Campus Cyberbullying: A Tragic But Preventable Crime
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, 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 cyberbullying. Naturally, my thoughts about cyberbullying on college campuses led me to remember Tyler Clementi.
Clementi, a previous 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, cyberbullying, and college adjustment.
More recently, college freshman Alyssa Funke was the victim of cyberbullying 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 cyberbullying messages.
According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, cyberbullying 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 cyberbullying, electronic bullying, e-bullying, SMS bullying, mobile bullying, online bullying, digital bullying, or Internet bullying. According to StopBullying.Gov, cyberbullying 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 cyberbullying can be a very real part of the collegiate experience for some students. This may range from casually 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 cyberbullying 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 cyberbullying 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 cyberbullying or cyberstalking. Below are three campuses who are exhibit best practice leader behavior:
Clarion University has information about social media responsibility and a specific cyberbullying 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 cyberstalking and cyberbullying such as:
- Clarion University Counseling Services;
- The Behavioral Assessment Referral Team (BART) to report the well-being concerns for a victim or to report cyberbullying;
- Clarion University Police to report being harassed or bullied over the computer, phone, or another 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 cyberbullying with a detailed policy which provides specific educative information about social media. West Alabama’s policy states a clear position against cyberbullying and cyberharassment, citing and referring to the Alabama State Law prohibiting cyberbullying, 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 cyberbullying 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 cyberbullying and cyberstalking. In addition to a clear policy and internal support for students, Millersville University offers a robust list of external cyberbullying prevention resources:
- ncpc.org provides information about stopping cyberbullying before it starts;
- cyberbullying.org provides cyberbullying 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;
- WiredSafety provides information about what to do if you are cyberbullied;
- stopbullyingnow.com has information about what you can do to stop bullying;
- victimsofcrime.org provides training, technical assistance, and materials to help develop anti-stalking programs;
- 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 cyberbullying or cyberstalking. It is beneficial for students that every campus examine their cyberbullying 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 cyberbullying, and most importantly, may save a student’s life.