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Thursday, October 21, 2004

Cyberbullying more harmful to kids

...than traditional bullying, that is. This is according to a just-released study at the Queensland University of Technology, cited by ThisIsLondon. The main reason, according to lead researcher Marilyn Campbell, is that there's no escaping online bullying, no haven, the way a child's home is when s/he runs away from a traditional bully. And, we would add, simply not going online is not an option for most kids and teens, for whom IM-ing, phone-texting, online chat, or email are so much a part of their social lives. Another reason why cyberbullying is more harmful is the size of the audience. Usually there are few people around when bullying occurs in a physical place; when it happens online, often everybody in a child's peer group knows what's going on, and sometimes the information is very personal. Imagine the impact of having an enemy expose your deepest secrets to everybody you know; it's at least much more long-lasting than the results of most physical fights. And the "secrets" being sent around don't even have to be true, of course. For example, who knows if the information shared in this online exploit (picked up in the San Diego Union Tribune) was true: "In Allendale, N.J., students viewed with alarm a Web site that named the school's "top five biggest homosexuals" and the "top 20 gayest guys and gayest girls." But there's potential physical danger too: "One 13-year-old Rockland County [N.J.] girl had a fight with her best friend. The ex-friend used the girl's screen name to enter an adult chat room and gave out the girl's phone number. A man from the chat room called the girl's home – but was intercepted by the mother."

For the Queensland study, "the researchers studied an entire year of a primary school in Brisbane, Australia, giving more than 30 children a series of in-depth tests and interviews to establish their attitudes to cyberbullying," ThisIsLondon reports. It's the first research I've seen on the different impacts between online and traditional bullying. For more on cyberbullying, see "Cybersocializing, cyberbullying" and "The IM life of middle-schoolers."


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