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The Journal of Technology in Student Affairs


Summer 2011 Edition  [home]



College Cyberbullying: The Virtual Bathroom Wall

Quincy Martin III, Ed.D.
Dean of Student Services
Triton College
qmartin@triton.edu

Doug Olson
Vice President of Student Affairs
Triton College
dolson@triton.edu

With the tremendous growth of teens and young adults utilizing various social media networks, e-mail and electronic messaging systems, it is almost inevitable for them to steer clear of cyberbullying (Tegeler, 2010). While online aggression among youth tends to peak in high school, according to cyberbullying experts, there is increasing spillover among college students (Belsey, 2004; Chapell, De la Cruz, Ferrell, Forman, & Lipkin, 2004; Daniloff, 2009; Englander, Mills, & McCoy, 2009; Parsonson, 2009).

According to Englander, Mills, and McCoy (2009), the eruption of user-generated content has changed the social, political, and emotional landscape in which America and like countries exist. They go on to explain user-generated content as, “content created and published online by any willing individual, with no qualification requirements, and subject to no editing or editorial control” (Englander, Mills, & McCoy, 2009, p. 213). Moreover, the authors describe two key fundamentals of the change that affect institutions of higher education and the students they serve. First, user-generated content has employed overwhelming degrees of vicious cyberbullying. Second, the exploitation of information exposure is “…a seemingly bizarre phenomenon whereby individuals freely and deliberately disseminate confidential or personally damaging information (including incriminating facts) to the widest possible audience, apparently without concern for any consequences” (Englander, Mills, & McCoy, 2009, p. 214).

What is Cyberbullying?
Coined “cyberbullying” by Bill Belsey in 1999, victims of online abuse can be attacked via websites, chat rooms, instant messages, online journals, blogs, or cell phone text messages. Cyberbullying has no boundaries or limitations and is the perfect bullying crime.

It is very hurtful, yet (generally) does not kill its victims; it is extremely simple and easy; it does not require significant planning or thought; it similarly does not require self-confidence or social finesse; and the perpetrator is extremely unlikely to be caught or disciplined. The victim is always accessible (e.g., you can blog about someone online without their physical presence. (Englander, Mills, & McCoy, 2009, p. 215)

Moreover, a damaging characteristic of cyberbullying is that with a click of a button, deprecating statements, threats, and humiliating pictures or videos of individuals can be sent to hundreds of viewers within a moment’s notice (Daniloff, 2009; Englander, Mills, & McCoy, 2009). Since these attacks can occur at all hours of the day to millions of people worldwide in an instant, cyberbullies can easily extend the network of abuse their victims experience in minutes.

The most significant part of cyberbullying, which sets it apart from traditional bullying, is the fact that cyberbullies can remain anonymous and say things online that they would never say to someone in person (Keith & Martin, 2005; Sparling, 2004). Physical size and strength does not matter. While cyberbullies can remain anonymous, the impact of repeatedly harassing, bullying, or sending messages can cause physical and psychological damage to the recipient that endures long after the incidents of ridicule have ceased (Willard, 2007). Aside from sending messages, victims of cyberbullying may experience it from having personal images and information posted online at various sources, such as college gossip websites.

College Gossip Websites
College gossip websites can be perceived as a rich breeding ground for the purpose of discussing other people. Unfortunately, these websites have been created to produce and elicit damaging information (whether true or untrue) to engage its viewers in witnessing embarrassing activities of unsuspecting victims. Sites such as campusgossip.com, collegeACB.com (Anonymous Confession Board), and collegewallofshame.com are just a few websites geared towards college students that produce damaging comments, videos, and photos of their peers. Most college gossip websites offer their users anonymity, which in turn creates an explosion of opportunities for culprits to use the sites for malicious purposes.

What about Faculty and Staff?
The damage college gossip websites causes students may seem almost irreparable. Understandably so, victims of cyberbullying worry about the lasting impact and virtual presence their comments, photo, video, etc. may have throughout their lifetime. But, what about faculty and staff? Although not as widespread as college students, faculty and staff have also been victims of cyberbullying. Outside of e-mails and blogs, many times without notice, faculty and staff are victims of cyberbullying through the same gossip websites as college students. There is, however, at least one exception. The most popular site for cyberbullying of faculty members occurs on ratemyprofessor.com (Daniloff, 2009). Ratemyprofessor.com is a website that allows students to learn more about their professors and the courses they plan to take prior to attending class. The site also allows students to give their opinions (both positive and negative) of the classes and the instructors they have taken previously. Although carefully constructed, negative comments that students post can be damaging. Even though the website provides guidelines that prohibit threats, violence, intimidation, and other inflammatory remarks, the website offers professors a rebuttal system.

Prevention
As students become more adept at accessing and navigating the Internet, colleges and universities must become more active to help educate their communities about cyberbullying and how to help prevent such abuse. Student affairs professionals and higher education administrators may so often be out of touch that they may be unaware of the frequency of cyberbullying or the types that exist (Englander, Mills, & McCoy, 2009). Even more importantly, they may face difficulties and be unaware of how to control or reduce it.

Some higher education institutions are taking action to reduce the prevalence of cyberbullying on their campuses. For instance, in January 2011, the University of Northern Iowa opened a new Center for Violence Prevention and Intervention. The center is devoted to preventing violence in a number of areas, including cyberbullying. Annette Lynch, the center's director exclaimed, "It's naive to think that cyberbullying isn't happening on college campuses” (Tegeler, 2010, para. 26). Furthermore, Urs Gasser, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University affirms that the most important step is “to make cyberbullying an audible part of the campus conversation” (Daniloff, 2009, p. 25). Moreover, Boston University administers a policy on computer ethics and restricts the use of offensive or harassing materials. A code of ethics for faculty and staff and similar guidelines exist for students (Daniloff, 2009). Finally, at some colleges and universities, students have asked campus IT to block bullying websites (Englander, Mills, & McCoy, 2009). The aforementioned measures are not intended to completely repair cyberbullying issues, but rather are means to create awareness and begin dialogue on how to address cyberbullying should a student, faculty, or staff fall victim to it.

Conclusion
With the evolution of cell phone capabilities to record and download information and videos to the Internet, e-mail, and various electronic messaging systems, institutions of higher education will face added pressure to combat cyberbullying, since such electronic communications can be easily placed on the Internet for many to see. As technology advances, so must colleges and universities with respect to how they educate and attempt to address cyberbullying. Previous researchers have focused on the effects of cyberbullying, what cyberbullying means, and how cyberbullying occurs, but have not fully discussed the disruption it causes on college campuses. Conversely, with the advancement of technology, there is a gap in the literature on cyberbullying on college campuses. Although this analysis represents an overview of cyberbullying, it underscores the need for student affairs professionals to take action for education and awareness. Moreover, there is no conceivable alternative to such preparation, as people will continue to actively engage at least some aspect of their lives online (Englander, Mills, & McCoy, 2009).

References
      Belsey, B. (2004). Always on, always aware. Retrieved from http://www.cyberbullying.ca/pdf/Cyberbullying_Information.pdf

      Chapell, D.C., De la Cruz, C., Ferrell, J., Forman , J., & Lipkin, R. (2004). Bullying in college by students and teachers. Adolescence, 39, 53-64.

      Daniloff, C. (2009, Spring). Cyberbullying goes to college. Bostonia. Retrieved from http://www.bu.edu/bostonia/spring09/bully/

      Englander, E., Mills, E., & McCoy, M. (2009). Cyberbullying and information exposure: Usergenerated content in post-secondary education. International Journal of Contemporary Sociology, 46(2), 213-230. Retrieved from http://webhost.bridgew.edu/ marc/usergenerated%20data%20englander %20mills%20mccoy.pdf

      Keith, S., and Martin, M.E. (2005). Cyber-bullying: Creating a culture of respect in a cyber world. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 13(4), 224-28.

      Parsonson, K. (2009). Exploring cyber-bullying: A retrospective study of first year university students. Victoria University of Wellington.

      Sparling, P. (2004). Mean machines: New technologies let the neighborhood bully taunt you anywhere, anytime. But you can fight back. Current Health, 28(8), 18–20.

      Tegeler, C. (2010, August 8). Text harassment, cyberbullying a concern even for college students. Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier, n.p. Retreived from http://wcfcourier.com/news/local/article_4e33f555-24bf-5154-af4d-f0aa734d46f8.html

      Willard, N. (2007). Cyber bullying and cyberthreats: Responding to the challenge of online social aggression, threats, and distress. Champaign, IL: Research Press.

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