentalities about the extent of certain behaviors across campus. For example, if most youth think that bullying is a common and natural part of adolescent culture, or that anyone who talks to an adult about their problems is weak, then these beliefs will dominate and spread. The reality is that the vast majority of kids despise bullying, don’t want to hurt others, and desire great relationships with their peers. Focus attention on the majority of youth who do utilize their phones, social media, and other technology in acceptable and even positive ways. Promote the positive things that students are doing. Celebrate successes. Highlight and commend acts of kindness. Make clear that care and compassion is the norm at your school, and not the exception. And have a clear messaging strategy that gets the word out!

8. ENLIST THE HELP OF STUDENTS. Many youth want to be actively involved in combatting cruelty and promoting positivity at their school. And they are typically best positioned to make the greatest impact! The peer group is a powerful influence on the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of adolescents at this stage of their development. High school leaders could talk to fellow students about these issues informally in the cafeteria during lunch or during a more structured assembly. Some could organize a presentation for others in small classroom–sized (20+) groups. The potential opportunities for student empowerment and involvement are endless!

9. COLLECT DATA. Administrators should consider conducting a regular formal assessment of students to find out the actual extent of bullying, cyberbullying, and related teen problems – as well as their contributing factors and the negative outcomes that result. This will help inform and direct efforts so that resources are spent in the best possible ways. Having data specific to your school(s) also adds credibility and legitimacy to funding requests by demonstrating what is happening locally. The results can also be compared to national data to examine the extent to which your school is substantially different (better or worse) than other schools. Contact us for help and support in making this happen!

10. NEVER STOP LEARNING. Educators themselves should continue to learn about new technological developments, devices, and forms of online misuse. They should also develop relationships with staff at other schools who focus on these problems so that they know where to get help when an incident comes across their desk. There are plenty of research-informed resources available to help educators identify, prevent, and respond to bullying and cyberbullying. They just need to seek out and obtain the best materials out there. Our Cyberbullying Research Center has a growing number of free, excellent, practical resources for educators, parents, and teens; check them out at cyberbullying.org.

For a more detailed discussion of how to develop a positive school climate as a way to prevent bullying, cyberbullying, and other adolescent misbehaviors (online and off), see our book: School Climate 2.0: Preventing Cyberbullying and Sexting One Classroom at a Time (from Corwin Press).

Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J.W. (2018). Developing a Positive School Climate: Top Ten Tips to Prevent Bullying and Cyberbullying. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved [insert date], from https://cyberbullying.org/School-Climate-Top-Ten-Tips-To-Prevent-Cyberbullying.pdf

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A Teen’s View of Social Media in 2021 https://cyberbullying.org/teen-social-media-2021 https://cyberbullying.org/teen-social-media-2021#respond Tue, 06 Apr 2021 13:49:16 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=33580 Hey everyone! Meet my friend Lucia – she is the perfect person to give you an updated perspective on how teens are using social media in 2021, based on her personal experiences and the observations she’s made among her peer group. I think she deeply understands the draw and attraction of particular apps, and has…

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Hey everyone! Meet my friend Lucia – she is the perfect person to give you an updated perspective on how teens are using social media in 2021, based on her personal experiences and the observations she’s made among her peer group. I think she deeply understands the draw and attraction of particular apps, and has thought through some of the negative implications for user well-being and mental health. If you have any questions, please let me know and I’ll pass them on for Lucia to address in the Comments! ~Sameer


Hi! My name is Lucia and I am currently a senior at a high school in South Florida. By just reading this you wouldn’t know that I wrote that sentence about an hour ago, before I took what I thought was going to be a “short” break on my phone. Social media is a portal that’s so easy to fall into when accessed. Whether we’re sending our friends memes on Instagram or posting our mouthwatering dinner on our Snapchat stories, social media connects each and every one of us in one way or another. That being said, social media is also not always all fun and games. From bullying to mental health related issues, social media can quickly go from being a unicorn to a plain horse. 

The Unicorn

At first glance, social media is absolutely fascinating and one of the biggest benefits to our society in today’s day and age. Because of the growing technological advances happening every day, we have so many different social media platforms to choose from and use. As a teenager I’d say that the platforms my friends and I use the most are Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Tiktok, Whatsapp, YouTube, and Twitter.

As a portal, social media gives us the ability to be anywhere in the world at any time. Platforms such as Snapchat and Whatsapp let us communicate directly with those in the next room or across the ocean in the next continent. Platforms like Instagram and Tiktok provide us with a door to every user’s life that when opened lead to posts which hold a summary of themselves. Twitter, Youtube, and Pinterest hand us the ability to communicate with others acting as idea generators and becoming the receipts of our generation’s thoughts and interests. Those along with countless other platforms allow us to truly do anything we put our minds to. Allowing many to feel less isolated by giving them an escape, assisting in developing social skills, providing information about new cultures and societal ideas/issues, and empowering all to be creative and express themselves are just a few of the many ways social media can benefit all users.

Instagram

I would definitely say that Instagram is one of my top three out of the apps I use the most. As a place where you can post pictures and videos to your profile or story, Instagram is really a world of its own. When you open the app you’re immediately met with your feed. This is where all of the posts made by the accounts you follow can be found. On any given day you’ll be able to see someone’s selfie, a typical florida beach picture, some vacation photos, memes, food or pet pictures, or- during these crazy times- a mask picture.

Personally, Instagram is where I go to keep up with my friend’s lives. I scroll through the countless pictures of past and current friends and get a look into how and what they’re doing. As I scroll I leave them a quick message of support by double tapping on the pictures which sends them a like. It’s also a great platform to share and follow what’s important to you. For example, I have another account for my photography where I post my pictures, but accounts can be used for personal reasons, non-profit organizations, companies, teams, or even school clubs.

One of my favorite features on Instagram is the Explore page. As the platform takes in information on what you like, it sets up an explore page that’s based on your personal interests. I would say most of us use the explore page when we get a little bored of the people we follow, or even when no one’s really posting anything so there’s nothing new to see. The explore page is endless so you can scroll as much as you want for as long as you want. The best part about it is if you find a picture you like such as a funny meme you can click it and when you start scrolling again it’ll show you more pictures just like that one.

Snapchat & WhatsApp

In today’s society, Snapchat has become close to a necessity. When you meet someone new you really don’t ask for their number anymore, instead, you ask for their “Snap”. Snapchat has become the new iMessage in a way- and honestly I’m not against it. With features like a snap story, Snapchat lets you take a peek into what everyone is doing in the moment.

Something that’s becoming more and more popular is called a “priv” or “private story.” It’s really exactly what it sounds like- a story that’s private. It’s become a trend to name these private stories something funny such as “behind the scenes” or “after hours”. These stories are places where the creator posts things they wouldn’t necessarily want everyone to see. Because you can add the specific people you want to the story, they usually consist of close friends that you feel comfortable with. It can be used to tell your friends about a shocking story that happened, post a video of something funny you did, or even post a hundred embarrassing pictures of your friend for their birthday.

I would say the reason why this generation has deemed snapchat as our first source of communication is because of how it combines its original purpose of sending pictures, with the text feature that acts as normal text messaging. Because we’re able to send pictures of ourselves or what we’re doing while we talk, Snapchat takes social media communication to a new level by making it feel a little more realistic/ in person. The best part about snapchat is definitely the flashback feature which lets you look back and see the pictures you took and saved on that specific day.

On the other hand, WhatsApp is also the platform for communication nowadays. Being from Argentina, the majority of my family lives in South America. WhatsApp has really allowed me to keep in touch when I’m not with them during summer. Because it’s free and you don’t have to pay for services such as texting or video chatting, many individuals with family members across the world use WhatsApp for communication, such as family group chats. Other group chats that are popular on the social media platform are college students groups. It’s very common to receive a link to a college class’ group chat within the first few days of the semester to have a place where students can help one another with any questions they may have- regardless of the type of phone, network, or other variabilities.

YouTube & Pinterest

Although I don’t personally use YouTube a whole lot, it is very popular throughout all ages. Like Pinterest, it’s a platform that’s used for our creative minds. On any given day I’ll walk past my dad watching a YouTube video on how to fix a broken part on our car or in our kitchen. On the other hand, my brothers use YouTube to watch their favorite “creators” stream popular games they like such as FIFA or Call of Duty. When I do use YouTube, I’m most likely either watching my professor’s lectures that are posted on the platform or some random video my friend sent me. My boyfriend uses YouTube for its music streaming service which I don’t think a lot of people pay attention to because of its competitors but is actually pretty cool. YouTube is pretty much a big melting pot. There’s a little bit of everything for our creative minds. From tutorial videos to vlogs to streams, I would say our generation uses YouTube to bring their ideas to life.

In my opinion, Pinterest is way better. I absolutely love Pinterest and use it all the time. As I said before, this is a platform where ideas roam free. Personally, I love to use Pinterest when I’m making a birthday gift for a friend/ family member or sending a care box to a friend in another state. Something that’s really big on Pinterest is a “DIY”. Standing for “do it yourself”, DIYs are projects you can do quite literally yourself. They practically provide you with instructions on how to create anything you want without having to buy it. A lot of my friends use Pinterest for their boards, which are places where you can “pin” the pictures you like from Pinterest and group them together based on the criteria they choose which can be absolutely anything. These can then lead to the making of your personal “aesthetic” as people like to call it. Your aesthetic can be defined as the type of person you are. If someone has pictures of outfits with lots of layers, stripes, dark colors, and jewelry, their aesthetic could be “classified” as a skater girl/boy.

TikTok

TikTok has grown to be very popular very quickly throughout the last three years or so. I’d definitely say it’s one of my favorite platforms. It’s whole deal is sort of like Instagram in the sense that you follow accounts, you have your own profile, and then you have a page where you see content that’s chosen for you based on what you like which on TikTok is called the “For You Page”. I absolutely love TikTok although I will admit that I do get a little lost in the whole platform and end up spending hours on it at a time. It’s super easy to use and really entertaining at times. I can’t even count the amount of breaks I take while doing homework where I’ll unlock my phone and go straight to TikTok. Each video can range between 5 to 60 seconds and can be about absolutely anything. Even though it’s a social media platform, I’ll actually admit that I use it as a search engine at times. When I want to make a specific recipe or know the location of a popular hiking trail I’ll open up TikTok and search the name of what I’m looking for to then spend an hour watching videos on the topic that will provide me with answers.

Something really cool about TikTok is the different categories within it. These can be about absolutely anything. Because your For You page is customized towards your interests, you can be on different “toks”. For example, as a reader and animal lover, I tend to be on “Booktok” and “Dogtok”, meaning that my For You Page will be filled with videos about books and dogs – along with the occasional Charli D’Amelio dancing videos. There are so many different trends and videos across so many different interests which makes TikTok such a popular social media platform for our generation.

Twitter

Where do I even start with this one? Twitter has definitely grown to become vital in having a social media presence as well as a voice in today’s world. Honestly, I don’t use Twitter. Although I have it downloaded on my phone, I probably open it once a month when I’ve completely wrung every last bit of content out from all the other platforms I use. Regardless, it’s truly been on the rise especially during the times we’re experiencing right now- both politically and globally with the pandemic. Twitter really gives us a voice. It’s kind of crazy actually. Not only does it allow anyone to speak what’s on their mind but it also brings an audience together for those reasons. I’ve seen photographers post their photos on Twitter to then successfully find the two strangers in the background, I’ve seen users post a news topic that’s been hidden from the people and have it blow up in just a couple minutes, and I’ve even seen reports of a missing person be posted by an account to be then spread around the world in hopes of helping. Petitions have been posted on Twitter and shared with millions within minutes. Many of my friends use Twitter constantly and truly love it. This social media platform really allows any individual’s voice to be heard from anywhere.

The Horse

At second glance, social media isn’t as big of a benefit to our society as we may think. Because of the growing technological advancements happening every day, we have so many different social media platforms to choose from and use. Yet, with these countless social media platforms come countless drawbacks that can be seen when you remove the sparkling horn and magical rainbow hair. As a teenager I’d say that the platforms my friends and I use the most are Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Tiktok, Whatsapp, Youtube, and Twitter. And as a teenager, I can tell you that the social media sites which have negatively affected our generation are also these exact platforms.

Being a portal that allows you to be wherever you want, whenever you want, social media really allows individuals to do things they wouldn’t necessarily do in person. Many hide behind the shield social media platforms provide while propelling out harmful things to others. Others post content which can be harmful to others without even realizing it. Either way, social media can quickly go from being a majestic world of its own to a harsh reality.

Instagram

Your fun feed that you’re met with immediately after opening the app can quickly lose it’s magic. Between the pictures of your friends at the park and the funny memes with the frog pictures are photos posted by celebrities and influencers. There are so many standards needing to be met to become “socially accepted” on social media that put a huge weight on a user’s back. Seeing an influencer’s perfect body and the response of thousands of likes and comments silently sets the ground rule that if you want that activity on your page you need to look like that. I’ve watched my friends personally edit their own appearance in pictures to hit this standard that’s been put in place over the years. Social media profiles are becoming our identity, leading to our self worth being determined by our followers. Because of this, our value is being set into the hands of strangers and is now defined by comments under a post. Although it’s easy to say that we should simply post whatever we want no matter what we look like, body shaming, cyberbullying, and many other nasty things are very common responses that keep individuals from being themselves online.

TikTok & YouTube

Cancel culture is very real and very harmful on this social media platform. Basically a modern form of ostracism, cancel culture can lead to constant hate for one wrong move. I would say TikTok is infamously known for having the worst cancel culture because of how easy it is to spread the news about what someone does/ says and when they are “cancelled”. Although I’ve seen it happen to a lot of influencers on the platform, it can happen to absolutely anyone. It’s really a tough subject because of what these individuals do. Many are called out for things that are inherently wrong which should truly be punished, yet, the immense amount of hate that a user receives when “cancelled” can lead to lasting psychological effects which can be argued to be too harsh of a punishment. This can include direct messages, comments, and video/picture posts that contain harmful words such as death threats. Although holding someone accountable for their actions when they are problematic is something that should be done, public shaming is neither productive nor healthy. We need to find a way to stop accountability from becoming bullying.

Snapchat

Because of the disappearing messages and pictures on Snapchat, it’s very common to see people being bullied on this platform. When using the chat feature, messages sent disappear when you swipe off of the chat. A lot of people see this as an opportunity to bully with no receipts. It’s also very common to see people using those private stories we talked about earlier to talk about people that aren’t added in them, meaning that something bad about a person can be seen by anyone in the story except for them. I’ve seen people use their private stories for malicious intent many times before. Posting rude things they have to say about someone or even videos or pictures of a person without their knowledge solely for the purpose of embarrassing them.

Twitter

The growing popularity and importance of Twitter has led to the growing negative outcomes it can lead to because of it’s users. Our right of free speech is one greatly appreciated by all. Users are able to express their own opinions, views, and ideas on Twitter and use the platform for its purpose. Yet, wherever there are personal beliefs, there are always those who counter whatever it may be. Cyberbullying is very recurring on Twitter with constant attacks to all individuals because of what they believe and stand for. Whether it be political, religious, or about any other topic, it seems like no one is permitted to have their own personal opinion nowadays without consequences. Because of this, Twitter can be a very biased platform for whatever side of a view you’re on. This then leads to users getting information that may not always be correct. Because I’m not a frequent Twitter user, I haven’t really witnessed the worst of it, yet many of my friends have experienced backlash and hate themselves just for using their platform to share their voice.

At the end of the day, social media has introduced society to a different way of life- opening doors we didn’t know existed. Whether these are good or bad depends on the individual themself and how they decided to use this unique tool. Technology has grown to have a major impact on our world with social media opening up communication across the boundaries of the world. Whether you’re using it to express yourself, expand your network, engage with others, or just simply for entertainment, remember to do your part in keeping the magic social media offers through it’s own little world. After all, unicorns are way cooler than horses right?

Image sources:

https://whr.tn/3sNb4SX

https://bit.ly/2O0hfEu

https://bit.ly/3bWhYhU

https://bit.ly/3sM2LGY

https://bit.ly/3e8ctPT

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Deepfakes and Cyberbullying https://cyberbullying.org/deepfakes https://cyberbullying.org/deepfakes#respond Tue, 16 Mar 2021 14:28:03 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=33742 A few days ago, a unique cyberbullying situation came to light involving a 50-year-old woman who targeted teenage girls in her Bucks County, Pennsylvania community last summer. The most interesting twist was not the vast age difference between the aggressor and the targets, but that fact that software was used to alter original images found…

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A few days ago, a unique cyberbullying situation came to light involving a 50-year-old woman who targeted teenage girls in her Bucks County, Pennsylvania community last summer. The most interesting twist was not the vast age difference between the aggressor and the targets, but that fact that software was used to alter original images found online to make it seem like the other girls – who belonged to a cheerleading club her daughter previously attended – were nude, engaged in underage drinking, and/or using vaping products (prohibited by the gym). These were spread via harassing text messages from anonymous phone numbers unrecognizable to the girls, and also included a suggestion that one of the girls kill herself.

The term “deepfake” (“deep learning + fake”) itself seemed to have originated on Reddit back in 2017 when a number of users began sharing their creations with each other. Generally speaking, it involves the use of artificial intelligence (AI) (rooted in machine learning techniques) to create incredibly realistic-looking content intended to come across as legitimate and real. Often, algorithmic models are created to analyze significant amounts of content (e.g., hours of video of a person, thousands of pictures of a person – with specific attention to key facial features and body language/position), and then take what is learned and apply it to images/frames one might want to manipulate (e.g., superimposing those original features onto the target content/output). Additional techniques such as adding artifacts (like glitching/jittering that appears normal or incidental) or using masking/editing to improve realism are also employed.

The technology has come a long way over the last few years. Many of our readers might remember FakeApp – which allowed a user to swap faces with another person in videos they create – and FaceApp – which did the same but also had a filter that showed you what you’ll look like as you age. Another app called Zao was popular for a while; it allowed you to take a single picture of yours and put your face on TV or movie clips. As you might imagine, creating these types of pictures and videos has become a pastime for many; numerous notable individuals like Barack Obama, Nicolas Cage, and Tom Cruise (which just went viral this month) have been featured largely to experiment with the technology and get a laugh, like, and/or share from others. But the longest shadow cast on deepfake technology is because of its use in propagating misinformation and disinformation in politics. That specific problem has forced the major social media and search companies to create policies prohibiting certain types of deepfakes to keep their platforms from becoming a breeding ground for dangerous falsehoods.

Back to the case in Pennsylvania: the woman was identified because an IP address from one of her devices was linked to the phone numbers she was using to target the teenage girls, and timestamps on texts sent from the seized phones matched up with what was found on the girls’ devices. This type of digital forensics is rudimentary in this day and age, and hopefully law enforcement personnel in every community feel like they can adequately respond to these types of cases should they increase in number. If not, they need to be better resourced and trained.

Also in terms of a formal response, it is essential that school administrators and other decision-makers remember the axiom that often, there is more than meets the eye. All of us are so used to quickly consuming digital content and then reflexively internalizing it as truth (especially if it confirms what we already believe or want to believe). This, coupled with availability bias (where we align our interpretations based on the information we have available to us – or, frankly, that is inundating us) and argumentum ad populum (where something seems to be true because so many of our friends on social media seem to believe it is true), often hinders our ability to carefully and objectively evaluate what is in front of us. Deepfakes are being used in cyberbullying situations. If a student appears to be in a compromising photo or video, we need to be absolutely sure the content has not been manipulated before exacting a disciplinary response. Such a determination must formally be built into the investigative process. Knee-jerk assumptions risk a lawsuit and, more critically, they can compound the pain experienced by the victim(s).

This particular case came up in my undergraduate course this week, which means that the eyes of at least some university students have been opened to the possibility of creating a deepfake to harass another person. I’m sure that this case has also come across the radars of middle and high schoolers as well, and as such we may see a few more of these situations crop up. Software to do this is easily accessible with a simple Google search. Just like it would be foolish to believe deepfakes won’t be used to trick people into swallowing untruths before the next US election, it is foolish to believe that our students (and some adults) won’t use them to harm others.

Deepfakes have the potential to compromise the well-being of a nation when it comes to democracy and national security, and also have the potential to compromise the well-being of a target when one considers the emotional, psychological, and reputational damage they can inflict. However, the thing with deepfakes is that there are always aural, visual, and temporal inconsistencies to be detected. Those irregularities may miss observation by the human eye, but machine learning can be enlisted to identify and flag any non-uniformity. It has been said that AI can fix what AI has broken – I love that. All social media companies (as well as national governments) must continue to invest in improving their detection technologies because the algorithms to create increasingly realistic deepfakes are constantly being refined as well.  We may also need to eventually integrate blockchain in the creation of any piece of digital content so that we can verify that each keeps its integrity from the time it was first created all the way through its distribution across the Web. This will be a fascinating area of study to follow, and I am excited to see what unfolds. Of course, we’ll keep you updated on the most important developments.

Image sources: https://www.today.com/news/cheerleader-s-mom-accused-using-deepfakes-harass-girl-team-t211737 – Story by Maura Hohman, Today Show

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Snapchat Speech Could be Out-of-Bounds for School Discipline https://cyberbullying.org/snapchat-speech-bl-mahanoy https://cyberbullying.org/snapchat-speech-bl-mahanoy#respond Wed, 24 Feb 2021 15:23:39 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=33472 B.L. was a promising cheerleader at Mahanoy Area High School in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania. She had been involved in the sport since elementary school, and as a freshman participated on the junior varsity team. Going into her sophomore year, she was hoping to make the varsity squad. To her disappointment, she was once again placed…

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B.L. was a promising cheerleader at Mahanoy Area High School in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania. She had been involved in the sport since elementary school, and as a freshman participated on the junior varsity team. Going into her sophomore year, she was hoping to make the varsity squad. To her disappointment, she was once again placed on the JV team, overlooked in favor of a new freshman at the school. As any teen would be, she was very upset about this. And as many teens do, she expressed her frustration on social media. Specifically, she posted two messages to her Snapchat story, which included a photo of her and a friend raising their middle fingers with the caption “F*** school f*** softball f*** cheer F*** everything.

The school responded by kicking her off the team for a year for violating school and team rules which required cheerleaders to “have respect for [their] school, coaches, . . . [and] other cheerleaders”; avoid “foul language and inappropriate gestures”; and refrain from sharing “negative information regarding cheerleading, cheerleaders, or coaches . . . on the internet.” This prompted B.L. and her parents to sue the school district, arguing that the school violated B.L.’s First Amendment right to free speech.

So, does a school have the authority to dismiss a student from an extra-curricular activity because of something that was posted online?

School Regulation of Student Speech

Courts have long held that schools can discipline students for off-campus speech that “materially and substantially” disrupts the learning environment at school. This standard is based on the landmark Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) wherein the Court held that disciplining students for nondisruptive, passive speech at school (in this case, wearing a black arm band to protest the Vietnam war) is not permissible. The court famously concluded that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” The Court added, however, that “conduct by the student, in class or out of it, which for any reason whether it stems from time, place, or type of behavior—materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others is, of course, not immunized by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.”

I do not believe the courts would endorse B.L.’s removal from school (if the school had, for example, suspended her). She was understandably upset and impulsively lashed out in a way that was inappropriate but not extraordinary for an adolescent. But there is a long history of case law affirming the right of a school to remove students from the privilege of extracurricular activities if they violate its athletic code.

In a school district just a few miles north of where I currently live, for example, a student was expelled from the high school wrestling team when evidence emerged that he was present at a party where under-aged students were drinking. There was no evidence that the wrestler himself was drinking, but that wasn’t relevant to the specific language of the athletic code which clearly stated that a student “must not attend gatherings where alcohol or other controlled substances are being used.” His dismissal from the team was viewed as appropriate by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.

In B.L.’s case, the lower court acknowledged the Tinker standard, suggesting though that “B.L.’s off-campus messages were insufficiently disruptive for the school to discipline.” While her messages did find their way to her teammates and to campus, it is unclear the extent to which they were disruptive. As a result, District Court Judge A. Richard Caputo ruled that her dismissal from the team did in fact violate her free speech rights and ordered the school to clear B.L.’s disciplinary record.

The Third Circuit Muddies the Water

The Mahanoy School District appealed the decision to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. A three judge panel agreed with the lower court, ruling that the school should not have removed B.L. from the cheerleading team. This conclusion is at least debatable. B.L.’s speech unquestionably impacted the cohesiveness/culture of the cheerleading team, but did it cause a disruption sufficient to implicate Tinker? There have in fact been previous cases where courts have failed to accept the position that simply disrupting team order is sufficient enough to allow discipline/removal (see, for example, Seamons v. Snow).

Had the Third Circuit stopped there, however, this would be an unremarkable case. But the Court went further, arguing that schools have virtually no authority whatsoever to discipline students for their off-campus speech. This is not only constitutionally dubious, but it is practically untenable and—what’s worse—potentially dangerous for students. The Third Circuit is attempting to address a gap in the knowledge about when precisely a school can intervene in off-campus matters by filling it with concrete. It is true that this is the simplest solution (schools cannot intervene in any off-campus speech whatsoever!), but it is neither thoughtful nor helpful.

It isn’t even the case that there is significant disagreement among the District or Circuit Courts across the nation. Five other Circuit Courts have heard cases involving off-campus student speech and all five agreed that schools may discipline students when their off-campus speech has a connection to the school and/or is disruptive. In a leery concurring opinion Judge Thomas Ambro acknowledged as much: “…ours is the first Circuit Court to hold that Tinker categorically does not apply to off-campus speech.”

The Third Circuit is attempting to address a gap in the knowledge about when precisely a school can intervene in off-campus matters by filling it with concrete.

Interestingly, a decade ago this same Circuit struggled with the question of whether a school can discipline a student for making MySpace profiles that are derogatory toward a principal. In two separate cases reviewed by two different three judge panels of the Third Circuit, judges reached contradictory conclusions. In one (Blue Mountain School District v. J.S.), a 14-year-old made a profile that said his principal was a “sex-obsessed pedophile.” In the other (Layshock v. Hermitage School District), a 17-year-old made a “nonthreatening, non-obscene parody profile making fun of the school principal.” In both cases the students involved were suspended from school for 10 days.

After first deciding that the school was within its authority to discipline the 14-year-old, but not the 17-year-old, the separate panels got together to review the cases en banc (essentially all of the judges of the Circuit reviewed the facts of both cases to resolve the discrepancy). In the end, the full court decided that the schools couldn’t discipline the students in either case, but not because they were prohibited from getting involved in off-campus matters, but because neither met the disruption standard established in Tinker. Remarkably, they conclude their en banc opinion by saying “The issue is whether the Supreme Court’s decision in Tinker v. Des Moines, can be applicable to off-campus speech. I believe it can, and no ruling coming out today is to the contrary.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has now agreed to weigh in and for the first time decide whether schools can discipline students for off-campus, online speech.

Potential Consequences

Prohibiting schools from intervening in off-campus speech that disrupts the learning environment at school would no doubt result in more bullying and cyberbullying behaviors, and make students feel less safe at school. In our 2019 national study, 10% of middle and high school students said they were cyberbullied in the last 30 days in a way that really affected their ability to learn and feel safe at school. If schools are unable to help in these situations, the student affected is being denied their right to feel safe at school. The threat of school discipline can also serve as a deterrent for students who might be tempted to abuse classmates online. In an academic paper published a few years ago, we found that students who believed that they would be punished by the school for cyberbullying were significantly less likely to engage in cyberbullying. Overall, more than 70% of the students we surveyed said they agreed that schools can discipline students for cyberbullying even when it doesn’t happen at school.

Prohibiting schools from intervening in off-campus speech that disrupts the learning environment at school would no doubt result in more bullying and cyberbullying behaviors, and make students feel less safe at school.

State legislatures have also recognized the importance of giving schools the tools necessary to prevent off-campus behaviors from interfering with a school’s mission. At last count there were at least 25 states that included language about addressing off-campus incidents of bullying within their anti-bullying statutes and administrative codes. All of these laws would become unconstitutional if the opinion of the Third Circuit is upheld.

Conclusion

It has long been recounted that Michael Jordan didn’t make the varsity basketball team at Emsley A. Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina, his sophomore year. And while B.L. is unlikely to turn into the G.O.A.T. in cheerleading, she will probably turn out just fine (she made the varsity squad her junior year!). But if the Supreme Court adopts the standard of the Third Circuit, schools across the country will struggle even more to manage behavior at school that originates from off-campus instigations, and students will needlessly suffer from incidents that could have been prevented. I’m not arguing that educators should serve as the police of the internet when it comes to student online behaviors, but they should be empowered to thoughtfully and reasonably intervene when they are made aware of situations that are likely to impact their classrooms. Failing to understand the close connection between online and offline—between social media sites and schoolyards—doesn’t mean these problems will go away. It just means fewer students and families will get the support they need.

Other relevant cases:

Doninger v. Niehoff, 527 F.3d 41, 50–53 (2d Cir. 2008)
Wisniewski v. Bd. of Educ. of Weedsport Cent. Sch. Dist., 494 F.3d 34, 39–40 (2d Cir. 2007)
Bell v. Itawamba Cty. Sch. Bd., 799 F.3d 379, 396 (5th Cir. 2015)

Images: Shenandoah Sentinel, ACLU of Pennsylvania

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Cyberbullying Fact Sheet: Taking Screenshots and Screen Recordings to Preserve Evidence https://cyberbullying.org/cyberbullying-fact-sheet-how-to-preserve-cyberbullying-evidence-through-screenshots https://cyberbullying.org/cyberbullying-fact-sheet-how-to-preserve-cyberbullying-evidence-through-screenshots#respond Mon, 08 Feb 2021 07:47:00 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=2380 This Fact Sheet provides instructions on how to create an image or video of what you see on any screen (on any device – your laptop, tablet, gaming console, Kindle, phone, iWatch, etc.) so that evidence of cyberbullying (or any other problematic behavior) can be saved and used for an investigation at school, or to…

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This Fact Sheet provides instructions on how to create an image or video of what you see on any screen (on any device – your laptop, tablet, gaming console, Kindle, phone, iWatch, etc.) so that evidence of cyberbullying (or any other problematic behavior) can be saved and used for an investigation at school, or to send to a social media or gaming company to get an account taken down, or to give to the police.

Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. (2021). Cyberbullying fact sheet: Taking screenshots and screen recordings to preserve evidence. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved [insert date], from https://cyberbullying.org/making-cyberbullying-screenshots.pdf

Download PDF

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Cyberbullying Fact Sheet: Identification, Prevention, and Response https://cyberbullying.org/cyberbullying-fact-sheet-identification-prevention-and-response https://cyberbullying.org/cyberbullying-fact-sheet-identification-prevention-and-response#comments Tue, 02 Feb 2021 07:59:00 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=2165 UPDATED for 2021! This detailed guide is a nine-page summary – filled with as much useful information as possible – to equip educators, parents, and other youth-serving adults to spot cyberbullying, respond to it appropriately and meaningfully, and to prevent its future occurrence among those they care for. If you only have time to read…

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UPDATED for 2021! This detailed guide is a nine-page summary – filled with as much useful information as possible – to equip educators, parents, and other youth-serving adults to spot cyberbullying, respond to it appropriately and meaningfully, and to prevent its future occurrence among those they care for. If you only have time to read one fact sheet from the Cyberbullying Research Center to get up-to-speed about the problem and what you can do, read this one.

Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2021). Cyberbullying fact sheet: Identification, Prevention, and Response. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved [insert date], from https://cyberbullying.org/Cyberbullying-Identification-Prevention-Response-2021.pdf

Download PDF

(NOTE: We have a much older version of this Cyberbullying fact sheet available here, in case you were looking for it or had linked to it from another site: https://cyberbullying.org/Cyberbullying-Identification-Prevention-Response.pdf)

Cyberbullying-Identification-Prevention-Response-2014

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Teen Sexting: Advice for Parents https://cyberbullying.org/sexting-advice-for-parents https://cyberbullying.org/sexting-advice-for-parents#respond Tue, 26 Jan 2021 16:53:43 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=33035 (For a formatted .pdf version of this article for distribution, click here]). Sexting is when someone takes a naked or semi-naked (explicit) picture or video of themselves, usually using their phone, and sends it to someone else. Some teens participate in sexting voluntarily as a way to flirt or be intimate with a romantic partner,…

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(For a formatted .pdf version of this article for distribution, click here]).

Sexting is when someone takes a naked or semi-naked (explicit) picture or video of themselves, usually using their phone, and sends it to someone else. Some teens participate in sexting voluntarily as a way to flirt or be intimate with a romantic partner, while others might be coerced or manipulated into sharing explicit images. Due to the varying nature of sexting incidents, care should be taken to address the behavior in a way that minimizes harm of the person depicted. Below are ten tips to help parents deal with sexting when it occurs.

1. GATHER INFORMATION. Your first task is to determine what happened. Did your child send an explicit image to someone else or receive one? If received, is the image of the sender, or someone else? If your child received an explicit image from the person depicted, instruct them to delete it immediately, and have them convey to the other person that must never send content like that ever again. If the image is of someone else known to your child, you should contact that person’s parents. If your child sent explicit images of themselves to someone else, try to determine who might have seen the images or where they may now exist (e.g., on someone’s phone, on a social media platform). This brainstorming effort will also help your child better understand how easily the images can be shared beyond their original target.

2. STOP THE BLEEDING. If it is determined that explicit images have been shared with others or posted online, contact the sites or apps on which they have been posted and request that they be removed. The more quickly you do this, the better chance you will have at stopping the distribution. See our Report Cyberbullying page with contact information for all major sites, apps, and service providers.

3. TALK TO YOUR CHILD. Speak with your child as openly and as candidly as possible. Attempt to determine their motivation for sending the images. Make sure they understand the potential consequences. Convey to them that your primary goal as their parent is to protect them.

4. BE DISCRETE. Recognize that if your child has been involved in sexting and you now know, they are probably mortified. The more people that know about it, the worse your child is going to feel. Avoid discussing the incident with anyone other than your child, unless you really need to (see below).

5. CONDEMN THE BEHAVIOR, NOT THE CHILD. Do not respond harshly or out of anger, and abstain from excessively punitive discipline. Remember, your goal is condemn the behavior without condemning the child. Apply reasonable and appropriate consequences with the goal of educating them and preventing the behavior in the future. Refrain from shaming them and negatively labeling them in any way.

6. CONTACT OTHER PARENTS. If there is evidence that other youth possess images of your child, contact the other parents and advise them of what is going on. Work together to informally address the behaviors in a way that stresses to the youth that these behaviors are very risky and could lead to significant reputational and even legal trouble that lasts for a long time. The goal is to stop the distribution of the images. If other parents don’t seem to be taking it seriously, you may need to enlist help from a school official or even law enforcement in extreme cases.

7. CONTACT THE SCHOOL. If explicit images have been distributed to students beyond the original sender and receiver, the school should be contacted so that they can conduct an investigation. School discipline may be appropriate if there is a substantial school disruption because of the situation, or if a student is being bullied or otherwise targeted as a result of the image(s).

8. CONTACT THE POLICE. If you have a concern that your child is being targeted and exploited by another child or even an adult, contact law enforcement as soon as possible so that they can immediately get involved. Adults (and sometimes minors) can be charged criminally for possessing and distributing sexually explicit images of minors, In many states it is a crime to request explicit images from minors (termed “child enticement”).

9. SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP. The distribution of explicit or private images beyond their original target can be emotionally and psychologically damaging for anyone (and especially for youth). Consider obtaining formal counseling services from someone who works extensively with adolescents to help your child process what happened and move forward. They likely feel devastated, helpless, and that their lives will never be the same again. A specially-trained therapist or similar mental health professional can be of great benefit.

10. OFFER ALTERNATIVES TO SEXTING. It is completely normal for teens to want to be intimate with their romantic partners. Give your child age-appropriate suggestions for flirtation/intimacy that do not carry the same risks as sending or receiving explicit images. For example, they could send a suggestive image, rather than an explicit one. They could send an audio message instead of a video. They could send a link to something playful and flirty. All of this may shock your sensibilities, but such creative solutions can at least partially have the desired effect.

Citation information: Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J.W. (2021). Sexting: Advice for parents. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved [insert date], from https://cyberbullying.org/sexting-advice-for-parents.pdf

Keywords: sexting, teens, parents, parenting, tips, prevention, explicit images, nudes

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Inoculate Against Bullying by Chatting with your Children https://cyberbullying.org/parent-child-relationship-communication https://cyberbullying.org/parent-child-relationship-communication#comments Wed, 13 Jan 2021 19:57:19 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=32817 I pick my son up from school most days, and from his first day of kindergarten I got into the habit of routinely asking him two specific questions: 1) “How was your day?” and 2) “Was there any bullying?” I’d ask the latter question with a conspiratorial raise of my brow—as if asking him if…

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I pick my son up from school most days, and from his first day of kindergarten I got into the habit of routinely asking him two specific questions: 1) “How was your day?” and 2) “Was there any bullying?” I’d ask the latter question with a conspiratorial raise of my brow—as if asking him if they’d served Five Guys burgers for lunch in the cafeteria.

These daily interrogations started out as a lighthearted way to get my son to talk a little about his day, although I was also genuinely interested in the nature and extent of bullying at his school. He’d sat in the back row of enough of my presentations starting at an early age to know the basics of bullying and other trouble kids can get into at school and online. I didn’t expect much in terms of content for my research in the stories he would tell, but more than anything my goal was to open up a line of communication between him and I on this topic that most kids don’t like discussing. I hoped that these early low-stakes conversations about issues at school would make it easier for him to turn to me when more serious stuff came up. On top of that, research has shown that good parent-child communication can reduce the risk of experiencing bullying and cyberbullying as well as reduce the likelihood that a child participates in bullying.

In those early years he would report disagreements about classroom toys or incidents where one child didn’t want to play with another. I didn’t lecture him on the precise academic definitional attributes of bullying, but focused instead on how the behaviors made him or others feel. I also tried to instill some empathy, and encouraged him to intervene in ways that were appropriate (for example, playing with the classmate who might have felt left out or talking to his teacher).

As my son got older, the question about bullying at school came with eye-rolls or a drawn-out “nooooo!” with a tone of annoyance like I should already know that of course there wasn’t any bullying at school that day (or Five Guys burgers). I even started skipping the question, thinking it had fallen into the territory of bad dad-joke (as if there is such a thing). But the groundwork was laid, I hoped, for future conversations about difficult matters.

The Evolving Nature of Parent-Child Communication

At younger ages, children are generally forthcoming with their parents about issues, problems, and concerns. This changes over time, especially as kids move through middle school and into high school. As parents it is important that we capitalize on this pre-adolescent developmental time period where they will listen and talk to us. They need to know where we stand on important moral issues, of course, but they also need to know that they can come to us if they run into trouble. Hopefully we respond in a thoughtful and helpful way. (If you need help talking to your kids about bullying, see our Parent Resources.)

Psychoanalysts identify puberty as an important turning point in the nature of parent-child communication. At this stage of development parents typically give their children more privileges, autonomy, and privacy, creating fewer opportunities for one-to-one conversations. On top of that, hormonal and other biochemical fluctuations and increasing deidealization (kids begin to realize that their parents aren’t perfect!) can create significant conflict and avoidance. This varies a bit by gender, with boys and girls both becoming more private and secretive in early adolescence but boys continuing on this secretive trajectory throughout adolescence while girls typically return to open communication with parents during middle adolescence. Nevertheless, both boys and girls are more likely to confide in friends than parents during this time period.

Technology probably exacerbates and might even accelerate these patterns. As kids are given access to technology at younger and younger ages, they are able to communicate with friends and develop new connections from outside the familial unit. Instead of being stuck watching “Must See TV” with Mom and Dad, children today can play online video games and live chat via social media apps with their friends. It’s also more difficult to talk with children during long car rides now compared a generation ago as their devices allow for distractions and ready access to peers. This is not to suggest that we snatch the tech right out of their developing hands. The positives of technology unquestionably outweigh the negatives, especially in the era of COVID and with proper guidance. We simply need to be more intentional with our efforts to connect with our kids.

Since the start of the COVID pandemic, my son and I have spent a lot of one-on-one time together out on our local trails (me running, him riding his bike). This has been a wonderful chance to discuss a variety of topics, mostly mundane, but some more significant. I cherish these 45-90 minutes together 3-4 days each week. And surprisingly, he looked forward to them too. Because he is in his tween years, I know these opportunities are waning, and I want to take advantage of them as much as possible. I know that it will only get more difficult to connect with my kid over the next few years and now is the time to build a foundation of communication and trust that will hopefully get us through the next phase. As Brent Laursen and W. Andrew Collins observe in Parent-Child Communication in Adolescence: “Although relationship transformations inevitably impede family communication, greater parental investment in offspring, as indicated by a prior history of responsive parenting, is thought to provide a foundation of warmth and respect that may enable both parties to transcend the difficulties of adolescence.”

Practice Pays Off

Then it happened. When I picked my son up from school not long ago, he handed me a painstakingly folded sheet of lined notebook paper with the carefully pencil-printed label: “For Dad (about bullying).”

The specific details of this particular incident are not all that important (he was not directly involved), but I was heartened by the fact that my son was open with me about it. Apparently the years of legwork to cultivate this relationship have paid off to the point that he willingly volunteered this information. He said he wrote it down so he wouldn’t forget to tell me about it. I thanked him for confiding in me and on the drive home from school that day we discussed what he did and how he felt in the moment, and what more he possibly could have done. He told me that he thought he and the teacher handled it ok and that the classmate who was targeted seemed better by the end of the day. I encouraged him to continue to let me know if there were problems at school, but also told him that I was happy that he knew what to do when it happened.

Now if I could only figure out how to improve the school lunch menu.

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StopTheB – A New Anti-Bullying Movement https://cyberbullying.org/stoptheb-a-new-anti-bullying-movement https://cyberbullying.org/stoptheb-a-new-anti-bullying-movement#respond Tue, 01 Dec 2020 13:05:58 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=32084 Recently, I have become aware of a cool new global initiative called StopTheB. It is for young people, by young people – and was founded by two sisters, Vasundhara (22) and Riddhi Oswal (16). The main aim of StopTheB is not only to raise awareness and educate on the issues, context, and dynamics of bullying…

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Recently, I have become aware of a cool new global initiative called StopTheB. It is for young people, by young people – and was founded by two sisters, Vasundhara (22) and Riddhi Oswal (16). The main aim of StopTheB is not only to raise awareness and educate on the issues, context, and dynamics of bullying and bystanding behaviors, but more importantly to inspire individuals to rise up, support targets, intervene when they feel comfortable, and otherwise simply do the kind thing.  We know that youth can be powerful engines for positive change in schools and in communities, and their voices and efforts must be encouraged and elevated at all times.

Youth can be powerful engines for positive change in schools and in communities, and their voices and efforts must be encouraged and elevated at all times.

The campaign has received a tremendous amount of international support, and has been featured in a number of major outlets including Business InsiderYahoo NewsDaily HeraldStar TribuneBoston Herald Le Digest QuotidienActus FranceAsia OneSingapore NewsThailand TribuneThailand News GazetteBrunei News GazetteThe Daily CourierOttawa Citizen, and Canadian Insider. It’s even been promoted by celebrities, including soccer legend Ronaldinho:

Over the last few months, Vasundhara and Riddhi have been launching “challenges” to encourage and motivate young people to get involved not just with their words, but with their actions. For example, on their Instagram page, they’ve asked their growing community to post digital creations and artwork that represents what it means to be an #activebystander – and the top entries received cash prizes.

Make Good Challenge

What I wanted to bring to your attention – and the attention of your students (spread the word!) is the newest #StopTheB challenge, called “Make Good.” The Make Good Challenge was launched on UNESCO’s inaugural ‘International Day against Violence and Bullying at School Including Cyberbullying’ – November 5th. Basically, it asks young people to reflect on a past situation in which a fellow classmate or student was being bullied (at school, in the community, or online), and the participant failed to say or do the right thing and, in retrospect, wished they had acted differently. Perhaps they didn’t stand up for the victim at the time, but know deep inside now that they really should have. Perhaps they wanted to, but didn’t exactly know what to do, or lacked the courage, or were friends with those who were doing the bullying, and were afraid of being targeted next. Perhaps they simply lacked empathy and understanding in the moment. Or, perhaps they themselves were the aggressor. This is their opportunity to make things right!

How To Participate

Any student across the globe can participate in the Make Good Challenge. All they have to do is go to the StopTheB website, choose from one of the custom Make Good note templates, write a message to the person with whom they want to make things right, and send it to them through the cool, interactive interface! Participants can also choose to create their own video (one minute or less in duration) and post it to their Instagram page while also tagging @StopTheB and the person to whom they want to apologize.

How Your School Can Be A Part

Educators (and other youth professionals), consider sharing this blog, the StopTheB website, and the image above to get the word out to your students. And follow the StopTheB page on Instagram! Let others know, so they can participate! The last date of entry is December 10th, and two winners will be announced on December 24th. Vasundhara and Riddhi are looking for the most genuine and courageous apologies, and so do keep that in mind when you mention this to your students. Those two winners will receive up to 50% of their tuition fee (capped at $10,000 USD due to global disparity in tuition rates). (Check out the Terms and Conditions to have any of your questions answered).

stop-the-b-instagram

The Power of An Apology

So many times, we have regrets about how we’ve treated others, or about not stepping up to help, encourage, or support others when we really should have. This is a chance to restore a relationship, to shed any feelings of guilt, to get past any residual shame, and to move forward with the power to do the right thing next time. If students never take the first step to address an instance of social and relational conflict, they will continue to run from those awkward and uncomfortable moments, instead of acting in strength, confidence, and maturity. This can be that first step, which can lead to another, and another – and ultimately a lifestyle where the student not only knows what to do when they mess up, but actually does it.

If students never take the first step to address an instance of social and relational conflict, they will continue to run from those awkward and uncomfortable moments, instead of acting in strength, confidence, and maturity.

Finally, I think we all understand the power of an apology when it comes to helping the target heal and recover. Some apologies are simple and just a few words – but those aren’t very effective. Since research has shown that the more elaborate apologies lead to more forgiveness, I appreciate the nuances of the Make Good Challenge. A participant must really think through and reflect on what has happened in the past between them and another individual, and then meaningfully determine what words to use to restore the relationship. Just saying “I’m sorry!” won’t be enough. Often, the person you have hurt needs more – and needs to see that you are truly remorseful.

Again, please let your students know about this challenge and encourage them to participate! I’ll be helping serve as a guest judge, and very much look forward to the opportunity. It just starts with a singular positive action, and that can catalyze a chain reaction that collectively lead to better, healthier relationships among youth!

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TikTok: Top Ten Tips for Teens https://cyberbullying.org/tiktok-tips https://cyberbullying.org/tiktok-tips#comments Thu, 19 Nov 2020 15:11:42 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=31893 (For a formatted .pdf version of this article for distribution, click on the image above [or click here]). TikTok is a fun video app that has exploded in popularity across the world. Below we offer some tips for using it safely and responsibly. 1. YOUR ACCOUNT DEFAULTS TO PUBLIC. Set it to private if you…

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(For a formatted .pdf version of this article for distribution, click on the image above [or click here]).

TikTok is a fun video app that has exploded in popularity across the world. Below we offer some tips for using it safely and responsibly.

1. YOUR ACCOUNT DEFAULTS TO PUBLIC. Set it to private if you don’t want everyone to have access to your videos and comments.

2. RESIST FROM POSTING PERSONAL OR PRIVATE INFORMATION (phone number, address, birthdate) in your videos or on your profile.

3. YOU CAN AUTOMATICALLY HIDE COMMENTS THAT MAY BE SPAMMY OR INAPPROPRIATE. You can also filter comments based on your own personal keywords. Check your Settings.

4. YOU CAN CONTROL WHO CAN COMMENT ON YOUR VIDEOS. Adjust privacy settings to your level of comfort about who can interact with you on the app (Everyone, Friends, No one).

5. REMEMBER THAT UNLESS YOU’RE FOLLOWING SOMEONE AND THEY ARE FOLLOWING YOU, THEY CAN’T DM (DIRECT MESSAGE) YOU. So, if you’re receiving a lot of unwanted messages in your inbox, unfollow those people! By default, those under 16 cannot DM.

6. RESTRICTED MODE WILL HELP KEEP YOUR FOR YOU PAGE MORE KID-FRIENDLY THAN OTHERWISE. You can enable it under Settings, and Digital Well-Being.

7. TAKE THE TIME TO REPORT PROBLEMATIC TIKTOKS (by clicking “Share” and then “Report”), as well as problematic comments (hold your finger on the comment to see a Report option).

8. STAY IN CONTROL OF THE QUALITY OF YOUR TIKTOK EXPERIENCE by blocking a user who troubles you in any way. This can be done by going to their profile, tapping the three dots in the top right corner, and selecting “Block.”

9. YOU CAN CONTROL WHO CAN DUET, STITCH, AND REACT TO YOUR VIDEOS See Privacy Settings to set it to Everyone, Friends, or No one.

10. COMMENT WITH CARE. Resist commenting in a way that is threatening or hurtful in any way. Sarcasm might also be misinterpreted, and so lean in the direction of being kind. Basically, try not to be a jerk towards others!

Citation information: Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J.W. (2020). TikTok: Top Ten Tips for Teens. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved (insert date), from https://cyberbullying.org/Top-Ten-Tips-Teens-TikTok.pdf

Keywords: TikTok, online safety, digital reputation, social networking, apps

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Digital Resilience https://cyberbullying.org/digital-resilience https://cyberbullying.org/digital-resilience#respond Tue, 17 Nov 2020 20:12:08 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=31763 We define digital resilience as “positive attitudes and actions in the face of interpersonal adversity online.” While adversity can arise from technological sources as well (e.g., hard drive crashes, forgotten passwords, vulnerable cloud accounts), we are primarily concerned with the social aspect of online interactions that induce anger, frustration, anxiety, fear, embarrassment, and similar outcomes.…

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We define digital resilience as “positive attitudes and actions in the face of interpersonal adversity online.” While adversity can arise from technological sources as well (e.g., hard drive crashes, forgotten passwords, vulnerable cloud accounts), we are primarily concerned with the social aspect of online interactions that induce anger, frustration, anxiety, fear, embarrassment, and similar outcomes.

Digital resilience is something that I’ve been thinking about for a few years, especially in the context of finding an answer to what social media companies can do to reduce the effects of toxicity and cyberbullying on their apps. (Before I continue though – a brief caveat: I don’t like slapping the word “digital” on various concepts, as we need to focus on “citizenship” and “civility” and “literacy” and “resilience” in all spheres of life, not just online. But we’re finding something unique here – which I’ll explain below.)

We define digital resilience as “positive attitudes and actions in the face of interpersonal adversity online.”

In 2017, Justin and I published a paper on (traditional) resilience, defined as “the capacity to spring back, rebound, successfully adapt in the face of adversity, and develop social and academic competence despite exposure to severe stress…or simply the stress of today’s world.” Since then, we’ve spoken on the topic multiple times, and audiences have been very receptive to the research-informed, resilience-building strategies we share. It’s become an integral part of our comprehensive message, and we believe it’s making a difference.

However, I have had the nagging suspicion that there was more to be uncovered. The way that we previously measured resilience was based on traditional, validated measures of resilience that focus on offline behaviors (see the study here). They included these items:

  • I am able to adapt when changes occur.
  • I can deal with whatever comes my way.
  • I try to see the humorous side of things when I am faced with problems.
  • Having to cope with stress makes me stronger.
  • I tend to bounce back after illness, injury, or other hardships.
  • I believe I can achieve my goals, even if there are obstacles.
  • Under pressure, I stay focused and think clearly.
  • I am not easily discouraged by failure.
  • I think of myself as a strong person when dealing with life’s challenges/difficulties.
  • I am able to handle unpleasant or painful feelings like sadness, fear, and anger.

Using these measures, we found that the lower students scored on their level of resilience, the more likely they were to:

  • be significantly negatively impacted at school by bullying
  • be significantly negatively impacted by cyberbullying
  • get sad, angry, frustrated, fearful, or embarrassed as a result of bullying
  • suffer silently and do nothing to improve their situation when bullied

Moving forward, though, I felt like we needed to create some measures of resilience specific to online interpersonal adversity. And if we identified some relevance to cyberbullying with any of these new measures, it may inform what social media companies do to cultivate digital resilience among users (or, at the very least, keep them from unknowingly lowering the resilience of users because of the app design, feature-set, or user experience).

Our Theory

We think there may be something qualitatively different about resilience online when compared to resilience offline. Perhaps a parallel can be drawn to the concept of road rage, which is a type of intermittent explosive disorder that occurs within a unique environment (in a vehicle, while driving). That is, you have an irrational, affective response that hijacks any rational, cognitive response you might want to have. Basically, heavy, negative emotions take over and you internalize and externalize in maladaptive and even harmful ways – harmful to yourself, and harmful towards others. And bam: you have road rage.

This begs the question: Is the Internet, social media, and video gaming a similarly unique environment in which these heavy negative emotions take over, affect you deeply, and contribute to impulsive maladaptive and harmful coping?

If so, how can we encourage healthier and more productive overcoming instead when faced with various forms of online adversity?

Digital Resilience Measures

With this in mind, Justin and I came up with four new measures that assess one’s level of  “digital resilience,” and included them in our most recent survey of teens:

  • When someone says something hurtful to me online, I can easily laugh it off.
  • I am easily frustrated when communicating with people online.
  • I find myself responding quickly to emails, text messages, or online posts that make me
    upset.
  • When I have a bad experience online, it sticks with me for a long time.

We then measured these against the amount of harm a target felt or experienced from cyberbullying.

Among the middle and high schoolers who had been cyberbullied, those who scored in the top 25% on digital resilience were significantly less hurt and bothered by the cyberbullying experience. In addition, those with average resilience fared significantly better than those with the lowest levels of resilience when it came to how much a student was negatively affected by cyberbullying.  

Among the middle and high schoolers who had been cyberbullied, those who scored in the top 25% on digital resilience were significantly less hurt and bothered by the cyberbullying experience.

Practical Implications to Promote Digital Resilience

So what does this mean? How can this translate into what social media companies do? Here are some ideas:

Resilience-themed messaging and campaigns

1. I would love to see more specific messaging and campaigns to remind users to not let others ruin their online experience, to not give others power if they are being a troll or a jerk, and to remember their own agency and autonomy to control their audience and interactions in-app. I also think that interstitials can be used within various feeds which are bite-sized, punchy, and aesthetically-pleasing and that regularly remind users to refrain from “taking the bait” when others are pressing their emotional buttons. These can offer memorable advice that conveys sentiments like “Keep calm and don’t feed the trolls” and “Is it really worth arguing about that, with them?” and “Don’t let your emotions get the best of you” and “Don’t let anyone live rent-free in your head” and “if they’re toxic, it’s not worth it” and “kill ‘em with kindness.” Focus groups can be held to determine the best wording and approach. In recent months, we have seen some major apps provide in-app messages to users to remind them to be respectful (e.g., YouTube comments), be kind (e.g., Instagram), take breaks (e.g., TikTok), and practice a digital detox (e.g., Bumble). I applaud these initiatives and hope they are making a meaningful difference; although we need to do research to measure its true impact. The point though, is that these reminders can bring a user out of an emotional storm back into a place of rationality, calmness, and control.  

Counterspeech tactics

2. It may be time for social media companies to intentionally equip users with points of counterspeech – which are tactics designed to counter hate speech or misinformation (instead of only censoring/blocking them). This way, those users will be proactively equipped to deal with online hate and abuse, rendering them more resilient when it happens. To promote resilience, companies can remind them that:

  • users should feel free to denounce hateful speech and actions, because the app/company does as well.
  • users can counter any chilling effect that stems from targeted abuse on platforms by speaking up, so that others are emboldened to speak up and seek help when they fear or suffer abuse.
  • users have the power to shape the climate through more intentional demonstrations of kindness, tolerance, mutual respect, and civility
  • overtly supporting other users of varying demographics and backgrounds through posts, comments, and actions builds solidarity and community
  • sharing stories of overcoming harassment by others can encourage and empower others to do the same
  • humor and memes can be useful in defusing online conflict, or at least to deflect and distract

Empowerment to raise awareness and change norms

3. Users should know that they can use the app itself to draw attention to cyberbullying, abuse, xenophobia, and other forms of abuse, to educate others about the problematic user and action(s), and to change norms. Some examples (thanks, Daniel Jones and Susan Benesch!) include ByeFelipe on Instagram (which shares screenshots submitted by users of men lashing out after being romantically rejected) and YesYoureRacist which shares racist posts in an attempt to shine a continual spotlight on its reality and harmful implications. Tagging problematic posts and comments with pointed hashtags can also be used to label and more widely publicize instances of hatred and abuse online – and should be employed so that users bent on targeting and victimizing others are not left to operate in the shadows.

In the near future, we will conduct more research to better understand what can foster digital resilience, and what tends to detract from it. We are excited by these initial exploratory findings, and hope to collaborate with social media companies to translate the results to policy and practice. The bottom line is that we must continue to do more to help users who face online adversity keep from internalizing it in ways that compromises their mental health, well-being, and continued participation in these communities, and from externalizing it in ways that hurt others online.

Image source: https://bit.ly/3pFLCxR

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Coaches, Student Athletes, and the Misuse of Social Media https://cyberbullying.org/coaches-student-athletes-misuse-social-media https://cyberbullying.org/coaches-student-athletes-misuse-social-media#respond Sat, 07 Nov 2020 05:50:46 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=18544 This talk helps coaches know what to convey to student athletes about their digital reputation and online choices so they are best positioned for their future.

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NOTE: Since April 2020, we have been offering every one of our presentations and trainings in virtual modalities (e.g., Zoom, WebEx, Teams, Hopin, Skype). Reach out if you need specifics, as we’ve optimized the way we engage with our audiences from afar!


With each new year, coaches are increasingly dealing with the challenges of social media. This can include inappropriate, unethical, and even illegal student-athlete conduct directly or indirectly related to their online communications. Recently, some schools are even mandating that informal or formal monitoring of students takes place by coaches, but not providing clear guidance on how to handle the delicate nuances of that burden. It is therefore essential that coaches know how best to navigate these complex and uncertain times, as well as how to engage with their high school recruits, current players, and own support staff in the most socially-appropriate and productive ways – while still providing socio-emotional support and mentorship.

Key issues discussed: online reputation management; online integrity; using social media to attract positive attention; social media overuse and addiction; sexting; digital dating abuse; revenge porn; cyberbullying; catfishing

Delivered in a positive, culturally-relevant, and hopeful tone with the use of flash polling, videos, and case studies, this presentation will help coaches and their staff:

  • Gain familiarity with the most popular apps, sites, and networks being used
  • Determine if/when to get involved in the “private” online activities of potential and current student-athletes
  • Learn how to create and maintain a positive digital reputation, and understand who and what they represent at all times
  • Foster a culture of wisdom and discretion in the social media posts and related interactions among students and staff
  • Assist students who have experienced cyberbullying, digital dating violence, sexting, revenge porn, or another victimization
    Understand what exactly is permissible concerning online communications between adults in positions of power/authority and their student athletes
  • Avoid all perceptions of impropriety in interactions with student athletes, particularly via texting and social media
  • Create and implement an intentional plan of action to prevent financial and reputational liability and fallout

(60-75 minutes)

Here are numerous testimonials from schools and other organizations with whom we have worked.
Contact us today to discuss how we can work together!

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AI Solutions to Cyberbullying and Social Media Abuse https://cyberbullying.org/ai-machine-learning-cyberbullying-social-media-abuse https://cyberbullying.org/ai-machine-learning-cyberbullying-social-media-abuse#respond Wed, 04 Nov 2020 06:36:05 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=24733 We discuss how developments in AI through machine learning can help reduce cyberbullying and toxicity online, and promote the positive use of social media over time.

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NOTE: Since April 2020, we have been offering every one of our presentations and trainings in virtual modalities (e.g., Zoom, WebEx, Teams, Hopin, Skype). Reach out if you need specifics, as we’ve optimized the way we engage with our audiences from afar!


Our professional lives focus on promoting civility and preventing toxicity online, especially among youth. By intersecting social science with computer science, we have been able to make strides in this area. With regard to artificial intelligence (AI), the overarching goal is to preempt victimization by:

  • identifying (and blocking, banning, or quarantining) the most problematic users and accounts
  • immediately collapsing or deleting content that algorithms predictively flag and label as abusive
  • promoting, elevating, or otherwise incentivizing civility and respect
  • otherwise controlling the posting, sharing, or sending or messages that violate appropriate standards of behavior online.

Since most all of us are on social media, we’ve witnessed (and perhaps even experienced) the haters, harassers, and trolls. It’s deeply upsetting, but progress is being made. We will explore the types of behaviors we’re trying to eliminate, and the ways we’re seeking to enhance the mental health and well-being of all users through AI. We’ll also discuss the challenges we face, and why this is an imperfect science. Ultimately, we want everyone to have positive experiences online, rather than being silenced, harassed, or otherwise victimized. AI can help, but it’s going to take some time.

(60 minutes)

Here are numerous testimonials from schools and other organizations with whom we have worked.
Contact us today to discuss how we can work together!

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What To Do When Your Child Cyberbullies Others: Top Ten Tips for Parents https://cyberbullying.org/what-to-do-when-your-child-cyberbullies-others https://cyberbullying.org/what-to-do-when-your-child-cyberbullies-others#comments Thu, 22 Oct 2020 11:47:00 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=4791 (For a formatted .pdf version of this article for distribution, click on the image above [or click here]). Spanish Translation Available Here Finding out that your child is mistreating others online can be frustrating. Here’s how to respond: 1. ACKNOWLEDGE THE ISSUE. As a parent, accept the reality that your child could be engaging in…

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(For a formatted .pdf version of this article for distribution, click on the image above [or click here]).

Spanish Translation Available Here

Finding out that your child is mistreating others online can be frustrating. Here’s how to respond:

1. ACKNOWLEDGE THE ISSUE. As a parent, accept the reality that your child could be engaging in online behaviors that are hurting others. Rather than try to trivialize, rationalize, or ignore the problem at hand, realize that anyone (including your own flesh and blood!) can be cruel to others, given the right circumstances.

2. REMAIN CALM. When addressing cyberbullying, try to discuss the issue in a level-headed manner without demonizing, disrespecting, or judging your child. Remember that your son or daughter isn’t the problem; their behavior is. Deal with it, but treat them with dignity. Otherwise, they may lash out and retaliate if they feel attacked or victimized themselves, and no progress will be made.

3. KEEP AN OPEN LINE OF COMMUNICATION. Many youth engage in cyberbullying to get revenge for something someone else did first. Make sure that your kids know that they can come to you and discuss issues they are having with peers (offline or online). Give children the opportunity and skillset to solve interpersonal problems in appropriate ways, instead of resorting to revenge.

4. STOP THE BULLYING. Goal #1 is to get the bullying to end and never happen again. Ensure that all instances of bullying are stopped immediately, regardless of who started it. No one deserves to be mistreated, for any reason, ever.

5. UNDERSTAND THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM. We hear that “hurt people hurt people.” It is critical to identify the reason(s) your child has acted out. Is it an unhealthy way of coping with stress in their life? Because they themselves are being victimized? Because there are no rules in place, and no threat of sanctions to deter them? Try to get to the bottom of the issue.

6. INVESTIGATE. Take measures to thoroughly find out the extent of your child’s bullying. It could span multiple environments, websites, apps,
and devices. It could be very direct and observable, or indirect and extremely subtle. Work to fully understand what happened and where.

7. MAKE CHILDREN UNDERSTAND HOW TARGETS FEEL. Explain the severity of cyberbullying and how it would feel to be on the receiving end of hate or harassment with an example specific to how your child would be hurt the most. Try to cultivate empathy and compassion in kids in creative and compelling ways, so that they really understand that we all have our sore spots, hot buttons, and vulnerabilities.

8. SET UP PARENTAL CONTROLS. Monitor your child’s online activities, both formally and informally. This can be done through the installation of software or apps on their laptop, tablet, or phone. You should also routinely and randomly check their devices to see what they are doing, at least until you feel sure that they can be trusted.

9. SHARE YOUR CONCERNS. You are not the only parent who has ever faced these problems. Connect with others so that the entire community can rally around the issue and take a stand. This united front can help to create and promote a culture where all members of a peer group recognize that bullying is always wrong and never justifiable.

10. STAY EDUCATED. While we know that your lives are extremely busy, it is important that you take time to continually learn about new technologies and sites that your kids (and their peers) are using. You should also know where to get help (such as cyberbullying.org), and interface with others (especially school staff) who have relevant experiences and strategies to share.

Citation information: Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J.W. (2018). What To Do When Your Child Cyberbullies Others: Top Tips for Parents. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved (insert date), from https://cyberbullying.org/tips-for-parents-when-your-child-cyberbullies-others.pdf

Keywords: cyberbullying; parents; aggressor, offender, bully

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Tween Social Media and Gaming in 2020 https://cyberbullying.org/tween-social-media-and-gaming-2020 https://cyberbullying.org/tween-social-media-and-gaming-2020#respond Wed, 14 Oct 2020 13:16:40 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=30940 This month we have been highlighting results from our recent national survey of tweens, conducted with our friends at Cartoon Network. In this post, I want to focus on what we learned about the devices tweens have and the apps and games they use. Technology access and use by children is of interest to many,…

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This month we have been highlighting results from our recent national survey of tweens, conducted with our friends at Cartoon Network. In this post, I want to focus on what we learned about the devices tweens have and the apps and games they use. Technology access and use by children is of interest to many, with a heavily-contested debate surrounding screen time and concerns about online victimization (including cyberbullying, online predators, impersonation, password breaches, doxing, and more). While we didn’t ask tweens how much time they are spending online, we did ask about the devices they personally have and the apps and games they have used and played in the last year. Results were consistent with our expectations: tweens are actively engaged in a variety of online environments.

Devices

We know that nearly all teenagers have their own electronic devices, but it is clear that many tweens do as well. Over 42% of 9 to 12-year-olds in our 2020 study had their own smartphone, 54% had their own tablet, and 31% had their own laptop. Only 13% of tweens said they did not have any of the devices we asked about. Parents are purchasing these devices for their children to help meet their academic, social, relational, and entertainment needs, and we expect access and use to continue to grow among this population.

In our full report, we break down device ownership by gender, age, and race. I won’t go into all of those details in this brief post, but as a parent of a tween who does not yet have his own smartphone, I was especially interested in the finding that the tween years seem to be the time when most children acquire one. Specifically, only about 20% of 9-year-olds had their own smartphone, compared to over two-thirds (67.6%) of 12-year-olds. With access to a smartphone, comes access to the Internet and a legion of apps and games. Next I’ll discuss what we learned about where they are going online.

Only about 20% of 9-year-olds had their own smartphone, compared to over two-thirds of 12-year-olds.

Social Media Apps and Gaming

For the purposes of our study, “social media” is used in a broad sense to represent the apps and websites that allow users to post content and/or interact with others online. Social media is an imperfect term because the functionality to share and interact varies across each environment, and each tends to be optimized for different purposes. For instance, some social media apps focus on the sharing of pictures and videos, while others help to build communities around content creators and live-streamers. When assessing the online activities of tweens, we also included a few gaming apps that allow for player interaction (Minecraft, Roblox, and Fortnite).

The runaway favorite online space for tween in our study was YouTube, with more than two-thirds (66.9%) saying they have been on that site within the last year. It is worth noting that the standalone kid-friendly version (YouTube Kids) was used by just 26% of tweens, but admittedly is designed for children 8 and under. “Sandbox games” Minecraft and Roblox (where the object is to build your own creations, adventures, and worlds with simple cubic elements) came in as a close second and third in popularity (47.9% and 46.7% respectively). TikTok (29.8%), Snapchat (15.9%), Instagram (15.3%), and Facebook Messenger Kids (15.3%) were also used by tweens. Some apps which have gained prominence in the last few years due to their livestreaming functionality and community building approach are beginning to catch on among tweens (Discord: 8.1%; Twitch: 4.8%). Overall, 94% of students said they used at least one of the apps listed (92% have used one or more of the most popular social media, streaming, and gaming apps – excluding Google Classroom). If we also exclude Facebook Messenger Kids and YouTube Kids, 89% of tweens have used one or more of the remaining social apps listed.

92% of tweens have used one or more of the most popular social media apps or games.

If you want to learn more about app and game popularity by gender, age, and race, check out the full report. The tween years certainly are a time of increased exploration of various online environments.

Conclusion

While the widespread use of various apps and games likely does not come as much of a surprise to parents, it must be remembered that tween participation in most of these environments technically violates the Terms of Service of the platforms they’re on. When it comes to the most popular social media apps in the world, each requires users to be 13 years of age or older (or require a parent to set up the account). We know, however, that kids often lie about their age when signing up, or sign up (or login) with a family member’s (or friend’s) assistance or credentials. These industry-wide age restrictions are a result of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which “prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices in connection with the collection, use, and/or disclosure of personal information from and about children on the Internet.” Since nearly all apps collect at least some information about their users, restrictions within the Act apply. Certain “kid-friendly” apps such as Facebook Messenger Kids and YouTube Kids require parental permission to participate, which is allowable under COPPA, but these apps are generally less popular than their full-function counterparts.

The bottom line is that parents have an obligation to keep up with what their children are doing online – especially in spaces not intended for younger audiences. Have frequent conversations with your kids about where they are going, what they are posting, and who they are interacting with. You might want to consider utilizing a Technology Use Contract to ensure everyone in the family understands their responsibilities when it comes to technology. Parents who don’t fully understand the capability of certain apps their children are using should learn more about them by searching online for more information and by simply asking their kids in a nonjudgmental, noncritical manner. Intentional conversations on a regular basis can go a long way toward educating yourself, encouraging your children to be safe and responsible online, and building the relationship you both will need to navigate this complex stage of their lives.

We would like to thank Victoria J. Rideout and the Cartoon Network Stop Bullying: Speak Up team for their contributions to this project.

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Tween Cyberbullying in the United States https://cyberbullying.org/tween-cyberbullying-in-the-united-states https://cyberbullying.org/tween-cyberbullying-in-the-united-states#respond Wed, 07 Oct 2020 13:11:44 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=30758 We have been exploring how young people use and misuse technology, with a primary focus on cyberbullying, for nearly two decades. In that time, though, we have almost exclusively studied middle and high school students (12- to 17-year-olds) and their caregivers. Earlier this year we were approached by Cartoon Network with questions about tween experiences…

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We have been exploring how young people use and misuse technology, with a primary focus on cyberbullying, for nearly two decades. In that time, though, we have almost exclusively studied middle and high school students (12- to 17-year-olds) and their caregivers. Earlier this year we were approached by Cartoon Network with questions about tween experiences with cyberbullying. We knew we didn’t have any data on tween cyberbullying, and a quick search didn’t turn up any other research on this particular population. So, with support from AT&T, we partnered with Cartoon Network to fill this important gap in knowledge. In June and July of this year we surveyed a nationally-representative sample of 1,034 tweens (9-12-year-olds) to find out more about their experiences with cyberbullying. Below is a brief overview of some of the key findings.

1. One in five tweens has been cyberbullied, has cyberbullied others, or has seen cyberbullying.

Over 20% of tweens have been exposed to it in one way or another. Almost 15% of tweens have seen cyberbullying, and nearly as many have been targeted. Six percent of tweens have been cyberbullied many times, while another 8.5% were cyberbullied once or twice. Few tweens admit to cyberbullying others (3.2%). These numbers – while not overwhelming in magnitude – still indicate that a solid proportion of young kids face cruelty and meanness online when they are simply trying to enjoy the benefits of gameplay, interaction with their friends, and the sharing of random and noteworthy moments of their days on social media.

As far as demographic differences, boys were more likely to have cyberbullied others than girls – but there were no other differences based on gender. Nine-year-olds were less likely to have been cyberbullied (9.5% compared to about 16% for older tweens), or to have witnessed cyberbullying (6.7% compared to about 18% for older tweens). As such, parents and educators should be talking about cyberbullying at a very early age (9 or even earlier). There were no differences in experience with cyberbullying by race.

2. Cyberbullying affects tweens in a variety of ways.

Research has long demonstrated the negative consequences of bullying and cyberbullying victimization. In the current study, close to 94% of tweens who were cyberbullied said it negatively impacted their life in some way. Nearly 70% said it affected their feelings about themselves, about one-third said it affected their friendships, 13% said it affected their physical health, and 6.5% shared it influenced their schoolwork.

Parents, educators, and other youth-serving adults must recognize the gravity of these implications for the future, especially when considering the vulnerable developmental arc of the tween years. It is understandable that cyberbullying undermines a student’s social and academic stability. What is more alarming is the effect that cyberbullying seems to have on tweens’ ego (their identity and sense of self) and their physiological state, particularly because research shows poorer mental and physical health during childhood can compromise personal and professional well-being during adulthood.

3. Tweens use a variety of strategies to stop cyberbullying.

Blocking the person who was behaving badly worked for 60% of the tweens who had been cyberbullied. Not surprisingly, tweens were also likely to turn to parents for help in cyberbullying situations and over half who had been cyberbullied said telling a parent was useful in stopping the behavior. Ignoring the person (42.8%), reporting the incident to the app (29.8%), and simply taking a break from the device (29.6%) also helped in many cases. Relatively few tweens who were targeted said reporting it to the school helped to stop the cyberbullying (11.8%). It is promising to see that a solid proportion of youth are talking to their parent(s) when they are bullied online, but we do wish these numbers were higher.

Relatedly, it is unfortunate to see that the vast majority of tweens are hesitant to report the abusive behavior to the site/app/game, even though their Terms of Service typically prohibit any forms of harassment and bullying, and they each provide features to block, report, or mute aggressors. Also, we wish we would have seen more youth demonstrate positive coping skills like walking away from heated online situations. These findings, though, help point to online safety and well-being strategies that we can teach tweens in schools, homes, and even within apps and games.

4. Tweens are helpers.

Though cyberbullying is occurring among tweens in America, it is encouraging to note that the vast majority have sought to help those being targeted when they see it happen. Previous research has found that younger students are more likely than older students to intervene in school bullying, but that the relevance of age becomes less important when it comes to cyberbullying. The current study shows that about two-thirds of tweens are willing to step in to defend, support, or otherwise assist those who are bullied online when they see it. The importance of helping behaviors need to be reiterated, reinforced, and rewarded as early in life as possible so that such actions become habitual instead of based solely on emotions in the moment.

Conclusion

This first-of-its kind study confirmed what we already suspected: too many tweens are experiencing cyberbullying. Among the 1,034 tweens who responded to our survey, more than one in five (21%) had some exposure to cyberbullying in one of its forms: as a target, aggressor, or witness. Fifteen percent had been cyberbullied while just 3% reported that they had cyberbullied others. These findings are important since no previous study that we are aware of has collected national data on the cyberbullying experiences of tweens. Of note, 94% of tweens who had been cyberbullied said it negatively impacted their life in a variety of ways. It is reassuring, though, to observe that most tweens who had been cyberbullied implemented various strategies to get it stopped. Some of those were technical (blocking or reporting the aggressor) while others were social (telling a parent or reporting it to their school). Moreover, two-thirds of tweens reported that they had tried to help someone else who was being cyberbullied.

We’ll highlight other interesting results from this research throughout the next month on this blog and our social media channels. To see the full report and find other information about the project, click here.

Tween Cyberbullying - 2020

We would like to thank Victoria J. Rideout and the Cartoon Network Stop Bullying: Speak Up team for their contributions to this project.

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Bullying, Cyberbullying, and LGBTQ Students https://cyberbullying.org/bullying-cyberbullying-lgbtq https://cyberbullying.org/bullying-cyberbullying-lgbtq#respond Thu, 01 Oct 2020 03:26:13 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=28250 Bullying that specifically targets youth and young adults based on their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression has been a problem for decades. The increased utilization of technology among youth (and, well, just about everyone) has resulted in bullying behaviors moving online. As a result, cyberbullying perpetrated against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth…

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Bullying that specifically targets youth and young adults based on their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression has been a problem for decades. The increased utilization of technology among youth (and, well, just about everyone) has resulted in bullying behaviors moving online. As a result, cyberbullying perpetrated against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth has emerged. It is clear that more can be done to prevent these incidents of hate perpetrated online. This summary explores what the research says about the connection between bullying/cyberbullying and sexual orientation/identity, and discusses relevant strategies that youth-serving adults can implement.

Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2020). Bullying, Cyberbullying, and LGBTQ Students. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved [insert date], from https://cyberbullying.org/bullying-cyberbullying-sexual-orientation-lgbtq.pdf

Download the Guide

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Digital Dating Abuse: A Brief Guide for Educators and Parents https://cyberbullying.org/digital-dating-abuse-2 https://cyberbullying.org/digital-dating-abuse-2#respond Wed, 23 Sep 2020 15:40:09 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=27155 This 8-page research brief provides educators, parents, and other youth serving adults information about the nature and extent of digital dating abuse among adolescents and how to best address it.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines dating abuse as physical, sexual, or psychological/emotional violence that occurs within a dating relationship. In the 21st Century, a new manifestation of dating abuse has emerged, one that exploits digital communications technologies that are omnipresent. “Digital dating abuse” (also known as “electronic dating violence”) can be defined as “a pattern of behaviors that control, pressure, or threaten a dating partner using a cell phone or the Internet.” This 8-page research brief provides educators, parents, and other youth serving adults information about the nature and extent of digital dating abuse among adolescents and how to best address it. The Guide includes results from a national survey of U.S. of middle and high school students about their experiences with digital dating abuse. This research brief is a summary of a longer, more detailed academic paper entitled “Digital Dating Abuse Among a National Sample of U.S. Youth” which appears in the Journal of Interpersonal violence.

Download the Guide

Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2020). Digital Dating Abuse: A Brief Guide for Educators and Parents. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved [insert date], from https://cyberbullying.org/digital-dating-abuse.pdf

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Teen Sexting: A Brief Guide for Educators and Parents https://cyberbullying.org/sexting-a-brief-guide-for-educators-and-parents https://cyberbullying.org/sexting-a-brief-guide-for-educators-and-parents#comments Wed, 23 Sep 2020 08:22:21 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=811 This research summary reviews what is currently known about teen sexting. Research from across the United States is discussed, along with practical solutions for parents, educators, and other adults to prevent and respond to teen sexting. Citation information: Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2018). Sexting – A Brief Guide for Educators and Parents. Cyberbullying…

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This research summary reviews what is currently known about teen sexting. Research from across the United States is discussed, along with practical solutions for parents, educators, and other adults to prevent and respond to teen sexting.

Citation information: Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2018). Sexting – A Brief Guide for Educators and Parents. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved (insert date), from https://cyberbullying.org/sexting-research-summary.pdf

Download PDF

Keywords: teen sexting, prevention, response, explicit images

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