Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cyberaggression Panel with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Part I)

OK, part of this post is going to be a re-hash from my other blog about New Media and Youth, and part of it is going to address what gender has to do with cyberbullying and "cyberaggression" in general. Here's Part I, which is a reprint:

I had the distinct honor of being asked to serve as a panelist for an event sponsored and moderated by Minnesota's own Senator Amy Klobuchar (editorial note: I've always been a fan, and now that I've met her in person, I'm an even bigger fan) last week at Augsburg College. The local media covered it fairly nicely, and it was an amazing opportunity for me to meet some people who have a true passion for battling cyberaggression (which covers a lot, by the way -- online spying and surveillance, cyberbullying, cyberharassment, misrepresentation online, etc.). In addition to the Senator, the panel included Nikki Jackson Colaco, Public Policy Manager of Facebook;
Detective Brian Hill, computer forensics investigator with the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office;and Lynn Miland, of Northfield, the parent of a child who was bullied and now a parent advocate with the National Center for Bullying Prevention, which is affiliated with Minnesota-based PACER Center, a national center that champions children with disabilities. (Lynn's story about her daughter was particularly touching and troubling, and I was really happy she was able to do the panel and tell her story.)

The experience was mostly good. Mostly. Maybe I'm being hypersensitive as a journalism professor (specifically one who just taught a lesson in good, ethical headline-writing in class this morning), but The Star-Tribune literally seized upon one fragment of one of my sentences about defriending and blocking falling under the category of cyberbullying -- I assume because they found it to be ridiculous, and I agree it sounds ridiculous without the context of the rest of the remarks. The headline and story ran like this:

'Defriending' latest form of adolescent cyberbullying

Anyway, obviously, there's more to it. :-)

Here are a few of the other stories about the panel:

Q&A With Parents and Experts About Cyberbullying from Fox9-Twin Cities

Cyberbullying Highlighted at Augsburg Event from KARE11


Klobuchar, panel address changing face of harassment online
from The Minnesota Daily

And if you're interested, here are my basic remarks. I went a little bit off the cuff and edited out a few things that had already been said before it was my turn to talk, but this is the gist.

Notes for Cyberbully Panel with Sen. Klobuchar

In a national survey conducted with about 3000 teens over a three-year time period, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 93 percent of adolescents age 12-17 surveyed go online, and 63 percent of those go online at least once daily – most of them from home, though a large number are also able to access the internet from their mobile phone, and at school or a library.

32 percent of adolescents report that they have been the victim of online harassment – from having an embarrassing photo posted of them on a social networking site without their consent, forwarding an email or text or instant message without their consent, or had a rumor spread about them online. In my own research, young teens reported instances of just being shut out completely by their peers – from being de-friended on a massive scale on Facebook to being deleted from a friend list on Instant Messaging, which is almost as devastating for many of them.

So, over a third of our adolescents have reported behavior like this, which is a huge number, but let’s face it. Even 1 percent is too high a number of kids reporting being victimized by bullies online. Although we hear about some very extreme instances of cyber-aggression from the mass media, it must be noted that less extreme instances happen all the time to all kinds of different kids and young adults, and we need to pay attention.

You sometimes hear people say, “People have been bullied since the beginning of time,” and that’s true. However, this type of bullying is different from the type of bullying that takes place on the schoolyard because when you go home at the end of the day and retreat to your room – a zone that is supposedly safe – the bullying continues. There is little escape.

Social networking sites make it even more difficult for victims because they make it so easy for the bullies to instantly post something mean or embarrassing about them to hundreds and potentially thousands of peers. The impact is immediate because the “attack” can be accomplished at the click of a mouse. There is little defense against this type of practice. Unlike when your parent teaches you to fight for yourself on the playground, if you stick up for yourself online, you risk even more ridicule and aggression.

Research shows that people often say things online that they would not have said in person, and the computer screen can have a de-humanizing, de-sensitizing effect on behavior. This is one factor that drives adolescents who might otherwise not engage in bullying or harassment.
I think we all have to agree, too, that to share a bully’s post or comment on it truly makes you complicit in the bullying process. A lot of people don’t think about it that way, but social networks allow for a real piling on effect that even previous types of cyberaggression did not.

What can be done? First of all, discussions like this one go a long way in educating the public about the problem and moving us beyond the sensational media stories to actually thinking about what we can do about the problem. We need to acknowledge as a culture, that cyberbullying is prevalent and a serious issue that has to be addressed.

There is a true lack of new media literacy among a lot of adults that makes this a tough issue to tackle because they literally have no understanding of how online technology works in the first place. That’s a real problem. More adults, especially parents and teachers but also people with no connections to young people, need to become educated on how this works – open a Facebook account yourself and use it. Get acquainted with the technology so you understand how it works and what can be done using it, and then you’ll better understand the issues and what’s at stake here (legally, culturally, and so on).

The other really important part of the equation is that parents and educators need to agree that we should be teaching our kids civility – both online and offline – at a very young age. We need to teach them the consequences of online bullying – tell them stories about real-life instances of cyber-aggression and how it truly affected a person’s life.

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