Cyberbullying on the College Campus

By Staff Writers

Published on September 21, 2021

Cyberbullying on the College Campus

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Tips, Tools & Solutions for Recognizing & Stopping Bullying Online

Bullies have always existed, so why is it important to address cyberbullying? In a nutshell, it can be extremely detrimental to the victim’s physical and mental health and, in some cases, possibly deadly. Since cyberbullying allows the anonymity of bullying from a distance, it can also be easily hidden from parents, friends and school administrators and adds an almost invisible dimension to the traditional face-to-face bullying that can be hard to detect and address. While the statistics of college cyberbullying are not yet well-defined, a study called VISTAS, a project sponsored by the American Counseling Association, found that up to 22 percent of college students reported being bullied online and 38 percent of participants knew someone who had been bullied online. Continue reading to learn more about cyberbullying and what you can do about it.

FAQ: Understanding Cyberbullying

Where does cyberbullying occur?

Cyberbullying can happen in many places, all of which are related to the Internet. Social media platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter, are among the most common places where bullying happens. Students might also receive nasty emails, threatening text messages, rude or cruel instant messages or even entire websites devoted to tearing them down.

When does cyberbullying occur?

Sometimes college cyberbullying lasts only as long as the proactive individual allows it to last. For instance, the victim might shut down their social media accounts and block texts and IMs from offending parties, yet not all victims of bullying can take such steps. For instance, someone who must use a social media account for work or school cannot easily close their accounts. Also, a victim with a persistent bully will have much more trouble shaking their aggressor, as the perpetrator can continue to make extra fake accounts to continue their harassment, possibly for years.

How does cyberbullying happen?

Cyberbullying usually doesn’t have the component of physical threats, as face-to-face bullying does. However, the psychological effects of bullying online might be much worse. Cyberbullying is nerve wracking in that the person being bullied never knows when and where to expect another attack. They often have little protection, as bullies will change user names and hide behind anonymous posts. The result is often serious issues with self-esteem and trust, a greater risk of depression and suicide.

Why does cyberbullying happen today?

As with most bullies, there are issues of low self-esteem and insecurity at play. Cyberbullying is a bit different because the perpetrator doesn’t have to physically confront their victim. They can hide behind an anonymous username and bully someone who might never know the source of their torment. This anonymity can embolden those who would never dream of bullying someone in real life, and, given this power, can create more future targets.

Are there certain populations who are more at-risk for experiencing cyberbullying?

Certain populations are more likely to be targets of such behavior, including young LGBT people especially between the ages of 14 and 16, special needs students and those who live in persistent poverty.

How can cyberbullying negatively impact students?

Cyberbullying can cause a decline in academic performance, increase in school dropouts, physical violence and suicide. “Suicide is the most severe consequence of cyberbullying, but there are many other symptoms that can result when a person is the victim of cyberbullying,” said Claire K. Hall, higher education attorney and Principal of UECAT Compliance Solutions. “Victims are at greater risk for depression. They are also more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs. Therefore, it is critical that college students understand that they do not have to handle cyberbullying alone, and that there are so many people on their campus who can help them, if they just reach out.”

Types of Cyberbullying

Sexual Harassment Cyberbullying

Sexual harassment cyberbullying does not have to be sexual in nature to be considered harassment. It includes degrading comments about gender or sexual activity, sexual partners or descriptions like “slut” or “whore.” On another level, it also includes sexual advances or comments and photos. Here are a few points to remember:

LGBTQ Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying often happens to those who are considered different or unique. This tends to describe many LGBT youth, whose openness about certain issues of gender and sexuality can lead to an undeserved backlash, which, in turn, can be detrimental to the victims’ physical and mental health. Here are some facts about this special kind of bullying, as reported in Out Online The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth on the Internet.

College Cyberbullying Resources

Cyberbullying can be a terrible thing to deal with, and far too many college students experience it on a daily basis. Fortunately, the problem is increasingly recognized on college campuses, and there are resources out there dedicated to stopping it. The following links are excellent places to begin when trying to put a stop to college cyberbullying.

What to Do if You’re Being Cyberbullied

“The students need to see the colleges and universities take action to stop cyberbullying when it is occurring,” Hall said. “If students know that the school takes it seriously, that it has policies and procedures designed to prevent the behavior, the students will be more likely to report cyberbullying when they see it or when it is happening to them.”
Reporting or blocking:

On- and Off-Campus Support

ON-CAMPUS HELP

Campus security

Harassment and stalking are illegal, which means it’s time to get security involved. Take the issues to campus security, with clear details, dates and times of what is happening.

Local law enforcement

Sometimes campus security and student services don’t have the proper tools to bring charges against those who are exhibiting threatening behavior. Local law enforcement, however, just might be able to help.

Student services

For students unsure about how to feel safe and secure again, turn to student services with the problem. If they don’t have plans in place for assistance, they can certainly guide students to the correct sources.

IT department

Cyberbullies often hide behind anonymous screen names. The IT department at the college might be able to bypass the layers of security to identify who is truly behind the problem. “When I worked in higher education, there were occasions when our campus security and IT department were able to determine who was behind the cyberbullying even though it was anonymous,” Hall said. “Or, there are times when they will be able to ascertain who it is by examining the content of the posts.”

OFF-CAMPUS HELP

Online help & info:

  • Campus Safety
    This online magazine offers a wealth of information on staying safe at school, including how to fight back against bullying, whether it’s in person or online.
  • Cyberbullying Research Center
    This site offers an enormous amount of information on cyberbullying, designed for those of any age. The center works with popular media organizations and social media sites.
  • End to Cyberbullying Organization
    This site is dedicated to keeping anyone safe online. Included her are points on prevention, statistics and how to help others.
  • How to Remove Stolen Photos Online
    This in-depth guide by Who is Hosting This? provides students with an opportunity to remove photos from the Internet that might have fallen into the wrong hands.
  • Megan Meier Foundation
    Founded in honor of 13-year-old Megan Meier, who took her own life after being bullied online, this site offers information, resources and hope.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
    When the pressure of cyberbullying becomes too much, reach out to someone here, who can help at any time, day or night. There are resources linked to youth, disaster survivors, Native Americans, veterans, loss survivors, LGBTQ+, suicide attempt survivors and deaf/hearing loss, among others.
  • National Youth Advocacy Coalition
    This group is dedicated to young people and includes advice, resources and reassurances on a variety of topics that can help students through tough times. The site is formatted in blog post style.
  • StaySafeOnline.org
    Powered by the National Cyber Security Alliance, this site offers tips on how to stay safe online, especially on social media networks, including information on privacy and what information should or should not be posted online.
  • The Trevor Project
    This site, founded in 1998 by short-film “Trevor” creators, focuses on crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth.

What to do if you’re being bullied

When a person becomes the target of cyberbullying, they may first be bombarded with questions: Why is this happening to me? Why would this person say horrible things about me? Why am I being attacked like this? Then, when reality sinks in, the victim can feel trapped and alone. It is vitally important to remember that there is recourse for this person’s actions. Even if bullies remain anonymous, they can still be caught. Here are ways to take positive steps to make the abuse stop:

If someone you know is being bullied

Most effects of cyberbullying are noticed by those who are not the target. Friends and family might notice the problem when cruel posts begin to appear on social media or observe their loved one becoming withdrawn and nervous when they receive a text or email. Sometimes the bullying is obvious to those who are on message boards and the like, as they will see it happening right before their eyes. Here’s what to do when it happens:

How can you report cyberbullying?

Remember that it is important to report cyberbullying, even if the perpetrators are seemingly anonymous. Start right now with these steps, immediately:

Tips & Advice from an Expert

Q: It can be tough to know what to do about cyberbullying, especially if the bully is anonymous. What steps can college students take to protect themselves?

A: Even if the cyberbullying is anonymous, students should still report the cyberbullying to a trusted administrator at their college or university. Reporting it to a resident assistant, faculty member, advisor, or better yet, campus security is a really good idea. When I worked in higher education, there were occasions when our campus security and IT department were able to determine who was behind the cyberbullying even though it was anonymous. Or, there are times when they will be able to ascertain who it is by examining the content of the posts.

Even if they can’t determine who the cyberbully is, they can offer the student resources they may need at the time. Most college campuses have access to counseling services and other resources that can help a student understand and deal with cyberbullying. Also, if colleges know that there is cyberbullying occurring on campus, they can take measures to prevent it, which includes educational programming at orientation, or in the residence halls, etc.

Most colleges and universities have some type of disciplinary process or student conduct office, and also have rules against any form of bullying or harassment. If administrators or campus security can locate the cyberbully, they can pursue disciplinary action if the cyberbully is a student; or, if the cyberbully is a non-student, they can help the victim get in touch with local law enforcement or seek other types of interim measures like restraining orders through the courts. Cyberbullying is serious, and sadly, has resulted in students taking their own lives, like Tyler Clementi, Amanda Todd, etc. Colleges and universities understand this and should be proactive if the student reports the behavior.

Q: Some states have initiated legislation that fights against bullying, but what about cyberbullying? Are there any promising court cases or legislation on the horizon?

A: Every state has some form of anti-bullying law or policy, but each state is different, each state defines bullying in different ways, and many of them apply to elementary and secondary schools, not colleges and universities. In many cases, it is the behavior that will be examined and not whether the bullying is occurring in person or through some form of technology. The analysis will be whether the behavior meets the elements defined by the state law or policy. However, some states are being more proactive and actually adding the term cyberbullying or electronic bullying into their laws and policies.

Also, if the cyberbullying is a result of harassment based on a protected class, i.e., race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, etc., then the behavior will constitute a violation of federal law, which all colleges and universities that receive federal funding must comply with. It is important for students to know what their college or university policies are regarding bullying and harassment, and to take some type of action when they see cyberbullying happening. Unfortunately, in many cases, there are other people who know that the cyberbullying is occurring. This is why bystander intervention is so important. If a person knows that someone is the victim of a cyberbully, that person should take some type of action to stop the behavior. Types of action they can take may involve reaching out to the victim, telling a friend or family member, or reporting the cyberbullying to campus safety.

It is important to note that some will take the position that cyberbullying is a form of free speech and to prevent it would be a violation of our constitutional right under the First Amendment. Public colleges and universities have to deal with this argument. Private colleges and universities do not.

Q: What can colleges do to reduce the problem of cyberbullying?

A: Many colleges and universities are grappling with whether they should take steps to ban certain social media apps that allow anonymous posts because of the detrimental impact they have on students. Some have banned certain apps, while others have determined that banning the apps is not the answer and that the best course of action is preventative programming and education. Programs designed to educate students about what constitutes bullying and the long-lasting impacts it can have on the victims are critical. Bystander intervention programming is also critical. Posters and bulletin boards in the residence halls and in commuter lounges, etc., that are designed to educate and also inform students about where they can go or who they can talk to if they are the victim of cyberbullying is really important.

The students need to see the colleges and universities take action to stop cyberbullying when it is occurring. If students know that the school takes it seriously, that it has policies and procedures designed to prevent the behavior, the students will be more likely to report cyberbullying when they see it or when it is happening to them.

Colleges and universities also have to educate their faculty and staff about the perils of cyberbullying. As hard as it may be to hear about, schools need to talk openly about cases like Tyler Clementi, Jessica Logan, Hope Witsell, etc., so that faculty, staff and students know about the dangerous consequences that can result because of cyberbullying. Schools need to have trained counselors available to talk to faculty, staff and students who may be triggered during educational programming because they too may have been the victim of cyberbullying.

Q: Anything else you might like to add about cyberbullying of college students?

A: Suicide is the most severe consequence of cyberbullying, but there are many other symptoms that can result when a person is the victim of cyberbullying. Victims are at greater risk for depression. They are also more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs. Therefore, it is critical that college students understand that they do not have to handle cyberbullying alone, and that there are so many people on their campus who can help them, if they just reach out. Students need to be reminded that talking to someone is the first step to making the pain associated with cyberbullying go away.

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AffordableCollegesOnline.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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