One currently trending news item is the report that Twitter messages posted by singer & platinum recording artist Rihanna set off the cyberbullying of a fan for wearing an outfit to her prom mimicking an earlier outfit worn by the popular singer. The surrounding outrage led me to imagine how the transition to college will be for the young lady, high school student Alexis Carter. This question made me wonder how colleges could support students like Alexis Carter, who is college-bound and already a victim of cyber bullying. Naturally, my thoughts about cyber bullying on college campuses led me to remember Tyler Clementi.
Clementi, then a freshman at Rutgers University, committed suicide in 2010 after being the victim of webcam spying by his roommate and another student. The video, which captured a “sexual encounter” with Clementi and another man, was posted on social media and live streamed by his roommate. In 2013, Rutgers named a center after Clementi, which offers lectures and training on social media, suicide by youth, cyber bullying, and college adjustment.
More recently, college freshman Alyssa Funke, was the victim of cyber bullying via Twitter and Facebook messages after her high school classmates from Minnesota learned that she was an amateur porn actress. After two weeks of negative social media blitzing by the graduates from her class and other students from the high school, the University of Wisconsin-River Falls freshman used a shotgun to commit suicide. Funke, who was an aspiring anesthesiologist, was a straight-A biology student. In Stillwater, Minnesota, the location of Funke’s high school, there are currently no criminal charges filed against the students who posted the cyber bullying messages.
According to the Cyberbulling Research Center cyber bullying can be defined as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.” It is also known as “cyber bullying,” “electronic bullying,” “e-bullying,” “sms bullying,” “mobile bullying,” “online bullying,” “digital bullying,” or “Internet bullying.” According to StopBullying.Gov cyber bullying can take form as “mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles.”
Each of these aspects of cyber bullying can be a very real part of the collegiate experience for some students. This may range from causally commenting on a negative post without understanding the full consequences, intentionally adding to a barrage of harassing social media messages, or being the unfortunate target who is unsure how to manage the deluge of blistering attacks and harassment.
This 2009 article captures several aspects of cyber bullying on college campuses including victimizing faculty, legal implications, and other student directed issues. Many of these issues are still relevant in 2014. Operating from the perspective that no act of cyber bullying is healthy, I decided to see what some campuses have initiated to take a proactive, educative, and aggressive tone with respect to policies, practices, and programming related to cyber bullying or cyber stalking. Below are three campuses who are best practice leaders:
Clarion University has information about social media responsibility and a specific cyber bullying policy that delineates the university’s position and potential responses to cyberbullies. Clarion University also serves as a best practice model to other universities as it offers a host of on-campus resources for victims of cyber stalking and cyber bulling such as:
- Clarion University Counseling Services;
- The Behavioral Assessment Referral Team (BART) to report wellbeing concerns for victim or to report cyber bullying;
- Clarion University Police to report being harassed or bullied over computer, phone, or other mobile device;
- Office of Social Equity;
- Office of Judicial & Mediation Services; and
- Office of Wellness Services.
The University of West Alabama utilizes a proactive approach to cyber bullying with a detailed policy which provides specific educative information about social media. West Alabama’s policy states a clear position against Cyber bullying and cyber harassment, cites and refers to the Alabama State Law prohibiting cyber bullying, and delineates other violations such as:
- A UWA student establishes a Twitter account that encourages others to submit anonymous messages to an account that will be redistributed by the account holder;
- A member of the University community establishes a fake account under the name of an official University department or organization and uses the name and trademark to post vicious comments on other content; and
- A member of the University faculty or staff uses his or her blog or social media account to berate or otherwise discuss engagement with or judgment of a student’s work or other information considered confidential or proprietary by FERPA or HIPPA.
Millersville University has published a press statement regarding cyber bullying that is endorsed by their University Administration and is tied to their campus mission and values. Millersville University’s Office of Social Equality & Diversity also offers a resource-filled web page dedicated to providing information about cyber bullying and cyber stalking. In addition, to a clear policy and internal support for students, Millersville University offers a robust list of external cyber bullying prevention resources:
- ncpc.org provides information about stopping cyber bullying before it starts;
- Stop Cyberbullying Before It Starts (PDF) provides useful information for parents;
- us provides cyber bullying research, stories, cases, downloads, fact sheets, tips and strategies, news headlines, a blog, and a number of other helpful resources on their comprehensive public service website;
- stopcyberbullying.org has a fun quiz to rate your online behavior, information about why some people cyber bully, and how to stop yourself from cyberbullying;
- WiredSafety provides information about what to do if you are cyberbullied;
- stopbullyingnow.com has information about what you can do to stop bullying;
- ncvc.org/src provides training, technical assistance and materials to help develop anti-stalking programs;
- cyberlawenvorcement.org is a network that specializes in cybercrime; and
- stalkingvictims.com provides support safety tips and other education.
The three best practice examples of robust internal resources, definitive prohibitive policy statements, and provision of external support resources noted above offer students support in the face of cyber bullying or cyber stalking. It is beneficial for students that every campus examine their cyber bullying policy and guarantee their students have access to all available outlets to support them if they are victims or familiar with cyberstalking. Provision and public endorsement of these resources may help reduce cyber bullying, and most importantly, may save a student’s life.