Law in the Internet Society

Cyber Bullying -- Result of Idle Hands?

-- By SylviaDuran - 23 Dec 2011

Bullies are old news

My elementary school tormentor was named Omar. He was a stocky, angry child who had few friends, but I was surprised he had any at all. Every day after school he would find me with the sole purpose of trying to make me cry. His favorite chant was the unoriginal, "Hey, Miss Piggy! Hey, Miss Piggy! Oink, oink, oink!" It was true that my family's love of Mexican food had given me round cheeks, but I did not enjoy being reminded of it by Omar. Although his insults were childish and silly, they were very hurtful and obviously unforgettable. I dreaded seeing him every day, but I knew I could survive because he was only a small part of my day. From the moment I got into my mother's car to go home, Omar's words vanished for at least another day. Today's children and adolescents do not have the luxury of running away from their Omars. As is frequently reported in the media, children are bullied constantly -- anywhere they are technologically connected, which means they are bullied everywhere. History shows there have always been bullies, but our desire for continuous connectivity has created unrelenting ones.

The problem cannot be completely eliminated

Just as bullying will always exist, cyber bullying cannot be entirely eliminated. This would require society as a whole to promote greater civility and acceptance of others, which has so far not occurred (Exhibit A and Exhibit B). Evidence of our lack of civility was seen in a recent cyber bullying case involving Alexis Pilkington, a 17-year-old high school student from Long Island who committed suicide. On a Facebook page meant to serve as a tribute to Pilkington, individuals posted images of Pilkington with nooses around her neck. Parents of Pilkington's friends said their children were devastated by the continued attack on their friend. The bullies persisted by harassing Pilkington's mourners. Although Pilkington's parents do not attribute her death to cyber bullying, this behavior by human beings is shocking.

Legal response to cyber bullying

State legislatures have responded to online harassment by enacting cyberbullying laws. Prosecutors have charged bullies with violations of civil rights, criminal harassment, conspiracy, accessing protected computers without authorization, and even disturbing a school assembly. Yet, the law is only the last resort -- it attempts to provide accountability for bullies in the hope of deterring future behavior.

One solution: more creation, less consumption

A better solution would be to transform our young people from mindless consumers of technology to creators of it. Cyber bullying illustrates how idle hands are truly dangerous. Young people are undoubtedly comfortable using technology. A 2010 study found that "[s]mall children today are more likely to navigate with a mouse, play a computer game and increasingly – operate a smartphone – than swim, tie their shoelaces or make their own breakfast." In addition, 93% of "teen social media users" have a Facebook account. The next step is to encourage creation of technology where teens begin sharing ideas rather than personal life details.

A sixth grade application developer, Thomas Suarez, recently gave a Ted Talk where he discussed the difficulty of finding resources to learn how to program at a young age. He has created four mobile applications and formed an app club at his school for other interested students. Media writers have called Suarez a genius and the next Steve Jobs. But why does he have to be a genius? His most successful application is a whack-a-mole game that uses Justin Bieber as the mole. This is hardly genius - it is a young person being creative and insightful.

There are many theories for why young people find it so easy to bully one another online. Some say it is the anonymity of being online. But this is contradicted by the prevalent cyber bullying that happens on Facebook, where users reject anonymity and embrace disclosing private details about themselves. Others say cyber bullying occurs for the same reasons bullying occurs - kids will be kids. Yet this reasoning does not explain why harassment is so unrelenting. Cyber bullying among young people occurs because these individuals are always connected to one another and with so much contact, drama is created to stave off boredom. If we want to reduce cyber bullying we need to encourage and provide resource for our young people to become creators rather than mindless consumers. Creation and ownership will improve self-esteems and keep teens busy typing code rather than cruel taunts.

I think this is a very remarkable beginning. In the first place, you have taken, it seems to me, the very important step of evacuating all the moralistic bullshit currently being slung about and reminded us of a fact and two crucial implications. The first is that this conduct is child's behavior. The implications are: (1) it is like the behavior of children throughout history; and (2) we are trying to do better with it than all previous cultures have managed to do.

Pervasive bullying is behavior that some children engage in. Their victims may be siblings, neighbors, stranger children, or whomever they can safely bully who is within reach. Such children, as you remember, are angry. They also hurt. Their aggressive behavior is a symptom of their distress. There are also situations of group aggression against marginal individuals. This, unfortunately, must be called "more adult" behavior, because it is more often demonstrated by adults, and because it requires more socialization both to precipitate and to be part of.

Thinking about "cyberbullying" is as silly as thinking about "telephone bullying." This is another example of how not to think about the Net. The Internet means we all are connected to everyone else without intermediary. The effect of that social condition of hyperconnection on children, both those who are aggressive and those who are victims of aggression (as well as all the intervening combinations, where real behavior actually occurs), is a very important current subject throughout psychology. Given the methods by which psychology investigates, results will accumulate too slowly in a rapidly-changing environment. But parents and other people who interact with children can take valuable steps with both the ones who are angry and the ones who must learn to absorb anger.

In the first place, this should shift attention away from the bullying behavior to the healing of the children. You try to offer solutions based around technology to interest children, engaging them and empowering them to make them less likely to be angrily aggressive with others. That seems like an interesting idea that might or might not work with "children," but which will work with some particular children. Sometimes something else will work.

In this way, your insight into the problem is far more profound than the particulars of your solution. But you have much ahead of you with this piece, which can be an outstanding essay. I'm glad you start with Omar, and I believe that in rewriting you should continue to do so. You show us Omar very clearly,with a great grasp of how to use writing to convey character. And who you show is a very angry, very scared, little boy. That you can so clearly, and so sympathetically, convey him explains why his aggression didn't permanently hurt you. You healed from the wounds he gave you because those around you helped you to think about him in a way that caused you to understand him. If you think about that process you will have a place from which to make this very special essay even more effective.


Interesting premise. I think you should spend more time developing your explanation of the root cause of the problem and why you think the real cause of unrelenting harassment is boredom. There are more activities available for children today, more than ever before, online and offline, in school, and out of school. Yet, bullying persists. Based on this paper I don't fully grasp the connection you've laid out. You conclude with "If we want to reduce cyber bullying we need to encourage and provide resources for young people to become creators rather than mindless consumers." I feel like this should be your thesis, and you should spend the intro discussing certain possible causes of bullying, then delve into why you think this is the cause and what the best solution is, and youre reasons for that conclusion.

You say that the next step is to encourage creation of technology where teens begin sharing ideas rather than personal life details. There are numerous online resources available whereby children can share ideas, and many of these resources are the same resources (such as Facebook) used to share personal life details. The technology exists. Kids just aren't using it in the way you want them too (or the way they should). So, the focus maybe should be on how to change children's perception of available technology, or make children use the available technology in more beneficial ways.

I do think a lot of it is "kids will be kids." You say that this "reason" doesn't explain why harassment is unrelenting. That assumes that normal harassment by bullies isn't unrelenting and that kids will be kids analysis only applies to mild bullying. But, I don't see why unrelenting harassment isn't the norm. Bullies aren't once in a while making fun of some kid. The problem persists, and bullying is in the news and in our legislature, because it has become increasingly unrelenting. So perhaps "kids will be kids" is the exact reason why it is unrelenting - thats just the norm. Perhaps you could offer evidence showing that this type of bullying is least common, such that unrelenting harassment is not the norm. This would give more credence to the conclusion (or thesis), of why curing boredom is the best solution.

-- AustinKlar - 27 Dec 2011


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r5 - 04 Sep 2012 - 22:02:28 - IanSullivan
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