Sending cruel, vicious, and sometimes threatening messages; breaking into an e-mail account and sending malicious or embarrassing material to others; creating web sites that contain stories, cartoons, pictures, and jokes ridiculing others. These activities are emerging as one of the more challenging issues facing educators and parents as young people embrace the Internet and other mobile communication technologies to engage in what has been termed cyberbullying.
The recent burgeoning of Internet and cell phone use, especially among teenagers, is fueling the growth of this new problem. “These technologies are providing young people with opportunities to engage in new forms of social cruelty,” says Nancy Willard, a nationally recognized expert on cyberbullying and director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use. To address this phenomenon, Willard recently joined EDC’s Health and Human Development Programs (HHD), bringing a background in special education, law, and 15 years of consulting to school districts on technology and appropriate Internet use in schools.
We know that face-to-face bullying can cause long-term psychological harm. However, preliminary research suggests that cyberbullying may produce even more damage, ranging from low-self-esteem, depression, anxiety, anger, school avoidance, and academic failure to violence toward others and suicide. Because cyberbullying can occur any place and at any time, and can be conducted in the privacy of one’s own home, it has the potential to spread to a very wide audience with great speed. In addition, cyberbullies can remain anonymous and thus not experience the consequences of their actions.
“More and more reports are emerging that indicate cyberbullying is a significant concern and is associated with some youth suicides,” says Willard. “We know that cyberbullying is occurring both in and out of schools, but there is a lot we still don’t know about how much cyberbullying is occurring and the full extent of the harm.”
Willard has been researching the literature on bullying, suicide, and violence prevention programs and integrating that information with what she knows about young people’s use of the Internet in order to develop interventions to help schools and communities deal with cyberbullying. “The groundbreaking youth violence prevention work HHD has conducted and its current position as a leader in the field make it an extremely appropriate place for me to advance this work,” she said. Willard will be working with HHD staff to develop, evaluate, and refine a range of prevention strategies.
“Nancy’s expertise will vastly expand our capacity to help schools and communities recognize and respond to cyberbullying,” said Renée Wilson-Simmons, associate director of HHD’s Center for Reseach on High-Risk Behaviors. She added, “Understanding and responding to cyberbullying and its consequences is an important next step in our violence prevention work and is also of great relevance to our National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention and Suicide Prevention Resource Center.”
Originally published on June 1, 2005