Saturday, November 10, 2012

Cyberbullying Comes into Focus as National Cyber Security Awareness Month Passes

A guest post by Sharon Brown

Social networks no longer exist solely in the physical world. A growing part of our social life exists online or through our “smart” devices. Like no other time in human history, individuals have the ability to connect with others through the digital landscape.

While there are many positive consequences to digital social networks, reconnecting with longtime friends, keeping up more easily with loved ones, and sharing good news with your pals, there can be a dark side to these new ways to connect with people, like cyberbullying. Recently President Obama dubbed October as National Cyber Securtity Awareness Month, and anti-bullying organizations have been using it as an opportunity to discuss the dangers of cyberbullying.

What Is It?

Cyberbullying uses technology that’s intended to engender beneficial social relationships to do the exact opposite. Specifically, cyberbullying refers to any use of modern communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated and hostile behavior that is intended to harm others. Unlike physical bullying, electronic bullies have the ability to remain anonymous, which can translate into even more severe bullying because of the lack of accountability and a perceived suspension of in-person social norms.

The constancy in which young people use social media makes cyberbullying more pervasive than traditional bullying. Schoolyard bullying can end when one leaves the schoolyard, but cyberbullying can hound victims any time they access social media. It turns a normally joyful activity of connecting with friends and family into a rueful one where it’s hard to escape a tormentor.

Locking It Down

Other major components during National Cyber Security Awareness Month were the threats of hacked accounts and identity theft, as both have seen a rise recently. Companies like LifeLock that focus on identity theft are looking out for new cyber threats of social network identity theft. As a society, we are all connecting more than ever before. With the advent of social media sites- from sharing on Facebook, to retweeting on Twitter, to pinning your favorite recipes on Pinterest- personal information and influence is heavily visual. Keeping your sensitive information is highly important as we shift into a more tech-savvy and tech-dependent society.

Since many share personal information that can be used to steal one’s identity, such as birthdays and mother’s maiden names, the risk of getting your social network identity stolen can go beyond just cyberbullying. Identity theft experts and professionals have been updating their services and advice to consumers to recognize the importance of keeping their social network identity safe and secure.

What Can Be Done

Parents should start open conversations with their child about the effects and possibilities of cyberbullying. The more information the parents receive and pass on, the better informed and more protected the child is. Being aware of which social media sites their children use and understanding the negative possibilities will go a long way in staying on top of this growing concern. If parents notice any emotional changes in their children they should start a conversation about it right away.
If your teen is being harassed, they should not respond or retaliate, as this can play into their aggressor's plans for more teasing. Save the posts, emails, pictures, etc., and report them to schools, online service providers, or law enforcement.

While the size and scale of social media and the Web is daunting and too difficult to control, it is imperative for parents and schools alike to educate youths about the very real effects of cyberbullying. Knowledge is power in today's digitally-dependent age.

Photo Credit:  Sylvie Bouchard, from Mirage3

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