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More education and awareness needed on cyberbullying issue

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | DECEMBER 07, 2010 7:20 AM

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Before the advent of the Internet, when social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace were still a thing of the future and cell phones were big, bulky devices for the privileged few, kids could escape the big, bad bully by running back to the confines of their own homes.

But with digital devices now readily available, virtually no premise is safe, and almost anyone is susceptible to cyberbullying. Because of the pervasiveness of cyberbullying — and the profound isolation many victims experience — education, awareness, and prevention are needed.

Cyberbullying is using any digital device such as the Internet, cell phones, video-game systems, or other technology to send or post contents with the intention to deliberately hurt a person. A full 43 percent of teens have been victims of cyberbullying in the last year, according to National Crime Prevention, a nonprofit group. A paltry 11 percent actually talked to their parents about incidents of cyberbullying.

While City High Principal John Bacon said there haven’t been many incidents of cyberbullying at area schools, he didn’t play down the significance of the issue, saying its ability to disrupt a student’s learning environment is one of his main concerns. Bacon said school officials “really want to make an effort to be proactive” so they can help students understand the seriousness of cyberbullying and the consequences of sending harmful messages.

Kathy Staley, an assistant director of the University Counseling Service, said she hasn’t had to deal with the issue personally, but stressed the importance of increasing cyberbullying awareness as well. She told The Daily Iowan last week, “If students come to us, we work with them to manage the situation.”

If someone is potentially at risk, she advocates offering as much protection as possible and working to repair self-esteem and confidence issues that would likely arise. However, it largely depends on the individual, she told the Editorial Board.

While it doesn’t appear to be a prevalent problem in Iowa City just yet, we still feel the need to inform those of steps to take to prevent bullying.

Internet users need to be aware of the risks and benefits posed by the Internet; virtually anyone can access social-networking sites and get ahold of personal information, for example. Keep your personal information private and be familiar with privacy accounts on websites most frequently visited to control who can see what. National Crime Prevention suggests showing victims how to block the bully’s messages or to delete messages without reading them to prevent bullying from occurring. Last, it is crucial for teens to understand the importance of reporting incidents and where to go to report said acts, because so many go unnoticed.

Cyberbullying can be especially coercive, compared to traditional bullying. While less physical — it’s not as if you’re leaving the lunch room with a sore arm and empty pockets — victims are often left to fend for themselves while online: There’s little chance of a heroic intervenor stepping in the way of a roundhouse punch. The weapons of cyberbullies are denigrating words and sentences, not face-to-face intimidation.

So while it appears cyberbullying isn’t pervasive at the UI and surrounding high schools, we still support increased awareness efforts and laud those taking the right steps to educate students. After all, it only takes a click of the mouse or a quick text message for the problem to arise.


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