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When Cyberbullying Gets Real

Bianca Brooks and Sophie Varon, Special to the Informer from New America Media | 11/20/2013, 3 p.m.

Are you more likely to be bullied online or in person?

Pose that question to 64 young people in a poll, and the answers might surprise you. Despite the heavy media attention paid to cyberbullying as of late, according to a poll given to dozens young people across California, physical bullying remains a lot more common than cyberbullying.

Cyberbulling, however, is a major issue facing millennials. According to DoSomething.org, nearly 43 percent of kids have been bullied online and one in four has had it happen more than once. The most recent case to make headlines was Rebecca Sedwick’s. The 12-year-old killed herself after being bullied online and in person by people at her school.

In collaboration with New America Media, Youth Radio teamed up with other young people around the country to discuss the complexity of cyberbullying along with possible solutions in a live chat.

Our survey results show that Facebook is the platform where people see the most online bullying, but that’s not the platform that chat participants were most eager to blame. That honor went to Ask.fm, a site that has recently come under criticism. This social media site is linked to a person’s Facebook profile, and allows users to ask questions and open themselves up to anonymous responses. Some participants even suggested a campaign against the site to end the constant bullying. One participant wrote, “Only scary people use ask . It’s dumb. You’re basically looking for anonymous rude questions.”

Many young people on the chat said that they had witnessed cyberbullying, but never had it happen to them. As The Atlantic reported, cyberbullies may be sparking conflict online, but their actions often result in physical harm. Based on a survey that our chat participants filled out, 14-year-olds and 17-year-olds experienced the most cyberbullying.

It’s clear that it’s now much easier to bully with advent of social media, but what’s not so clear is how to solve the issue. However, chat participants agreed that more monitoring from schools is not the answer. Recently, a California school district hired a firm called Geo Listening to monitor students’ social media accounts. One chat participant stated, “That could make things worse, and it strips the freedoms and privacies of the users.”

Another participant suggested that schools work with youth organizations to conduct cyberbullying seminars that educate young people on the issue. Though many on the chat believed this was a good idea, some worried that it would turn into the typical bullying seminar, where the adults talk and students listen, and nothing really gets done.

One participant suggested that schools should utilize media to help solve the problem. It wasn’t until after seeing the movie Bully that the issue really meant anything to her. “I remember after seeing it a lot of my classmates were talking about how sad it was,” she said. She suggested the discussion should be led by young people, so they’re being “talked to, not talked at.”

“They saw that it’s really no joke and I remember one of my friends said ‘Now I feel bad for when I do people like that,’” she wrote.

Some participants suggested more legislation against bullies, and others suggested that more people report abuse to site administrators. Others insisted that discipline should be left to parents, who should monitor their kids’ social networks use more closely.

However, the most agreed-upon solution amongst chat participants was to put the responsibility on the victim. “If you feel like you’re being harassed, log out and tell someone,” said one participant. Participants agreed that the victims hold the real power when they inform an adult of the issue before it escalates. One participant wrote, “If you want to take your life back, the first step is logging out.”

Interestingly enough, while talking about victims of cyberbullying our debate inside the chat itself got a little heated (see left image). Luckily it did not result in insults, because participants, unlike bullies, could agree to disagree.