Friday, February 04, 2005

FAQs for media on cyberbullying

For immediate release:
Contact Parry Aftab, Esq.,
Executive Director or 201-463-8663 and
Cyberbullying FAQ Sheet for Media

What is it: Cyberbullying is cyber-harassment when both the victim and the cyberbully are minors. It ranges from rude or lewd language directed at the minor him or herself, or use of the Internet or other interactive technology (cell phones, interactive games and text messaging devices) to target the victim.

How does it work: The methods used and abused are limited only by the limitless imagination and tech tools of the kids. Cell phones with photo or video features are used secretly to take pictures of others in a bathroom, locker room or dressing room. Images are altered to put a minor’s head on a pornographic image. Thousands of text-messages or phone calls are made to the cell phone of the victim, creating fear and cell phone charge overages. Barrages of insults are posted in a guestbook or on a victim’s blog. Interactive gaming services are used to harass or humiliate other young gamers. Computers are hacked and passwords are stolen. The cyberbullies often pose as the victim and do things designed to get the victim into trouble. Pictures are taken at parties of the victim drinking, kissing someone or doing something else and used to blackmail the victim. The victim is signed up to porn sites and is buried in porn SPAM. Websites are created where others can vote for the ugliest, fattest, etc. victim. Private information, secrets and graphic sexual images are passed around to humiliate the victim and in betraying friendships.

Who is a typical cyberbullying victim: Anyone between the ages of 9 and 14. The cyberbullying victim is sometimes an offline bully when the offline victim turns the tables using technology and anonymity to level the playing field. Older victims tend to receive sexual harassment attacks.

Who is a typical cyberbully: Girls or boys between the ages of 9 and 14. When they are older than 14, the cyberbullying often has a sexual harassment component.

What are the different kinds of cyberbullies: There a four basic kinds of cyberbullies: The Vengeful Angel (seeking to right wrongs), The Power-Hungry (or Revenge of the Nerds) (motivated by power or the desire to intimidate others, often the victims of offline bullying turns the tables in a “revenge of the nerds” case), The Mean Girls (typically girls, sometimes boy gamers, who as a group seek entertainment by provoking or harassing others) and The Inadvertent Bully (didn’t mean to hurt others and has no idea they are seen as a bully). Each kind of cyberbully is motivated by different things and the solutions and methods of effective prevention differ based upon the motive of the cyberbully.

What’s the law: The law differs state by state in the US. All but a few states now have a harassment statute that covers cyber or electronic communications. But it isn’t always easy to tell the difference between what is merely annoying and what is illegal. The laws in some states require a continued harassment (repeated communications) and no valid purpose for the ongoing contacts. In NY the New York Penal Law Chapter 40 provides for two kinds of harassment, one in the first degree which is a class b misdemeanor (imprisonment not to exceed 3 months), and one in the second degree which is a class a misdemeanor (imprisonment not to exceed one year).

§ 240.25 Harassment in the first degree

A person is guilty of harassment in the first degree when he or she intentionally and repeatedly harasses another person by following such person in or about a public place or places or by engaging in a course of conduct or by repeatedly committing acts which places such person in reasonable fear of physical injury. [irrelevant provisions omitted]

Harassment in the first degree is a class B misdemeanor
§ 240.30 Aggravated harassment in the second degree

A person is guilty of aggravated harassment in the second degree when, with intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm another person, he or she:

1. Either (a) communicates with a person, anonymously or otherwise, by telephone, or by telegraph, mail or any other form of written communication, in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm; or

(b) causes a communication to be initiated by mechanical or electronic means or otherwise with a person, anonymously or otherwise, by telephone, or by telegraph, mail or any other form of written communication, in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm; or

2. Makes a telephone call, whether or not a conversation ensues, with no purpose of legitimate communication; or

3. Strikes, shoves, kicks, or otherwise subjects another person to physical contact, or attempts or threatens to do the same because of a belief or perception regarding such person's race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation, regardless of whether the belief or perception is correct; or

4. Commits the crime of harassment in the first degree and has previously been convicted of the crime of harassment in the first degree as defined by section 240.25 of this article within the preceding ten years.

Aggravated harassment in the second degree is a class A misdemeanor.

If it’s not against the law, what can you do: Most cyberbullying violates the terms of us or terms of service of the cyberbully’s ISP or cell phone provider. Many times, if the complaint is made and backed up with reliable proof, the cyberbully will have their account closed for a terms of service violation. (See for ways to make a report to your ISP.)

Is there software that can help: Many parental control software tools allow parents to block communications from anyone other than a pre-approved “buddy” or friends list. A good monitoring product, such as Spectorsoft, can allow you to track any bullying communications and collect the electronic evidence needed to take further action. A firewall, anti-virus and spyware blocker package is essential to protect yourself and your children from cyberabuses and cybercrime.

How can you find the cyberbullying and bashing posts early enough to prevent serious damage: “Google” yourself and your children often. Search for full and nick names, screen names and e-mail addresses, home addresses, cell phone and telephone numbers. Make sure you put phrases in quotes before you search, such as “123 Middletown Road, White Plains, N.Y.” Make sure you also check the image searches, using the same search phrases and terms and search blogs, using or a similar blog search engine.

If we find something about our child, can we force the site to take it down: If they are under the age of thirteen in the United States, a website cannot knowingly allow them to have their own website, blog or guestbook or permit personally identifiable information to be posted about a child. (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) Even without a law, most sites will remove anything offensive. They often have terms of service or terms of use that prohibits abusive activities or posting offensive content. This may allow the victim’s family to both remove the content and have the cyberbully’s account shut down. The Cyberstalking and Harassment team at can assist you with trying to have any post removed.

What’s worse, offline schoolyard bullying or online bullying: Does it matter? Both are bad. One involves a greater physical risk, but a more defined risky space. The risk may be in the hallways at school, in the park or on the walk home. The schoolyard bully doesn’t come into your house. He doesn’t follow you to Grandma’s house in Florida. But sticks and stones can break your bones…so offline bullies have to be dealt with quickly and decisively. A cyberbully generally doesn’t physically hurt the victim, but they enter the home and otherwise secure places. The cyberbully invades the sanctity of your home (and Grandma’s too, through cell phones and her computer) and can frighten a child away from their favorite place or game online. No child should have to undergo bullying of any kind. And when cyberbullying-by- proxy is involved and adult hate or pedophile groups are provoked by the cyberbully to do their dirty work, the victim may be in serious danger of offline attack.

Parry Aftab


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