Cyberbullying and Australia
Cyber-bullying is defined by the National Crime Prevention Council as "when the Internet, cell phones or other devices are used to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person." It is when technology is used to facilitate bullying between two minors. This can include defamation, starting rumors, exclusion, or sending unwanted messages through email services, mobile phones, or instant messaging. Statistics show that overall one quarter of Australian children have been cyber-bullied, while 31% of teens between the ages of 14-17 report having been bullied online. It is less prevalent in younger children from ages 10-13, although it is shown that children as young as Year 2 have initiated negative online behavior. Cyber-bullying rarely takes the form of a one-time communication, and is usually a repeated, targeted attack on an individual or group.
There are two types of cyber-bullying. The first is known as a direct attack, in which the offensive messages are sent straight to the victim. Youths may use internet and text messaging to send hurtful messages, pose as someone else by using a similar screen name, or sending extreme numbers of text messaging in order to insure a large phone bill for another. Some have even used technology to send death threats. Others may steal passwords, leaving the victim unable to access their own accounts, and proceed to hack into the individual’s computer, adding lewd information to the victim’s profile, and using their account to make offensive comments. Children, preteens, and teenagers may also utilize blogs or create web pages to post personal information and pictures, along with cruel and hurtful remarks. Cell phones and file sharing programs have been used to spread humiliating pictures, and internet polling is becoming increasingly popular. More technologically knowledgeable youths will use malicious code as a form of bulling, such as viruses, spyware, and hacking programs in order to damage their victim’s computer, while others may sign their victims up for email and IM marketing lists which may be pornographic in nature.
The other form is cyber-bullying by proxy, in which an accomplice is used with or without their knowledge. For example, cyber-bullies may deliberately antagonize their victims to the point where they say something which violates the ISP or server rules. In that instance, the cyber-bully will report the victim, acting as though they were the ones targeted. In such cases, the bully will attempt to make it appear that the victim is the one in the wrong, and may even get parents or others involved in the situation. Another tactic is through impersonating the victim, using their accounts to post hateful or offensive contents, or to give out personal information which may even pose physical danger to the victim.
Many of the issues related to cyber-bullying stem from characteristics of the technology. For example, cyber-bullies are able to maintain a degree of animosity online, especially with the use of proxies and programs which provide a higher level of web privacy. Therefore, bullies feel more comfortable making hurtful remarks, especially since they do not have to do so face-to-face. A large portion of cyber-bullying victims do not even know the identity of their attacker, which may cause greater feelings of insecurity as they do not know who is targeting them. Additionally, cyber-bullying can leave a severe emotional impact on the victim, who may respond with anger, fear, frustration, or even turn to cyber-bullying themselves. They often feel as there is no escape from the bullying, and as though they are endangered even whilst in their own home, and the stress may cause their performance at school to drop. If they decide to avoid the medium they are being bullied through, they may feel isolated and unsupported. Youths can often develop a low-self esteem, and cyber-bullying has been linked to incidents of suicide.
Parents tend to have difficulty understanding the problems poised by the technological revolution, as the issues were not relevant to their own childhood. They have difficulty understanding how to positively take an active role on their child’s online activity. 22% of parents have no control over their child’s internet usage, and 42% do not check their internet history to monitor what websites their child has been visiting. When school attempt to take disciplinary action against cyber-bullying which occurred out of school, there have been incidents where the schools themselves have been sued, on the grounds that it is outside their authority and violates freedom of speech rights.
In cases of cyber-bullying which involved threats of violence, criminal charges can be laid against the bullies. The NSW Crimes Act makes it illegal for students to be harassed or intimidated whilst on school grounds. The maximum penalty for using a carriage device to send offensive or intimidating messages is three years, as described by the Commonwealth Criminal Code. However, while both of these can apply to cyber-bullying, they are not specifically directed at resolving the problem, nor are there comprehensive laws regarding it. It is also difficult to put criminal sanctions in place, considering both the subjectivity of bullying and the age of those involved. Victims must rely on laws which are typically applied to the offline world, such as regarding defamation and discrimination.
Currently, Australia’s anti-harassment laws do not protect those under the age of 16, but this is likely to change in the future as younger children are especially at risk of sexual bullying. There has been a large amount of criticism on Australia’s current legislation, which is described to “lag behind” in regards to cyber-bullying. New sexual harassment laws are likely to be put in place in the future, to target the rising issue of cyber-bullying. Some state governments have already expanded laws for the purpose of encompassing cyber-bullying, for example the stalking provisions of the Crimes Act in Victoria. However, there have been no successful prosecutions on cases of cyber-bullying. There has been a push for laws to be implemented which will require internet servers to remove any content containing cyber-bullying.
Cyber-bullying is a rising problem in Australia today. On June 25, 2008, 14 year old Alex Wildman, a victim of severe bullying committed suicide, reported in The Daily Telegraph. The NSW deputy state coroner found these online attacks had a significant impact on his mental state and said that had “no doubt (bullying) played a significant role in his decision to take his own life.” The Year 9 student had also been physically assaulted by fellow students, one such incident recorded on a mobile phone and was circulated through both other phones and the internet. Kadina High School states that it followed the NSW Department of Education’s anti-bullying plan correctly. It was discovered that Alex had not seen the counselor, nor had the teachers been aware of the bullying which had caused him to leave his previous school, which had caused the teenager to bring a knife to school to protect himself. The investigation revealed that many of his peers at Ingleburn High often swapped passwords and impersonated one another on social networking sites. This group had posted derogatory comments under Alex’s account, which were described as being racist in nature. Malcolm MacPherson, the deputy coroner, has recommended that it be ensured for high schools to have full-time counselors by the NSW Department of Education, and that schools should have an email address or phone number available to report bullying.
An article from Bully OnLine details the profile of a cyber-bully, and investigates the reasons for their behavior. It notes that bullies receive gratification from sending offensive mail to others. Many serial bullies are also extremely attention seeking, and become infuriated if they are ignored. Their objectives are “power, control, domination, and subjugation.” When they provoke a response, they derive a sense of power, and enjoy the victim’s further attempts to communicate with them. They use the victim’s response to further anger others, and observe as the situation inflames. However, the bullies themselves often harbor internal aggression, which they feel the need to take out online. They do so more conveniently as there are fewer constraints than in the real world, and they derive satisfaction from tormenting others through the internet.
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