The school bully is an iconic figure in books and films going back as far as schools themselves. But the days when ducking the school bully meant taking an alternate route home have long passed – though I’m sure those people are still around too. Now the school bully is free to take aim online, where the taunts and humiliation are seen by millions. Schools struggle to contend with this difficult problem, which every day results in anguish for the victims. Some children have even committed suicide as a result of cyberbullying. Some states are trying to address the problem of maintaining social networking security with laws that make cyberbullying prosecutable and punishable by fines and even prison terms. And there is a clamor for schools to be held more accountable for student cyberbullying, even when it occurs off-campus. There are stories of schools being sued, and some states have moved to make cyberbullying a felony, and give schools the power to act even in off-campus instances of cyberbullying.
What can schools do? One of the biggest challenges facing schools as they try to create an atmosphere of social networking security for students is to understand how cyberbullying is manifesting itself in their schools. According to Katherine Cowan, communications director for the National Association of School Psychologists, “One of the capacities of cyberbullying is that it goes from zero to 60 rapidly—it can go viral very quickly and can live permanently online. School administrators face the challenge of having to wrap their arms around a dynamic and incredibly complex social system with the students they serve. The Internet makes it that much more complicated.”
Of course an important way schools should be dealing with this is through educating staff, teachers and students about Internet dangers such as the inherent anonymity of social media interactions so that students can act accordingly. Learning appropriate online behavior should be a welcome side-effect of this sort of education. However, one of the critical factors for school networking security is that administrators understand how and where it is occurring, if they don’t have visibility into the online behavior of students, then applying the all-or-nothing approach of blocking or allowing all access, are not going to be sufficient measures.