“One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized, and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered,” says Michael J. Fox about bullying, but his statement is not so easy to remember if one is being bullied. Recently I conducted an interview with Rebecca Bywater, director of Threat Assessment at Penn State University’s Police and Public Safety Department, to ask her what we as World Campus students can do if bullied online. She made it very clear that Penn State has a zero tolerance for cyberbullying. She explains in the following interview how seriously the University considers the safety of Penn State World Campus students, the procedures in place for documenting infringements upon one’s character, ways to lessen exposure to bullies, what to do if bullied, and she provides us with excellent sources to read further.
Do you think cyberbullying is not understood and is in need of a more definitive definition?
I think a lot of times, when individuals think of cyberbullying, they think of students in a K–12 school environment. While cyberbullying does occur in that environment, it can and also occurs within the collegiate environment as well.
Can you clearly identify for us what constitutes cyberbullying?
“Cyberbullying is willful and repeated harm inflicted through use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices. Harm is inflicted when an individual is harassed, humiliated, embarrassed, threatened, or tormented using digital technology. Cyberbullying is not limited to mainstream social media platforms; it also includes using cell phones for text messages and photos, or computers to transmit emails and instant messages. Cyberbullying is also known as electronic bullying (e-bullying), mobile or digital bullying, and online or Internet bullying. It differs from traditional bullying in that victims can be bullied at any location, any time, and the perpetrators can be anonymous. Also, cyberbullying messages and/or images can be distributed immediately to a wide audience.” (International Association of Chiefs of Police, 2012).
Do you think it is easier to document cyberbullying?
Yes and no. If something is posted, you should take a screen shot of the post before it is removed or deleted. However, sometimes, you might not even know who is posting, or it can be posted from fictitious or anonymous accounts.
What about the capabilities to remove posts and delete emails? Does this make it easier to get away with it?
Yes, posts, accounts, and emails can be deleted or changed. This can make it harder to track. Screen shots should be taken as soon as possible to capture the statements/comments.
If someone uses your posts and makes snide remarks with references to your posts, is this a form of bullying? For example, you write a post about art, and your bully posts about how art is useless. Is this a form of bullying when it is done consistently?
In a country such as ours that values free speech so highly, many people genuinely believe they can say whatever they want, to whomever they want. We know that is not true, but it isn’t clear where exactly the line is. And just because we “can” say certain things, doesn’t mean we should. State laws can also play in a role in what is considered harassment.
What steps does Penn State have in place to help stop bullying through their Penn State email?
IT Security Operations and Services has a great website that addresses how to report. It can be found at http://security.psu.edu/resources/reporting-an-incident.
Do students have any recourse if they are bullied inside of groups that are located outside of Penn State domains, but within Penn State groups, e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.?
Regardless of where and by whom the bullying is occurring, there may be recourse.
What advice can you give us to help prevent cyberbullying?
Taking some smart precautions can help you stop cyberbullying before it starts.
How to Protect Yourself (Delete Cyberbullying. A Stop Online Harassment Project):
- Make the most of privacy settings. Investigate what measures you can take to keep content private on the websites you use. On Facebook and other social networking sites, you can adjust your settings so that only the people you select are able to see your personal information and posts. It’s important to check these privacy settings frequently, because sites sometimes change their policies.
- Think before you post. Never forget that the Internet is public. What you put out there can never be erased. If you wouldn’t say something in a room full of strangers, don’t say it via the Internet. Even letting someone know sensitive or embarrassing information about you via email can have unforeseen consequences.
- Keep personal information personal. Don’t reveal identifying details about yourself — address, phone number, school, credit card number, etc. — online. Passwords exist for a reason; sharing them with friends is like passing out copies of your house key to friends and strangers alike. If anyone besides you knows your passwords, it should be your parents and your parents only.
Connect Safely (2013) offers further steps to secure your safety online:
- Know that it’s not your fault. What people call “bullying” is sometimes an argument between two people. But if someone is repeatedly cruel to you, that’s bullying and you mustn’t blame yourself. No one deserves to be treated cruelly.
- Don’t respond or retaliate. Sometimes a reaction is exactly what aggressors are looking for, because they think it gives them power over you, and you don’t want to empower a bully. As for retaliating, getting back at a bully turns you into one — and can turn one mean act into a chain reaction. If you can, remove yourself from the situation. If you can’t, sometimes humor disarms or distracts a person from bullying.
- Save the evidence. The only good news about bullying online or on phones is that it can usually be captured, saved, and shown to someone who can help. You can save that evidence in case things escalate.
- Tell the person to stop. This is completely up to you — don’t do it if you don’t feel totally comfortable doing it, because you need to make your position completely clear that you will not stand for this treatment anymore. You may need to practice beforehand with someone you trust, like a parent or good friend.
- Reach out for help — especially if the behavior’s really getting to you. You deserve backup. See if there’s someone who can listen, help you process what’s going on, and work through it — a friend, relative, or maybe an adult you trust.
- Use available tech tools. Most social media apps and services allow you to block the person. Whether the harassment’s in an app, texting, comments, or tagged photos, do yourself a favor and block the person. You can also report the problem to the service. That probably won’t end it, but you don’t need the harassment in your face, and you’ll be less tempted to respond. If you’re getting threats of physical harm, you should call your local police (with a parent or guardian’s help) and consider reporting it to school authorities.
- Protect your accounts. Don’t share your passwords with anyone — even your closest friends, who may not be close forever — and password-protect your phone so no one can use it to impersonate you. You’ll find advice at connectsafely.org.
- If someone you know is being bullied, take action. Just standing by can empower an aggressor and does nothing to help. The best thing you can do is try to stop the bullying by taking a stand against it. If you can’t stop it, support the person being bullied. If the person’s a friend, you can listen and see how to help. Consider together whether you should report the bullying. If you’re not already friends, even a kind word can help reduce the pain. At the very least, help by not passing along a mean message and not giving positive attention to the person doing the bullying.
Cynthia Roebuck is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Psychology degree with a Life Science option from Penn State World Campus. She is a member of Psi Chi, Blue & White Society, the American Association of University Women, and the International Blind Tennis Association.
Connect Safely. (2013). Tips to Help Stop Cyberbullying. Retrievable from http://www.connectsafely.org/tips-to-help-stop-cyberbullying/.
Delete Cyberbullying. A Stop Online Harassment Project. What you can do to help prevent cyberbullying. Retrievable from http://www.deletecyberbullying.org/preventing-cyberbullying/.
International Association of Chiefs of Police. (2012). Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice. Law Enforcement and Cyberbullying Face Sheet. Retrievable from http://www.iacpsocialmedia.org/Portals/1/documents/Fact%20Sheets/Cyberbullying%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf.