Cyber-bullying defies traditional school bully stereotype

By Gregg MacDonald
Fairfax County Times
Thursday, September 2, 2010

The advent of social networking sites and text messaging has allowed young girls the opportunity to take on a role traditionally reserved for boys, experts say.

The girls have become bullies -- or, more specifically, cyber-bullies.

The Virginia Department of Education defines cyber-bullying as "using information and communication technologies such as e-mail, cellphones, text messaging, instant messaging and Web sites to support deliberate, hostile behavior intended to harm others."

Cyber-bullying in Fairfax County public schools seems to occur primarily in middle schools, said Sgt. William H. Fulton of Fairfax County police, school resource officer supervisor.

"There are lots of threats and innuendos made through social networking sites, such as Facebook," he said. "A boy may break up with a girl, and sides may begin to form against one of the two parties. Before you know it, exchanges are made online and can potentially lead to trouble back at school."

Social networking sites allow teenagers to post events in their lives in real time, said Ilana Reyes, a counselor at Annandale High School.

"It is so easy to say negative things through texting and online because you are not face-to-face with the person you're talking about," Reyes said. "Bullies say things and feel all big and bad because they are at home behind a computer, or on a phone, and aren't there to see the ramifications or the impact that it has on the other person."

Research suggests that girls are more likely than boys to engage in cyber-bullying but that both can be perpetrators and victims. "Without question, the nature of adolescent peer aggression has evolved due to the proliferation of information and communications technology," said Sameer Hinduja of the Cyber-bullying Research Center at Florida Atlantic University. "There have been several high-profile cases involving teens taking their own lives in part because of being harassed and mistreated over the Internet."

The center's research has shown that adolescent girls are significantly more likely than boys to partake in and experience cyber-bullying. Girls also are more likely to report cyber-bullying to a parent or teacher. The center's research also suggests that the type of cyber-bullying tends to differ by gender; girls are more likely to spread rumors, while boys are more likely to post hurtful pictures or videos.

A survey by the center found that cyber-bullying victims were almost twice as likely to have attempted suicide compared to youth who had experienced no cyber-bullying.

According to Virginia Department of Education guidelines, cyber-bullying can include sending "mean, vulgar or threatening" messages or images; posting sensitive or private information about another person; or intentionally excluding someone from an online group.

In Virginia, making a written threat, including those via texting, e-mail, instant messaging and the Internet, is a Class 6 felony.

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