Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying is the use of Information and Communications Technology between minors to humiliate, taunt and disparage one another. Cyberbullying is intended to tease, embarrass, deprecate & defame a targeted minor with the assailant’s developmental needs for peer acceptance and recognition being a priori. Dissimilar to physical bullying, cyberbullying does not involve face-to-face contact and primarily occurs online using electronic devices as the tools for information dissemination.
In the United States, October is National Bullying Prevention Month, National Cyber Security Awareness Month and National Crime Prevention Month. The reason for this is cyberbullying and cybercrime has reached epidemic proportions with no known end in sight. Federal, state and national organizations are doing their best to educate, alert and protect children and adults from iPredator.
Although bullying has been part of the human experience since the inception of civilization, cyberbullying has introduced to humanity a form of bullying never seen before. For those cyberbullies who target children knowing they are causing the target child harm and distress, they meet criteria for this writer’s definition of iPredator. A brief description is provided here with the formal definition published below as follows:
iPredator: A person, group, or nation who, directly or indirectly, engages in exploitation, victimization, coercion, stalking, theft, or disparagement of others using Information and Communications Technology (ICT). iPredators are driven by deviant fantasies, desires for power and control, retribution, religious fanaticism, political reprisal, psychiatric illness, perceptual distortions, peer acceptance or personal and financial gain. iPredators can be any age or gender and are not bound by economic status, race, religion, or national heritage.
iPredator is a global term used to distinguish anyone who engages in criminal, coercive, deviant, or abusive behaviors using ICT. Central to the construct is the premise that Information Age criminals, deviants and the violently disturbed are psychopathological classifications new to humanity.
At one time, bullying use to be confined to schools, neighborhoods and small geographic locations that the bullied child could leave and seek respite from at home and with loved ones. With cyberbullying, the target child has no escape from the taunting and harassment afforded by the internet and mobile device technology. In addition to the “around the clock” harassment and taunting a bullied child experiences, the cyberbully is protected by what has been called the “veil of invisibility” and “internet anonymity”.
These terms describe the ability for all online users to be anonymous online without disclosing their identity and location if they so desire. Regarding cyberbullies, they use the anonymity the internet affords when they want to remain hidden from being identified by the target child, the target child’s parents, school officials, law enforcement and online complaint contacts and services usually posted by internet service providers, networking sites and other online services.
Unlike classic bullies that target children without information technology, cyberbullies rely on the multitude of benefits afforded to anyone who engages in communication via the internet. These assistances include the exchange of information over long distances, the rapidity of information exchange and the seemingly infinite access to data available for personal consumption and/or dissemination. Malevolent or ignorant in intent, cyberbullies totally rely on their capacity to taunt, harass and deceive others using digital technology in an abstract electronic universe.
Cyberstalkers, cyberbullies, cyber terrorist, cybercriminals, online sexual predators and white-collar criminals all use what this writer has termed “Cyberstealth” provided by the internet, mobile devices and social media. Cyberstealth is a method and/or strategy by which iPredators and cyberbullies are able to establish and sustain complete anonymity while they taunt, troll and stalk the target child. In addition to a stratagem, Cyberstealth is a reality of digital technology which human civilization often fails to fathom. Provided below is the present working definition of Cyberstealth. Given the internet inherently affords anonymity, cyberstealth used by iPredators and cyberbullies may range from negligible to the highly complex and multi-faceted.
The reason this writer specifically uses the word “stealth”, as opposed to anonymous, invisible or cloaked is to assure the reader understands the purpose fueling iPredators and cyberbullies. This purpose is to hide their identity by designing false online profiles and identities, tactics and methods to ensure they remain concealed reducing apprehension and punishment. Therefore, as the internet naturally offers all online users anonymity if they decide, iPredators and cyberbullies design profiles and tactics to remain undetected and untraceable.
Cyberbullies are both overt and covert in their tactics. Given that cyberbullies are seeking peer group acceptance by exhibiting their control and dominance of the target child, they tend to be overt wanting their peers and the target child to know their identity. Although the majority of cyberbullies make their identities known, a plethora of tactics they use requires them to be covert, hidden and disguised.
Stealth: According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Stealth is defined as “the act or action of proceeding furtively, secretly, or imperceptibly”. As an adjective, “intended not to attract attention”. The American Heritage Dictionary defines Stealth as “the act of moving, proceeding or acting in a covert way and the quality or characteristic of being furtive or covert”.
Cyberstealth is a covert process by which iPredators and cyberbullies are able to establish and sustain complete anonymity while they engage in online activities planning their next assault, investigating innovative surveillance technologies or researching the social profiles of their next target child, their peers and loved ones.
One of the most common tactics used by cyberbullies is called Impersonation. Impersonation or “imping” as a tactic in cyberbullying can only occur with cyberstealth offered by digital technology. Cyberbullies impersonate the target child and make unpopular online comments on social networking sites and in chat rooms. Using impersonation, cyberbullies set up websites that include vitriolic information leading to the target child being ostracized or victimized in more classic bullying ways.
If the cyberbully has access to the target child’s password and/or personal information, extensive damage to the target child’s reputation, friendships, financial status and familial structure is often the result. Using impersonation, the target child’s reputation and friendships, central to their development, are jeopardized.
The ability for cyberbullies to practice Cyberstealth compounds their devastating impact on the target child by making it very difficult to identify, locate and report their abusive tactics. In addition to using cyberstealth to hide their identity and whereabouts, cyberbullies create felonious profiles, create profiles mimicking the target child, denigrate the target child and a cornucopia of other divisive tactics. Combined with “around the clock” access to the internet, ability to spread malicious information quickly and the importance of online activities are to today’s children, cyberstealth is a concept and practice causing the target child additional distress.
Understanding how Cyberstealth is regularly accessed in the cyberbullies toolbox, it is paramount for parents and educators to educate children on this reality and method. Children need to be fully abreast of the concept of Cyberstealth and how, why and when it is used. Most importantly, children need to be educated on the 100% probability that cyberbullies use cyberstealth to engage in criminal or bordering criminal online activities.
As nations continue to educate children on cyberbullying, toughen laws and encourage innovative anti-cyberbullying products and services, cyberbullies will be required to become much more adept in their cyberstealth tactics. As national attention is being focused on bullying and cyberbullying awareness and prevention, cyberbullies will have to, to avoid punishment, create and design new and more efficient cyberstealth tactics.
Signs of Cyberbullying
When looking for signs suggesting a child is being cyberbullied, it is important to first understand the differences between normal childhood developmental milestones and the psychological & behavioral changes related to cyberbullying. Not that a parent or guardian is required to become proficient in Developmental Psychology, but taking the time to investigate the stages of being a child, tween and teen will benefit in cyberbullying identification.
Based on this writer’s clinical and academic experiences, working with children, adolescents and their families, he evaluates all childhood trauma response by looking for three primary signs suggesting the child is, or has been, traumatized by cyberbullying or potential pediatric trauma. These signs are what this writer has termed Rapid Behavioral Shift (RBS), Increased Isolation (II) and Familial Withdrawal (FW).
- I. If a parent or caregiver notices the child is exhibiting different or uncharacteristic behaviors, not resembling their personality or day-to-day routines, raise a red flag.
- II. If a parent or caregiver observes the child is spending more time isolating in their room, offline, at home and away from school-based activities, raise a red flag.
- III. If a parent or caregiver notices the child is spending less than normal time engaged in family functions like dinnertime, family outings, holiday functions and social exchanges with parents, siblings and/or extended family members? Raise a red flag.
If one of the red flags have been raised, then it is important to discuss those observations with the child. If two of the red flags have been raised, there is almost a 100% probability that something has gone awry in the child’s life requiring attention by the parent involved. If all three red flags are raised, there is no doubt that the child is suffering from something distressing in his/her environment and requires immediate and sustained attention until the parent or guardian has accurately pinpointed the source of the child’s distress.
If bullying or cyberbullying is the source of the child’s distress, chances are they will not want to disclose these events about the bullying or the perpetrating children involved. The target child’s reluctance to disclose they are a victim of cyberbullying is rooted in fear, embarrassment, shame and allegiance to their peers if one or more of them are the cyberbully(s). Primary fears children have about disclosing cyberbullying are concern the parent or caregiver will insist they delete their social profiles, restrict their online access, restrict their time online or insist they return their mobile phone. If the cyberbullied child perceives any of these consequences as viable, he/she will almost certainly never discuss any problems he/she is having online.
To ensure an open line of communication related to cyberbullying is established, it is paramount for the parent or caregiver to verbalize often to the child they will suffer none of the consequences described above if they come to them if cyberbullying is happening. When it comes to cyberbullying, the child needs to know that whether they are being cyberbullied or the cyberbully, they will not lose any of their online privileges provided they are agreeable to discuss the issues and prepared to resolve them in an expeditious manner.
Signs Suggesting Cyberbullying
- 1. The child is using their computer, mobile device or phone late at night more than usual for reasons other than academic requirements.
- 2. The child’s grades are declining that cannot be explained by environmental factors or reports from school officials.
- 3. The child is misbehaving in school or isolating more than usual.
- 4. The child exhibits a change in their ordinary daily activities and routines such as eating, sleeping, mood swings, etc.
- 5. The child appears upset or withdrawn after internet use.
- 6. The child appears more anxious and fearful, especially as it relates to school attendance and/or internet educational tasks.
- 7. There is evidence that the child is covering their online tracks such as clearing their history folders before shutting off the computer or mobile device.
- 8. When a child is being bullied, taunted or abused online, chances are it is someone the child knows within his or her social circle or online activity acquaintances engaging in overt or covert aggression.
Recommendations for Parents and Caregivers
- 1. Maintain open communication with your child. Speak with them often and habitually inquire 3-5 times monthly if they have or have been cyberbullied. As part of asking the child about their day, always be sure to include a question regarding their online activities.
- 2. Tell the child that you trust and support specifically related to their online activities. Consistently remind them they will not lose their online privileges, interactive online gaming time, mobile devices or social network site privileges due to cyberbullying issues provided they are open, honest and forthright.
- 3. Work with trusted adults at school such as school administrators, teachers or school counselors. Attend all scheduled PTA meetings; visit often the school’s website if they have one, forward relevant internet safety and anti-bullying information you may come across, investigate the school’s bullying and internet safety awareness programs and investigate the school’s bullying and disciplinary policy’s.
- 4. If the child is being bullied or cyberbullied, consistently communicate to the child that revenge and retribution are not solving the problem and could make the situation worse if they begin cyberbullying back the aggressor or another vulnerable child.
- 5. Help the child to retain and log all records related to being cyberbullied including chat transcripts, photos, website pages, emails (including full headers) and online correspondences as evidence for future use if needed.
- 6. Inform the cyberbullies Internet Service Provider (ISP) or cell phone service provider of the abuse and request in formal writing contact date, purpose of contact, and steps for resolution.
- 7. Contact the cyberbullies parents informing them, along with copies of the recorded evidence, their child’s cyberbullying events have been aggregated along with the authorities and legal counsel being contacted if not resolved.
- 8. Some children do not recognize that they are cyberbullying peers and may believe that it is innocent play or online bantering. If meeting with the cyberbully’s parents, explain this to the parents and use the word “bullying”, which serves as a wakeup call that their child is engaged in possible punishable activities.
- 9. Make sure you keep yourself well informed of the most popular social media applications and the various social networking sites currently popular. If you don’t know what sites your child visits, casually and persistently ask them to show you their favorite online sites.
- 10. Any changes in your child’s behavior, leading to overt and persistent signs of depression and anxiety, should be noted. If your child suddenly stops attending social activities with his or her peers, ask what the problem is and assume the problems are peer related and likely involve online activities in some form.
- 11. If your child breaks contact or avoids contact with some or all of his or her friends, it is paramount to establish a persistent line of communication to investigate potential cyberbullying issues.
- 12. If your child’s friends stop coming over for visits, stop calling or no longer inviting your child to social events and activities, chances are your child is being alienated for a reason. Find out what has transpired as it may be your child is being excluded as a target victim or they may be bullying others.
- 13. Make sure you have a good and open relationship, not only with your child, but with his or her friends as well. This will enable you to approach them, should you have any concerns about your child. Your child’s friends will be the first to know, if your child is being targeted. Unless the friends are the ones doing the targeting, which is sometimes the case, having a close relationship with your child’s friends will always yield valuable information.
Cyberbullying Trumps Bullying
- 1. Cyberbullying, like classic bullying, is about human relationships involving the balance of power and control. Children who cyberbully have an easier time establishing authority, rule and dominance using Information and Communications Technology concurrent with a captive peer audience.
- 2. Those that cyberbully desire making the target child feel there is something wrong with them. Having the internet with rapid potential at their disposal, they have many digital avenues to succeed.
- 3. Cyberbullying is perceived more intensely for todays “Always Online Generation”. Given that digital technology increases the spread of information rapidly, children are aware that potential adverse information about them can have devastating effects on their reputation (aka, Online Reputation).
- 4. The Millennial or Online Generation is increasingly communicating in ways that are often unknown by adults and away from their supervision using mobile digital technology. Without monitoring, cyberbullying can run rampant.
- 5. Cyberbullying may be educated to children as a cowardly because cyberbullies can hide behind the anonymity that the internet provides. If educating the child using this line of reasoning occurs, it is mandatory to address that classic bullying is not the courageous alternative.
- 6. Cyberbullies can communicate their hurtful messages to a very wide audience with remarkable speed that the target child cannot halt with Cyberbullying by Proxy.
- 7. Cyberbullying has far fewer tangible consequences using information technologies to bully others. Parents and caregivers need to be mindful of the difficulty compiling evidence necessary to prove their child is engaged in cyberbullying others.
- 8. Cyberbullies do not have to own their actions, as it is usually very difficult to identify them, so they do not fear punishment for their actions. With advancements in information technology, it can be very difficult compiling identity specific evidence on who they are and their geographic location.
- 9. Cyberbullying is often outside of the legal reach of schools and school boards as this behavior often happens outside of school on home computers or via mobile devices. Compounding this difficulty is some cyberbullies do not even reside within the same town county or state as the target child making legal and law enforcement involvement very difficult.
- 10. Victims of cyberbullying are often fearful of telling others because they fear that the bullying may actually become worse if they tell adults or school officials. For this reason, many targeted children suffer in silence.
- 11. Victims of cyberbullying are afraid to report to adults about being cyber bullied, as they fear that adults will over-react and take away their mobile phone, computer and/or internet access.
- 12. In most cases, cyberbullies know the target child, but the target child may not know their cyberbullies.
- 13. Cyberbullies may or may not bully the target child through physical, verbal, emotional or psychological means that are more easily identified. Using Cyberbullying by Proxy, cyberbullies can involve their friends to be the primary assailants of the bullying tactics.
- 14. With the dawn of mobile devices and wireless internet access, communications have become ubiquitous.
- 15. Cyberbullying can happen any time and any place for children. Home is no longer a refuge from negative peer pressure and abuse. Cyberbullying in the Information Age offers mobile device technology, which will continue to expand at a rapid pace.
- 16. In 2011, 94% of 14-15 year olds regularly maintain a social networking profile. Cyberbullying has become the weapon of choice for bullies in the place of more overt harassment or classic bullying.
- 17. When adults bully children or teenagers online, it is defined as cyberstalking or cyber harassment and punishable as criminal in most states. At present, cyberstalking and cyber harassment by children are not regarded punishable by minors.
- 18. It is hard for children and adults to distinguish their online identity and their offline identity as two separate forums. Unfortunately, both children and adults sometimes lose sight of the differences. When this occurs, they are more susceptible to psychological distress, cyberbullying and criminal cyber attacks.
Cyberbully Prevention Strategies
- 1. Teach your child to use the blocking function at their social networking sites. After blocking the cyberbully, teach your child to not reply to their messages and report their abusive messages to the site administrators.
- 2. Block the cyberbully. Most mobile devices have settings that allow your child to electronically block emails, IMs or text messages from specific people. Teach them to do this often if anyone they interact with behaves aggressively.
- 3. Limit access to your child’s technology if necessary. Many children who are bullied cannot resist the temptation to check web sites, their phones, message boards and chat rooms to see if there are new messages posted by the cyberbully or friends privy to the cyberbullying.
- 4. Some companies allow parents to turn off text messaging services during certain hours, which can give bullied children a break and allow parents to relax during these off hours.
- 5. Know your child’s online world. Check their postings and the sites they frequent, and be aware of how they spend their time online. A simple cost free monitoring mechanism is to set up a Google Alerts using your child’s name and hometown. This way, you will be sent messages to your inbox regarding some of your child’s online activities.
- 6. Educate your child on the importance of privacy. Most importantly, educate your child on the importance of not sharing personal information online, even with friends, intimate partners or love interests.
- 7. Encourage them to safeguard their passwords at all costs other than sharing them with parents in case of an emergency.
- 8. An effective way of monitoring your child’s status online is making sure that your child has an aunt, uncle, or other adult they really like and respect as a friend that will discuss their online activities.
- 9. Keep the home computer in a public area of the home and limit the use of cell phones and games to negotiate times and schedules.
- 10. To reduce cyberbully and potential online sexual predator contacts, it is important to change the home online schedule rules to prevent potential assailants from learning the times your child will be online.
“To be a human being means to possess a feeling of inferiority which constantly presses towards its own conquest. The greater the feeling of inferiority that has been experienced, the more powerful is the urge for conquest and the more violent the emotional agitation.“ Alfred Adler (1870-1937)
Cyberbullying by Proxy
Cyberbullies who misuse the internet to target other children often enlist friends to act as accomplices and has been termed, Cyberbullying by Proxy. These accomplices, unfortunately, are often unsuspecting. They know they are communicating irate or provocative messages, but do not realize they are being manipulated by a cyber harasser, cyberbully and iPredator. That is the beauty of this type of scheme. The attacker merely prods the issue by creating indignation or emotion on the part of others, sits back and let others do their dirty work.
Then, when legal action or other punitive measures are initiated against the accomplice, the cyberbully can claim that they never instigated anything and no one was acting on their behalf. They claim innocence and blame their accomplices are a scapegoat is needed for slaughter. If the accomplices are made as scapegoats, they have no legal legs to stand on once their IP addresses and other identification forms of evidence are compiled. It is brilliant and very powerful. It is also one of the most dangerous kinds of cyber harassment or cyberbullying.
Another method of Cyberbullying by Proxy is using an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to do their bidding. Cyberbullies do this using AOL, MSN or another ISP as their “proxy” or accomplice. When they engage in a “notify” or “warning” wars, they are using this method to get the ISP to view the victim as the provocateur. A notify or warning war is when one child provokes another, until the victim lashes back. When they do, the real attacker, the cyberbully, clicks the warning or notify button on the text screen.
This captures the communication and flags it for the ISP’s review. If the ISP finds that, the communication violated their terms of service agreement (which most do), they may take action. Some accounts allow several warnings before formal action, but the results are the same. The ISP does the cyberbullies dirty work when they close or suspend the target child’s account for a “terms of service” violation. Most knowledgeable ISPs know this and are careful to see if the child warned is really being set-up.
Sometimes cyberbullies use the target child’s own parents as unwitting accomplices. They provoke the target child and when they lash back, the cyberbully saves the communication and forwards it to the parents of the target child. The parents often believe what they read, and without having evidence of the prior provocations, think that their own child instigated the conflict. This tactic works just as easily in a school disciplinary environment, where the cyberbully hopes to have the school blame the target child. That is why those in authority should never take any cyberbullying at face value before completing a thorough investigation.
Cyberbully Motivations Quick List
6. Ample Free Time
7. For Laughs
8. To Get A Reaction
9. By Accident
10. To Torment
12. Social Standing
13. Righting Wrongs
14. Perceived Chivalry
“In defense of our persons and properties under actual violation, we took up arms. When that violence shall be removed, when hostilities shall cease on the part of the aggressors, hostilities shall cease on our part also.“ Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
Cyberbullying and Academic Impact
Cyberbullying uses Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to deliver intimidating or demeaning messages at any time and through a variety of avenues. Today’s children with online access and equipped with mobile digital week and 365 days a year. A child with a mobile phone or social network account can receive cyberbully messages anywhere and at any time.
Many cell phone and digital messages can also be anonymous, increasing the amount of uncertainty and fear experienced by the target child. This intense psychological stress, particularly for the more vulnerable children who are most often the victims of bullying, adversely affects a child’s ability to concentrate on schoolwork, school lessons or activities.
Just as classic bullying, cyberbullying adversely affects the academic performance of cyberbullied children. Children who experience classic bullying are likely to avoid locations and activities they associate with negative experiences; cyberbullying victims attempt to avoid the technological spaces. In cyberspace, technological spaces range from social media networking sites to online websites and other internet arenas relevant to their academic success. These significant digital channels include social networks, chat programs and school computer rooms.
All are vital elements in the educational development and social lives of students. Students who feel excluded from these venues are less likely to participate in social activities that take place or planned online and face greater difficulty learning basic computer skills. As technology and technological skills become more important in modern academics and professional training, cyber bullied students face a number of academic and career disadvantages caused by fear and avoidance as opposed to incompetence. Network communications and social utilities like Facebook, MySpace or Twitter can generate public attacks. Social media networks link students with different groups of friends and acquaintances.
If a cyberbullying classmate publishes humiliating content about a victim, that message is distributed to mutual school friends and the victim’s wider social circle, including family and groups of friends from other activities. These public attacks increase the sense of humiliation experienced and eliminate safe social spaces for the victim, resulting in a lower self-esteem. Poor self-esteem makes a student less likely to participate in class, try new academic activities and thrive in an academic environment.
Classic bullying can result in a decrease in academic performance and cyberbullying has the potential to multiply these effects by the infinite number of places in which students experience technology. While cyberbullying lacks the potential for physical violence present in classic bullying, the significant psychological dangers of bullying are still present and arguably even enhanced by cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying can be clear-cut, such as leaving overtly cruel cell phone text messages or mean notes posted to web sites. Other acts are less obvious, such as impersonating a victim online or posting personal information or videos designed to hurt or embarrass another child. Cyberbullying can also happen accidentally. The impersonal nature of text messages, IMs and emails make it very hard to detect the sender’s tone. One teen’s joke or sense of humor could be another’s devastating insult. Nevertheless, a repeated pattern of emails, text messages and online posts are rarely accidental.
Cyberbullying tactics will continue to grow in delivery mechanisms as technology advances. At present in 2011, the modes of digital communication include: e-mail, cell phone, text messaging, instant messaging, web sites, online personal polling web sites, interactive/digital technologies (digital videos and photos), PDAs, sending posts on social media sites and text or multi-messages from cell phones. In essence, the cyberbullied child can be taunted and harassed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a week.
Unfortunately, cyberbullying is far worse than classic bullying. Perpetrators are not bound by time or space, and the audience can be much, much bigger. One quarter of young people who have cyberbullied others have also bullied children offline. With the power of technology, the offenses can be much crueler as they can incorporate a rich array of media (sounds, altered graphics, text, video, slide shows and photos) to deliver their attacks.
“The truth is often a terrible weapon of aggression. It is possible to lie, and even to murder, with the truth.“ Alfred Adler (1870-1937)
Free Educational Cyberbullying Assessments
- Cyberbully Abuser Checklist (CBAC)
- Cyberbullying Target Checklist (CBTC)
- Cyberbullied Probability Inventory (IPI-CB)
- Cyberbully Probability Inventory (IPI-CBA)
Michael Nuccitelli, Psy.D. is a NYS licensed psychologist, Cyberpsychology researcher and online safety educator. He completed his doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Adler University in 1994. In 2010, Dr. Nuccitelli published his dark side of cyberspace concept called “iPredator.” In November 2011, he established iPredator Inc., offering educational, investigative, and advisory services involving online assailants, cyber-attack targets, Dark Psychology, and internet safety. Dr. Nuccitelli has worked in the mental health field over the last thirty-plus years and he has volunteered his time helping cyber-attacked victims since 2010. His goal is to reduce online victimization, theft, and disparagement from iPredators.
In addition to aiding citizens & disseminating educational content, Dr. Nuccitelli’s mission is to start a sustained national educational and awareness internet safety campaign with the help of private, state, and federal agencies. He is always available, at no cost, to interact with online users, professionals, and the media. To invite Dr. Nuccitelli to conduct training, media engagements, educational services, or consultation, please call him at or via email at email@example.com.