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Friday, July 13, 2007

Cyberethics training needed

“She was a little big for her age, her face still chubby and prepubescent,” writes’s Kaley Noonen in “She pulled me aside after the cyberbullying workshop I'd just given to a room full of 20 middle school girls. She looked as though she were hiding something. ‘Would you help me get my MySpace page shut down?’ she asked.” The girl explained to Kaley that an ex-friend had used her password to hijack her MySpace profile and proceed to bully her by posting “all kinds of malicious [sex-related] lies” about the girl on it.

As hard as that is to read, anecdotes like Kaley’s and so many others from teens, reporters, and other experts are not unusual. Then there’s…

  • The brand-new finding from the Pew Internet & American Life Project that some 8 million US 12-to-17-year-olds have been bullied (see this issue).
  • The recent finding from the Crimes Against Children Research Center about the fine line between bullying an victimization: “Youth who engage in online aggressive behavior making rude or nasty comments or frequently embarrassing others are more than twice as likely to report online interpersonal victimization” (see this summary), and…

    All this points to a serious and growing need for ethics training. Kaley quotes a 2005 Pew/Internet study that found girls are “now considered the ‘power users’ of online communication tools. This kind of power needs to be tempered by ethics training. You wouldn't give a 16-year-old girl a chainsaw without warning her of its dangers, yet with a keystroke, many girls are capable of carving up names, reputations, even entire lives with cheerful indifference.”

    At the end of his 10-part Internet-safety series, author, public-policy expert, and dad Adam Thierer writes that “one of the most important parenting responsibilities involves teaching our children basic manners and rules of social etiquette.” Helping them apply those basics in their online experiences is equally important, he suggests, offering eight “sensible rules” for online behavior. Rule No. 1 is “Treat others you meet online with the same respect that you would accord them in person.”

    Kaley takes it a step further when she teaches middle-schoolers what empathy means – with a real-time demo of their own completely non-empathetic reactions to a photo of Britney Spears with her head shaved and dark circles under her eyes (see the article for those heartless reactions).

    One thing is clear: If we don’t want our children to be victimized themselves, we need to talk with them about treating people online the way they would to their faces, and if someone else is cruel online, not to make the situation worse by participating. Note one high school student’s intelligent attitude:

    "’I've heard of [cyberbullying] and experienced it. People think they are a million times stronger because they can hide behind their computer monitor.’ This student called them ‘e-thugs,’ while displaying his own maturity about the practice: ‘Basically I just ignored the person and went along with my own civilized business’.” [This is on p. 5 of the Pew/Internet report, also quoted in’s coverage.]

    More on this

  • The latest numbers: My summary two weeks ago of the Pew Internet & American Life Project's just-released study on cyberbullying in the US, based on both a survey of and focus groups with teenagers.
  • Cyberbullying's seriousness. In a commentary at MSNBC, Helen Popkin suggests we need to come out of denial about cyberbullying’s seriousness, especially when dealing with not-yet-fully-developed teenage brains. But we also need to acknowledge, she suggests, that this new/old social ill is certainly not “owned” by teens – and she’s right. There is a lot of ugly online harassment being committed by adult bullies too, male and female.
  • An adult’s-eye-view of social-networking etiquette at The Times of London: Note No. 8 in writer Jack Malvern’s “A Guide to Internet Manners” at the bottom: “The golden rule for Facebook Etiquette is the same as for manners generally. Manners mean how we behave in society. Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. And this does not mean having to admit every unknown Tom, Dick and Harriet to your friendship.”
  • Mobile bullying across the pond – one in five 11-to-19-year-olds in the UK have been bullied either via phone or the Internet, the BBC reports.

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