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CYBERBULLYING: A LITERATURE REVIEW
Buffy Sue Fegenbush
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
St. Mary Parish School System
Dianne F. Olivier
Department of Educational Foundations and Leadership
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Paper presented at the
Annual Meeting of the Louisiana Education Research Association
March 5-6, 2009
Cyberbullying is the online harassment of children by children. While most
cyberbullying instances happen at home, the repercussions of these acts of aggressions
are often brought to the school campus. This new trend has left school systems unsure of
the proper response to handling student needs while balancing legal and ethical
responsibilities. The purpose of this literature review is to provide a comprehensive
analysis of the current research on cyberbullying and the issues that surround it in order
to develop future researchable hypotheses in the area of cyberbullying as it relates to
school policy and protocol. The works of Aftab, Hinduja, Patchin, Shariff, and Willard,
all prominent researchers in the study of cyberbullying, have been reviewed so that they
issues related to cyberbullying can be better understood. These issues include traditional
bullying, teen social networking and media use, the forms of cyberbullying, legal
boundaries protecting First Amendment student rights, and policy and program
implications. Most of the research indicates that the issue of cyberbullying can not truly
be addressed unless it is approached both proactively and reactively.
Table of Contents
I. Introduction p. 4
Topic, Overview, and Purpose p. 4
Organization of the Review, Scope, and Library Research Plan p. 5
Interest, Significance, and Rationale for the Critical Review p. 6
II. Review of the Literature about Cyberbullying p. 8
Cyberbullying Defined p. 8
Focus on Traditional Bullying p. 10
Traditional Bullying: The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander p. 13
The Bully p. 15
The Bullied p. 16
Linking the bully and the Bullied p. 18
The Bystander p. 20
From Traditional Bullying to Cyberbullying p. 23
The Internet and Teen Use: The Tools and Forms of p. 24
The Tools of Teen Internet Use p. 25
The Forms of Teen Internet Use p. 27
Cyberbullying: The Cyberbully, the Cyberbullied, and the
Cyberbystander p. 30
The Cyber bully p. 30
The Vengeful Angel p. 31
The Power Hungry and Revenge of the Nerds p. 32
Mean Girls p. 32
The Inadvertent p. 33
The Cyberbullied p. 33
Linking the Cyberbully and the Cyberbullied p. 35
The Cyberbystanders p. 37
Other Stakeholders in the Issue of Cyberbullying p. 37
Parents p. 38
Teachers and School Administrators p. 38
School Boards p. 39
Cyberbullying: The Law p. 39
Federal Response p. 40
State Response p. 40
Louisiana’s Response p. 42
Cyberlaw: Legal Considerations for School Systems p. 45
Policy Implications p. 47
III. Discussion p. 50
Summary and Interpretations p. 50
Conclusions p. 53
Recommendations p. 56
IV. References p. 58
V. Bibliography p. 64
VI. Appendix p. 67
Topic, Overview, and Purpose
While school systems have made great strides in creating and implementing crisis
response plans and zero tolerance policies, it is important to continually scan the societal
landscape to see if additional concerns should be addressed in the area of student safety
(Pellegrini & Bartini, 2000). It has become increasingly evident that the Internet has
brought to our campuses another threat to student safety – cyberbullying. According to a
2004 survey given by i-SAFE America, 42% of school-aged children have been bullied
while online. This percentage increased drastically in a 2008 study that raised the statistic
from 42% to 72% (Juvonen & Gross, 2008).
Research shows that some 93% of today’s teens use the Internet. More and more
this use is for online socialization with peers; not all of it is positive in nature (Lenhart,
Madden, Macgill, & Smith, 2007). Daily, students across the nation are being bullied
online and are bringing to school the residual effects of these personal attacks (Trolley,
Hanel, & Shields, 2006; Willard, 2007). Daily, school administrators across the nation
struggle with the desire to act on behalf of the victimized student, but are not sure how to
respond since most acts of cyberbullying happen off campus. It is the regrettable job of
administrators to balance the needs of the victim against the judicial rights of the bully;
legal guidance and policy protocol from school boards and systems are limited
Hinduja and Patchin (2008), researchers in the field of Internet- and computer-
related criminality, state that “one of the most important steps a district can take to help
protect its students and protect itself from legal liability is to have a clear and
comprehensive policy regarding bullying and harassment, technology, and their
intersection: cyberbullying” (p.188). School systems face huge barriers when
implementing clear and comprehensive cyberbullying policy. It has become the easy
track to apply current zero tolerance policies against bullying to cases of cyberbullying. Is
this an effective practice? Some researchers believe it is, while others think that this
reactive type of policy does not address future instances of cyberbullying. While zero
tolerance policies stop those who are caught, these policies do not address educating
those who are still cyberbullying. Only time and additional study will give school
systems more definitive answers to this question. For now, school systems must wade
through the available sources of information to develop more comprehensive and
proactive actions against cyberbullying.
The purpose of this literature review is to provide a comprehensive analysis of the
current research on cyberbullying and the implications of the issues that surround it in
order to develop future researchable hypotheses in the area of cyberbullying as it relates
to school policy.
Organization of the Review, Scope, and Library Research Plan
To successfully address the issue of cyberbullying, school systems need to have
the answers to the following questions, thus these questions will outline the research
topics that will be examined in this literature review. These questions were researcher
developed by following the investigative patterns of Aftab (2008), Hinduja & Patchin
(2005), Shariff (2008), and Willard (2003 & 2007), all leading researchers in the field of
childhood cyberbullying and Internet safety issues:
1. What is cyberbullying?
2. What basic components are necessary for cyberbullying to take place?
3. How is cyberbullying different from traditional bullying?
4. Who are the stakeholders in cyberbullying; what roles do they play? should
5. What are the legal issues related to cyberbullying for schools to understand?
6. What avenues and policies are school systems using to prevent/address
7. What other issues/barriers play a role in policy development that effect
Many forms of literature will be surveyed in this review. The literature on
cyberbullying is relatively new – mostly within the last five years. The researcher will
investigate the references attached to previous studies for possible avenues of
examination. Online research will begin with key terms such as: cyberbullying, school
policy, zero tolerance, Internet safety, cyberlaw, and any other terms that surface as topic
critical as the research expands. Multiple online safety sites have been established by
those who are key researchers in this area of interest. A thorough examination of their
sites will provide key information and other leads for possible review. Additionally,
recent books that have been written on the topic will be read for researcher
Interest, Rationale for the Critical Analysis and Significance
Technological advances have brought an unexpected threat to the school campus
– the cyberbully. While most acts of cyberbullying occur off-campus, residual effects of
bullying make their way to school. How schools should handle the cyberbully and to
what degree are questions that are not easily answered. As in any school-related issue,
programs and policies must be implemented that addresses the moral, educational, and
legal aspects of cyberbullying. Research in the area of cyberbullying and the implications
of cyberbullying to school systems is relatively new, thus the frameworks upon which
school policy should be based are still developing.
It is in the best interest of those who are developing and implementing policy and
protocol to have an understanding of the themes related to cyberbullying and how they
are interconnected so that more effective school programs and policy will be realized.
Ultimately, this issue is critical to the safety and well-being of our nation’s young people.
Policy for cyberbullying is no longer an option; it is a school system necessity.
Review of the Literature about Cyberbullying
What exactly constitutes an act of cyberbullying is not always easy to define.
Generally, the definition of cyberbullying depends upon the viewpoint of those who are
defining it. Shariff (2008) states that “when we define a behavior, it is important to
remember it as an action that takes place in a particular context, at a particular time, with
various influences operating on the individuals who take the action” (p. 29). This is
particularly applicable to the issue of cyberbullying. In order for any cyberbullying policy
to be established and effectively implemented by school systems, members must
recognize and address issues related to cyberbullying without alienating those we are
trying to reach – the youth.
Definitions of cyberbullying should “illustrate the forms it takes, the tools that are
used to engage in it, and ways in which it is understood to differ from traditional
bullying” (Shariff, 2008. p.29). Between the years of 2001 and 2003, two individuals
have been credited with coining the term cyberbullying: Canadian school teacher, Bill
Belsey (2008), who is also accredited with establishing the first online site pertaining to
cyberbullying, cyberbullying.org., and American Lawyer, Nancy Willard (2003). Belsey
(2008) says “cyberbullying involves the use of information and communication
technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or
group that is intended to harm others” (¶1).
Willard (2003) originally defined cyberbullying as language that is “defamatory,
constitutes bullying, harassment, or discrimination, discloses personal information, or
contains offensive, vulgar or derogatory comments” (p.66). While this outlined the form
of the language, it did not define the tools that that were used for engagement or how it
differs from traditional bullying. Willard (2007) has since then redefined cyberbullying as
being cruel to others by sending or posting harmful material or engaging in other
forms of social cruelty using the Internet or other digital technologies, such as cell
phones. Young people may be the target of cyberbullying from others or may
engage in such harmful behavior. Direct cyberbullying involves repeatedly
sending offensive messages. More indirect forms of cyberbullying include
disseminating denigrating materials or sensitive personal information or
impersonating someone to cause harm (p.10).
Willard (2007) also believes that the terms Internet and online are interchangeable when
speaking about cyber issues as “it is getting pretty hard to define where the Internet
begins and where it ends... (I consider) these to be expansive terms that encompass all of
the current and emerging information and communication technologies” (p. xii).
The conceptualization of cyberbullying as defined by Belsey and Willard has
been used to guide the emergence of cyber research and policy; their definitions, ideas,
and studies have been the building blocks for current research (Hinduja & Patchin, 2008,
Shariff 2008, & Trolley, Hanel, & Shields, 2006). However, while their definitions are
comprehensive, one component is missing that is needed for the purpose of this review –
the ages of those involved. This literature review will focus on cyberbullying of school-
aged children and the imperative that school systems have to respond. Therefore, to help
conceptualize this literature review, the definition stated by Aftab (2006), a cybercrime,
Internet privacy and cyber-abuse lawyer and creator of www.stopcyberbullying.org will
cyberbullying is when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed,
humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen
using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones. It has to
have a minor on both sides, or at least have been instigated by a minor against
another minor. Once adults become involved, it is plain and simple cyber-
harassment or cyberstalking. Adult cyber-harassment or cyberstalking is NEVER
called cyberbullying. (¶ 1)
Aftab’s definition establishes what the act of cyberbullying is, the tools used, and
pinpoints that cyberbullying is something that is done child on child, as most state law
defines minors as those who are under the age of 18 (Nolo, 2008). This is a key
understanding for those who are establishing policy in the school system, and it helps to
limit the scope of possibilities school cyberbullying policies need to cover.
Focus on Traditional Bullying
To fully comprehend cyberbullying, it is crucial to recognize its roots in
traditional bullying. Historically, bullying has been seen as a rite of passage for kids.
Many times it has been said that “kids will be kids” and instances of bullying have not
been taken seriously. Most instances of school-aged bullying occur on the school campus
– a place that is supposed to be safe and nurturing for students (Sampson, 2002).
Instances are most likely to occur during less supervised or unsupervised times such as
when students are in class transition, locker rooms, gyms, or on the bus. Instances also
occur in the classroom setting while the teacher is present. Many times in instances of
bullying, the teacher will dismiss the claim of the student or downplay the importance of
the incident. Researchers feel that until educators understand the signs of bullying and the
full impact on the victims and those who witness these acts, this tradition will continue
(Coloroso, 2003; Crother & Kilbert, 2008).
Bullying as a phenomenon was not well-researched until recent years. In the
1970s, a study in Norway was conducted about the harms of school-aged bullying by
Olweus, who is commonly recognized as the pioneer in school-aged bullying research.
His in-depth study of the phenomenon of school-aged bullying actually was the first of its
kind (APA Online,2008, ¶ 3). At that time, Olweus (1993) defined bullying as “when (a
student) is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or
more other students” (p. 9). He went on to define negative actions as “when someone
intentionally inflicts, or attempts to inflict, injury or discomfort upon another – basically
what is implied is the definition of aggressive behavior” (p. 9).
Based upon this general understanding of bullying established by Olweus, later
research in the 80s and 90s was conducted in other countries. Still, it was not until recent
years, around 2001, that the prevalence of bullying was studied by American researchers.
It is interesting to note that this is the same year that initial studies in cyberbullying were
conducted, as well. This interest in bullying was spawned from the rash of school
violence and high profile crimes that were sweeping across the news in the 1990s
(Sampson, 2002). The highest profile of all of these incidents happened at Columbine
High School in Columbine, Colorado.
On April 20, 1999 at Columbine High School, two teenagers killed twelve
classmates, one teacher, and wounded twenty-four others before killing themselves.
These young men were part of a self-named group called the trench coat mafia. They
Nazi saluted one another at school; they built bombs within their own homes; and they
had their rooms filled with journals and school layouts. This self-created group was
formed as a response to the ongoing embarrassment and aggravation (bullying) that they
had received from the more popular cliques on campus. None of this was noted or
addressed by school officials or the parents of the boys. The school principal stated that
he was not even conscious to the fact that he had a Nazi group on campus. For over a
year, they planned their retaliation against their school peers (Raywid, 2000).
How could these signs have been ignored? These two teens were alienated from
their classmates, their teachers, and their surroundings and no one stepped in to assist or
question their motives for their behavior. It seems that this could have been avoided if the
signs had been read correctly by someone around them. Would an educational program
that outlined the signs of victimization and protocol for getting help have helped those
who could have made a difference – namely, the teachers, the administrators, and those
who were part of the overall bullying incidents?
In 2001, Nansel, Overpeck, Pilla, Ruan, Simons-Morton, and Scheidt noted that
while aggression among US youth was increasing, such as the incident at Columbine,
there was no obtainable national data on the pervasiveness of school-aged bullying.
Looking at studies from other countries, they believed that there was a correlation
between bullying, aggression, and youth crime. It was their objective “to measure the
prevalence of bullying behaviors among US youth and to determine the association of
bullying and being bullied with indicators of psychosocial adjustment… (p.1). They
analyzed data gathered from a 1998 administration of the World Health Organization’s
Health Behaviour in School-aged Children Survey in which 15,686 students in 6
grade were questioned. Their main objective was to look for self-reporting of
involvement in bullying and/or being bullied by others. To qualify as an act of bullying,
the act of aggression had to have been intentional, repetitive, and represented an
imbalance of power, “with a more powerful person or group attacking a less powerful
one” (p. 2095). The following facts were garnered from their data analysis:
1. 29.95% reported moderate or frequent involvement in bullying; 13% as the
bully and 10.6% as the bullied.
2. 10.6% bullied others infrequently.
3. 8.8% bullied once a week or more.
4. 8.5% experienced bullying infrequently.
5. 8.4% experienced bullying once a week or more.
graders bullied more prevalently than 9
7. Males were more likely than females to be the bully and the bullied.
8. Those who bullied or who were bullied demonstrated poorer psychological
adjustment than those who were not involved in acts of bullying.
If 29.95% reported moderate or frequent involvement in bullying, this would translate to
a national estimate of 5,736,417 children, with the most severe cases of 1,634,095
students bullied with moderate frequency and 1,611,809 bullied frequently (Nansel, et al,
2001). These statistics symbolize masses of children who are not being adequately
protected and approached by school systems.
Traditional Bullying: The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander
In her book, The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander, Coloroso (2003) builds
upon the previous works of Olweus. She portrays incidents of bullying as a scene in a
play that requires certain characters in order to be carried out and looks at the operation
of bullying from the perspectives of those who are directly involved in acts of bullying –
the children. She set the scene by defining bullying as “conscious, willful, and deliberate
hostile activities intended to harm, induce fear through the threat of further aggression,
and create terror” (p.13). Coloroso states that acts of bullying always contain three
elements: an imbalance of power, intent to harm, and a threat to further aggression. When
the incidents are allowed to occur for too long she adds a fourth element, terror.
1. Imbalance of Power. Traditionally, bullies are male, bigger, stronger, and/or
older than those they are victimizing. Acts of bullying can be perpetrated by
one person or in more serious cases a group of like individuals who have
pinpointed a victim(s) due to a common reason like race or gender.
2. Intent to harm. Simply stated, the bully means to hurt their victim. This pain
can be physical, emotional, or verbal. The bully “expects the action to hurt,
and takes pleasure in witnessing the hurt” (p.13).
3. Threat of further aggression. When victims are picked, they know that the
attack upon their person, no matter what form it takes, will not be a one time
thing. Victims are usually selected because the bully knows that they are easy
4. Terror. The bullied know that they will be bullied again. This promotes a
sense of fear that grows with each attack upon their person. They become
trapped within the cycle of violence that bullying creates. This fear often
causes victims to keep the incidents of bullying to themselves, as they fear
more retribution from those who are bullying them.
The bully is the key player in any incident of bullying. Research shows that
bullies are typically male, at the same age or older than their victims, stronger than their
victims, and generally hold some level of popularity on the school campus (Chan, 2006;
Coloroso, 2003; Nansel et al., 2001). It is interesting that those who bully usually have a
large group of friends and have leadership traits that others are attracted to in a group
even though the bully exhibits antisocial and other aggressive behaviors towards others
Bullying is usually done through physical, verbal, or emotional avenues. Physical
bullying involves kicking, hitting, pushing, and other aggressive gestures. Verbal
bullying, the most prevalent type of bullying, can take the form of name-calling,
persistent teasing, and spreading rumors about others. Emotional bullying, the most
difficult type to gauge, is the use of intimidation by gesturing, making facial expressions,
or excluding someone from a group. Boys are more likely to use physical and verbal
bullying, while girls are less obvious and use emotional bullying against those who they
perceive as less than they are (Underwood, n.d.).
The patterns the bully learns to attract attention and gain recognition spiral as the
bully ages. Bullies, if left unbridled, will escalate their behavior to more violent acts of
aggression, increased poor academic performance, and delinquent behaviors such as
drinking and criminal acts (Coloroso, 2003, & Nansel, et al., 2001). Coloroso (2003)
believes that bullies portray an “air of superiority that is often a mask to cover up a deep
hurt and a feeling of inadequacy” (p.21). School-aged bullies have a high tendency to
gain a criminal conviction when they reach adulthood, and often grow up to be
perpetuators of domestic violence (National Education Association, 2008, ¶ 6).
It is suggested that the behaviors of bullies are learned. Most likely, bullies are not
born with aggression, but learn it from the home or past experiences in which they,
themselves, were at the receiving end of aggressiveness from others (Chan, 2006).
Statistics show the bully is at an even higher risk than the bullied for thoughts of or acts
of suicide. It is believed that this can be contributed to the other factors that make
someone tend to bully others (Sampson, 2002).
The bullied child often has perceived flaws and it is these flaws upon which the
bully preys. Unless helped by others to get out of the situation in which they have been
placed, bullied children usually suffer irreparable damages due to the actions of others.
Based upon the previous studies of Olweus and more current researchers in the field of
bullying, Kowalski, Limber, and Agaston (2008) place children who are bullied into two
character categories: passive/submissive victims and provocative victims. Passive victims
are those who are most likely to be bullied. There is no one indicator, but rather a list of
possible characteristics that they may fit. These children tend to be to themselves. They
typically have few friends and are not part of the larger cliques on campus. It is obvious
that they fear being hurt and are anxious because of the body and verbal expressions that
they use. They are usually physically weaker and like to spend time with adults more so
than they do children.
Provocative victims are those who have a specific characteristic about them the
rouses the aggressiveness in the bully. Those most at-risk as provocative victims are
those who are viewed as different from the regular crowd. Obese, special needs, learning
disabled, and physical handicapped children are most at risk in this category. Those who
are different in sexual orientation or race from the bully are also at risk (Kowalski, et al.,
The bullied child is a victim. Like most victims of crime, the bullied can
experience depression, fear, and stress related to the incident (National Education
Association, 2008, ¶ 4). Victims of bullying are less likely to make friends in school and
more likely to experience loneliness while there (Nansel, et al., 2001). Bullying can
negatively affect the victim’s educational achievements, attendance, and future
aspirations (Kowalski, et al., 2008). Chronic victims, about 6-10% of those who are
bullied, sink into severe states of depression. To a similar degree, they begin to see
themselves as devalued as those who are bullying them or watching the acts of bullying
against them. The damage done to their self-esteem can have lasting effects on their adult
relationships and self-image. It is not surprising then that the bullied are more likely to
think about or commit acts of suicide than those who are not victims of bullying
So why do the bullied remain silent? As previously mentioned, historically acts of
bullying have been seen as a rite of passage on school grounds and this is reinforced in
our society – the stronger tell the weaker what to do. “Bullying often stems from the
social inequities that adult society creates, fosters, sustains and continues to grapple with”
(Shariff, 2008, p.23). Because of this societal parallel, victims have little faith in how
adults will respond to their situation (Coloroso, 2003; Sampson, 2002). A host of studies
have suggested additional reasons as to why the bullied remains silent: (a) Fear of
retaliation; (b) feelings of shame for being weak; (c) fear of not being believed; (d) a need
to not worry their parents; (e) thoughts that nothing would change as a result of telling;
(f) thoughts that involving parents and teachers will make it worse; (g) thoughts that
teachers would tell or involve the bully; and (h) fear of being called a snitch (Sampson,
Most of the reasons given by the victim involve thoughts of how others will
perceive him after telling about an act of bullying. The bullied child does not want to
appear weak or uncool in front of his peers, teachers, and parents. However, research
shows that the bullied child often becomes alone and anti-social in order to avoid being
bullied (Nansel, et al, 2001). It seems like an unfortunate catch 22 for the bullied. He
doesn’t tell to avoid being judged and ostracized by others, which is eventually what will
happen to him if he doesn’t tell.
Linking the Bully and the Bullied
The following section review is based upon the work of Chan (2006) who
explored the systemic patterns in bullying using his self-created School Life Survey (SLS)
to measure bullying and victimization. Three systemic patterns emerged from the
research: serial bullying, multiple victimization, and familial patterns.
Serial bullying is based upon the premise that most of the bullying is perpetrated
by a small number of bullies on a school campus. He found that most often when a child
was bullied, it was linked to one specific person. Chan noted that usually the identified
bully was not harassing just one child, but a group of children. In his research, 12.4% of
those studied were identified as serial bullies and were responsible for 69.2% of the
overall bullying at school. Girl serial bullies usually have two to four victims; boys serial
bullies have anywhere from two to fifteen. While mostly physically aggressive, serial
bullies use a combination of ways to intimidate their victims. They usually have a
reputation for intimidating characteristics and are easily more identifiable by school
stakeholders because of this.
The second pattern to emerge from Chan’s (2008) work focused on multiple
victimization. “The converse of serial bullying is multiple victimization, that is, more
than one perpetrator can converge on one victim” (Chan, 2008, p.361). Thirty-five
percent of those who had been bullied experienced multiple victimization. Those who are
multiple victimized generally have some physical, behavioral, or social-cognitive feature
that attracts bullies. This substantiates Kowalski’s, et al. (2008) provocative victim
concept that was previously discussed. It has been suggested that those who are
repeatedly victimized learn to develop coping strategies and blockade themselves from
certain social situations. These strategies might be exhibited by actions of self-exclusion,
always reading a book, not joining in clubs or organizations, or not talking to others in
class or social situations. By doing this, they seem anti-social and, therefore, are
perceived by their peers as deserving of the abuse they receive from others (Tani,
Greenman, Schneider, Fregoso, 2003). Like the bully, these victimized children are
usually well-known on the campus and quite often the adults know that they are not being
treated well by other children (Sampson, 2002).
The third pattern in Chan’s (2008) research suggests that bullies don’t just
happen; there is a familial pattern in this type of aggression. “When the names of bullies
provided by the victims were collated, another pattern… showed that there were about
half a dozen cases in each school where children in the same family… were named as
bullies by their peers” (p. 366). Children tend to mirror that which they see at home.
Those who witness aggression have a tendency to be aggressive and vice-versa. The
environment in which one grows and is fostered is a marker of the person one will
become. “Growing up in a hostile, cold, and punitive household will not eliminate the
possibility of a child becoming a decent, caring, responsible person; however, such an
environment will significantly reduce the chances of it happening” (Coloroso, p. 100).
Chan’s (2008) research ties together the relationship between the bully and the
bullied. Understanding the systemic patterns that build a relationship between the bully
and the bullied can assist school system in recognizing the warning signs of possible
victimization and help to develop proactive strategies to address, what seem to be, small
but identifiable groups on one’s campus. While Chan addresses the bully and the bullied,
he does not systemically judge how other individuals contribute to acts of bullying.
Coloroso (2003) refers to the bystander as the supporting cast in an act of
cyberbullying. This cast can range in numbers from very small to quite extensive,
depending upon the setting. How the bullying scene plays out is often decided by the
bystanders and whether they take the side of the bully or the bullied. Craig and Pepler
(1998) looked at the roles of bystanders in incidents of bullying. They found that 85% of
bullying incidents were witnessed by bystanders. Of these cases, 81% of the incidents
were reinforced by those who were there; 48% of the bystanders became active
participants, and only 13% of the bystanders actually intervened. After the incident, the
bystanders were often more supportative and friendly towards the bully than the bullied.
When bystanders are asked why they do not intervene, four reasons are most often given:
(a) the bystander is afraid of getting hurt himself; (b) the bystanders is afraid of becoming
a new target; (c) the bystander is afraid of doing something that will make it worse; and,
(d) the bystander simply does not know what to do.
Craig and Pepler (1998) feel that these are more excuses than legitimate reasons.
They, along with Coloroso (2003), believe that repetitive witnessing of bullying causes
bystanders to become desensitized and indifferent. This indifference or apathy is
reinforced because the bystander’s sense of self-confidence and self-respect erodes with
each act of bullying they witness. Eventually the bystander will understand the side of the
bully more so than the bullied. Taking a more neutral view, Underwood (n.d.) states that
“many children do not have the self-confidence or skills to stop bullying on their own and
should not be expected to do so” (Slide 20). This reinforces the need for proactive
programs and policies on school campuses that direct students in responding
appropriately to these types of situations.
If the bystander didn’t want to or could not stop the incident himself, why did not
tell an adult? Their reasons for not telling mirror those of the bullied victim. Studies
suggest teens feel teachers do not appropriately react when told about acts of bullying on
campus, nor do they feel teachers react harshly enough when they, themselves, witness
and respond to acts of bullying in their own classrooms (Sampson, 2002). This dual
perception concerning adult unresponsiveness to incidents of bullying gives credence to
the concern that adults/teachers, hence school systems, may not be responding
appropriately to incidents of bullying.
To respond appropriately to incidents of bullying, school counselors,
administrators, teachers, and other vital members of the school and school system need to
establish a school climate in which bullying is understood and addressed - a climate of
respect and caring. Proactive school programs that focus on building a sense of belonging
for all students, address character education, and teach conflict resolution are the answer
(Perry, 1999). This seems easy enough. Aren’t schools supposed to do this anyway? The
barrier is that to develop and continue these programs takes time, money, and continues
effort. Proactive measures are usually developed by schools after reactive measures have
taken place (Daniels, 2008). This is exactly what has happened in school response to
Initially, school systems responded to the tide of school violence after the 1990s
by implementing zero tolerance policies, imposing student dress codes and IDs, and
initiating random metal searches of students and lockers in schools across the nation
(Daniels, 2008; Perry, 1999). Within a few years, the public began to question the
overuse and strictness of zero tolerance policies. Were students being harmed by the
practice of the very policies that were put into place to protect them?
Current studies indicate educators still do not fully understood the impact of
traditional bullying on the bully, the bullied, and those who witness these acts, nor have
sufficient steps been taken to address these inadequacies. Much work needs to be done to
teach educators the differences between acts of bullying and what is just seen as part of
growing up. Do we too often take for granted, for example, that the popular kids will
make fun of the nerdy kids? Have educators become desensitized to acts of bullying
because to address all of them would be to acknowledge the problem exists (Crothers &
Kolbert, 2008)? It seems that a lack of knowledge and preventative measure on the part
of the school system are in the forefront for both traditional bullying and cyberbullying.
How is it expected that something as new as cyberbullying will be addressed when
traditional bullying, which has been around as long as students have been in school, still
has not been harnessed? Perhaps it is through their similarities, not their differences that
connections will be made to address both issues.
From Traditional Bullying to Cyberbullying
In the past, students could retreat to the safety of their homes to escape incidents
of bullying. Once the bell rang, they could run home and were safe until the next day.
The same cannot be said for cyberbullying. The impact of cyberbullying does not stop
when students pass through the school door. Cyberbullying has invaded their homes, their
bedrooms, and their personal laptops and phones. Even more insidious are the incidents
of cyberbullying as they can be targeted directly to the individual, wherever they are, or
on the Internet where anyone can see the victim’s torment (Aftab, 2008; Coloroso, 2003;
Cyberbullying, like other forms of bullying, can be detrimental to a child’s
performance and sense of well-being at school. This connection between home and
school has opened the doors for school systems to intervene. Acts of cyberbullying can
actually start with traditional bullying instances at school and then move to the Internet or
vice-versa (California School Boards Association, 2007); they are usually not mutually
exclusive. Like bullying, cyberbullying acts are intentional, repetitive, and meant to
exclude. Shariff (2008)
would argue that the medium of cyberspace simply provides an avenue for
expression of the message… the message is not different from that which is often
expressed when bullying occurs in physical space (overtly or covertly)…it is
critical to understand the message, but also important to understand the medium
so that it too can be used to empower learning and convey an altogether different
The Internet and Teen Use: The Tools and Forms
Just as Willard (2007) took the privilege of using the term Internet as an “all-
encompassing term to cover current and emerging information and communication
technologies” (p. xii) so will the reviewer for the purpose of this research. It is not
enough to just use the term without some appreciation of what it entails. What are these
current and emerging technologies that are being used for cyberbullying; how are teens
using them? To address these questions, it is necessary that one first understands the
degree to which the Internet is used by minors and the magnitude of the Internet in their
In her book, Totally Wired: What Teens and Tweens Are Really Doing Online,
Goodstein (2007) describes the phase of adolescent development of teenagers today as
being not much different from past generations. While time periods and settings may
bring different issues, teens have always wanted “to figure out who we were apart from
our families, through our friendships, boyfriends, and the music we listened to… most of
us experienced the similar impulsiveness, invincibility and highs and lows otherwise
known as teen angst” (p.12). Teens have constantly wanted acceptance for who they are
and what they believe. Goldstein believes that the biggest distinctions by generation are
the means and media through which teens have tried to gain this acceptance. These
means are generally what differing generations see as generational gaps. It is interesting
to note that the generational gap between today’s youth and the previous generation is
now being referred to as a digital gap or digital divide – so undeniable is the saturation of
digital media (Shariff, 2008).
Goodstein (2007) refers to today’s teens as totally wired in their daily lives. By
totally wired, she describes today’s teens as continually leaving one form of media to go
to another to complete everyday tasks. This sentiment has been similarly expressed by
other researchers in the field of teens and social media.
The Internet is the telephone, television, game console, and radio wrapped up in
one for most teenagers and that means it has become a major “player” in many
American families. Teens go online to chat with their friends, kill boredom, see
the wider world, and follow the latest trends. Many enjoy doing all of these things
at the same time during their online sessions… the Internet lets them connect with
friends, expand their social networks, explore their identities, and learn new
things (Lenhart, et al., 2001, ¶1).
Is it possible that too much adult attention is being given to Internet use by teens? Are
adults putting too much emphasis on the impact technology is having on children’s
personal and social development? Recent studies indicate that the answer to both of these
questions is a resounding, No.
The Tools of Teen Internet Use
In 2007, PEW Internet & American Life Project, a nonpartisan organization that
supports research on the Internet and its impact on society, published a report focusing on
a 2006 survey concerning teens and their use of social media. This survey administration
was a repeat of similar PEW surveys that had been conducted in 2000 and 2004 (Lenhart,
et al., 2007). The focus of these reports was twofold: to assess the level of use of the
Internet by teens and to assess the types of media that they were using. Using phone
interviewing strategies, 754 youth between the ages of 12 and 17 and 754 of their parents
Table 1, Teen Internet and Communication Device Use, is based upon the PEW
studies conducted in 2000 and 2006, the following researcher-created figure was
fashioned to provide a visual comparison of the two studies and the noticeable changes in
teen Internet and communication device use during the six years separating the studies.
Table 1: Teen Internet and Communication Device Use
+ 20 %
+ 65% more teens with
Internet connections at home
Cell Phone Ownership
+ 40% more teens own their
Wireless connections were not
measurable in the first study
Daily Internet Use
+20% more daily use
Table 1 Source: Data obtained from the PEW Internet and American Life Studies, 2004
& 2006, Lenhart, et al., 2001 & Lenhart, et al., 2007.
It is significantly noticeable that teen use of the Internet is escalating. In just six
years, the use of the Internet has increased 20% with 62% of teens going online on a daily
basis. Another remarkable gauge is the huge swell in cell phone use by teens – a boost of
over 40% in just six years. Teen use of cell phones includes the common functionalities
of a typical cell phone: camera, video, Internet, texting, and content sharing capabilities.
These types of functionalities are being used to build online social networking sites
(Lenhart, et al. 2007).
In the 2004 PEW survey administration, the Internet was mostly seen as a source
of information - not as a teen gathering spot. It was noted in the 2008 study that “more of
them than ever are treating it (the Internet) as a venue of social interaction – a place
where they can share creations, tell stories, and interact with others” (PEW, Introduction,
p.i). This social networking is no different to teens than traditional social networking
activities like meeting at a popular hangout or talking to friends on the phone; it is more
an extension of these traditional teen activities (Goodstein, 2007).
The Forms of Teen Internet Use
So, how are teens networking online? Not only did the PEW 2006 study show the
increased degree to which teens are using the Internet, but it also gave a portrait of how
they are using it. The following statistics have been taken from the PEW 2006 Summary
of Findings Page:
1. 64% of online teens ages 12-17 have participated in one or more among a
wide range of content-creating activities on the Internet.
2. 39% of online teens share their own artistic creations online, such as artwork,
photos, stories, or videos, up from 33% in 2004.
3. 33% create or work on webpages or blogs for others, including those for
groups they belong to, friends, or school assignments, basically unchanged
from 2004 (32%).
4. 28% have created their own online journal or blog, up from 19% in 2004.
5. 27% maintain their own personal webpage, up from 22% in 2004.
6. 26% remix content they find online into their own creations, up from 19% in
7. 55% of online teens ages 12-17 have created a profile on a social networking
site such as Facebook or MySpace.
8. 47% of online teens have uploaded photos where others can see them, though
many restrict access to the photos in some way.
9. 14% of online teens have posted videos online. (Lenhart, et al., 2007, p. i)
While one may look at the activities listed and think that they are similar to things done
in past generations like sharing photos from a scrapbook, writing diaries (blogs, today),
passing notes, and talking with friends, the media through which they are sharing these
activities have changed.
Most online socialization takes place through social networking sites. Boyd
(2008) studied the teen phenomenon of online social networking use, specifically
MySpace and Facebook, and their implications toward teen social and psychological
development. He characterized social network sites as
based around profiles, a form of individual… homepage, which offers a
description of each member. In addition to text, images, and video created by the
member, the social network site profile contains comments from other members
and a public list of the people that one identifies as Friends within the network.
While these online profiles are specific to the individual that creates them, they are
accessible by and public to all who have access to them. Consequently, things that the
public may not normally know about someone are more readily accessible by more than
their closest friends.
Boyd (2008) states that online social networking sites have four inherent
differences from typical face-to-face interactions: (a) persistence, (b) searchability, (c)
replicability, and (d) invisible audiences. Using Boyd’s (2008) research, these ideas are
defined with the implications of how this could lead to an unsafe situation for teens.
1. Persistence. Online speech is persistent in that networked communications are
permanently recorded and exist even after they are not longer visible. They
can be retrieved at any time. Therefore, thoughts or ideas expressed that one
may want to take back or no longer feel are still expressed, long after the time
as passed to which it applies.
2. Searchability. As individual identities are stored and recorded, anyone has the
capabilities to search for anyone, even it they do not know the person.
Searches for those who have similar tastes, friends, or profiles can open up an
individual’s profile to the world. This exposes the users to those who may not
necessarily have the best intentions towards them.
3. Replicability. It is as easy as copying and pasting to move someone’s words
from one site to another. When this is done, it is hard to distinguish between
the original from the copied text. This leaves open the possibility that
someone else can use an individual’s words or thoughts against them or in a
way that was not originally intended.
4. Invisible audiences. Unlike face-to-face situations, online users can not
ascertain who is with them in a virtual setting. Teens cannot be sure that the
person they are talking to really is who they say they are. Users can not see
who is virtually looking at them. The implications for this are the most
frightening for today’s teens. They never know who is watching them and for
These unique variables to social networking have opened unknown doors through
which typical teens issues are no longer typical. The things that bring status in school are
often the same things that bring status online. The number of friends one has listed, using
the latest slang, and doing what is important to be in the in crowd are still important in
online networks (Kowalski, et al., 2008)
Cyberbullying: The Cyberbully, the Cyberbullied, and the Cyberbystander
“Opportunities for self-affirmation and self-expression provided by the Internet
can quickly become vehicles for denigration and cyberbullying” (Kowalski, et al., 2008,
p.9). “Teens are directly faced with peer pressure and the need to conform to what is seen
to be cool, Worse, they are faced with it in the most public of settings possible…the
choice is still there: cool or lame” (Boyd, 2008, p.133). To avoid being marked lame,
teens will often adjust their personal beliefs in order to achieve social acceptance. This
self-adjusting in personal beliefs brings us back to the cast members we explored in the
act of traditional bullying: the bully, the bullied, and the bystander. They are now the
cyberbully, the cyberbullied, and the cyberbystander. How are they self-adjusting from
their traditional roles in this new venue?
Studies show that the motives for bullying someone online have remained fairly
the same as traditional bullying: power and a need to dominate or subdue others.
However, the profile of the bully is changing. The anonymity of being online has
empowered those who may not have typically shown aggression in an open forum
(Shariff, 2008). No longer is the bully just the big, mean boy on campus. Bullies can now
include those you may not usually suspect. They can be the nerdy kid in the corner, the
heavy girl in PE class, the quiet kid who never speaks, and just about any other person on
campus who needs or just wants to feel empowered. The Internet has “democratized”
bullying (Goodstein, 2007, p. 82).
Aftab (2008) believes the key to understanding online bullies is to understand the
motivation behind their actions. Through her work, she has identified five typical types of
online bullies: the (a) Vengeful Angel, (b) Power Hungry, (c) Revenge of the Nerds, (d)
Mean Girls, and (e) Inadvertent. While each category has its own specific profile, these
profiles are not meant to stereotype the online bully by looks. These profiles are based
upon characteristics in personality, not outward appearance, and provide an
understanding of possible motives that could be key in helping schools respond fittingly
to incidents of cyberbullying (Trolley, et al., 2006).
The Vengeful Angel. These types of online bullies target those they feel are
victimizing their own person or others, and they want to get back at them. The problem
initially begins somewhere else, and the vengeful angel retaliates online. The twist is
Vengeful Angels do not view themselves as bullies, but as defenders of others, even
though they doing to others what they do not like done to them. Generally, no one knows
the identity of the Vengeful Angel except maybe a close friend or two who are aware of
the whole situation (Aftab, 2008; Willard, 2007).
This type of online bully is the easiest for schools to help. Vengeful Angels needs
to understand that no one should take justice into their own hands; they are not doing
good by harming others. The old adage that two wrongs do not make a right fits well in
this scheme. School officials should focus on the core reasons as to why the Vengeful
Angel retaliated. Once the true motives are identified, Vengeful Angels can be given
alternate ways to respond. If appropriate, school officials can step in to alleviate the
problems through authorized means (Trolley, et al., 2006).
The Power Hungry and Revenge of the Nerds. The Power Hungry and Revenge of
the Nerds are often grouped together as their motives and responses are similar. The
Power Hungry can be likened to the typical offline bully. These bullies want to feel
strong, hurt others, and wield terror. It is important to them that someone else knows
about their acts of bullying. They are proud of what they are doing, and if responses from
others do not satisfy them, they will escalate their bullying into bigger and meaner acts.
This blends with the Revenge of the Nerds, because the online Power Hungry represent
those who are often bullied in a regular school setting. Offline, they are weak, small,
heavy, geeks, handicapped and a host of other words used to describe those who are not
recognized as cool at school. Online, they are powerful and possess greater technical
strengths (Aftab, 2008).
The Power Hungry and Revenge of the Nerds are the most dangerous types of
online bullies. Their bullying is personal to them, and they tend to target one victim
repetitively. They get a kick out of being strong (Aftab, 2008). This makes them the
hardest for school systems to discipline, and their acts of bullying are often untraceable.
However, when they are caught, it can be understood that they meant to do what they did
Mean Girls. Mean Girls bullying is usually done by a group who are looking for
something to do and do not care that they may hurt others while doing it. They are trying
to entertain themselves; trying to be funny at the expense of others. They want the
recognition for bullying others and want to be seen as a power online. This can be
equated to typical cliques that walk the halls of school daily across the nation. They are
identifiable because of who they are, what they believe in, and who they will allow to
join in their group. If they get attention from others, their activities grow. If they do not,
they tend to stop or find another way to gain popularity for their group (Aftab, 2008).
Because of the openness of their activities, the members of these groups are easy
to identify. It is easier for schools to react appropriately when officials are aware of who
they are trying to correct. Even if the incident happens off campus, the officials can
respond by making other interested parties aware of the incidents that have occurred
(Trolley, et al., 2006; Willard, 2007).
The Inadvertent. Inadvertents do not understand that their actions can be seen as
bullying. They are usually just playing or pretending. Their words are more responses to
what they receive and are not meant to hurt but to just be part of what is happening – part
of the game. Because their actions are not premeditated, they are different from the
Vengeful Angel who intends to get back at another. Inadvertents do not appreciate that
their actions can be seen as cyberbullying and often feel bad once they realize they have
hurt others (Aftab, 2008; Trolley et al., 2006).
According to a 2004 survey given by i-SAFE America, 42% of school-aged
children have been bullied while online. This percentage increased drastically in a 2008
study that raised the statistic from 42% to 72% (Juvonen & Gross, 2008). Compare these
statistics to the near 20% of students who report being traditionally bullied (Nansel, et al.,
2001), and one can see that there is a dramatic increase in victimization when bullying
occurs online. Most teens who are bullied online are often the same teens who are bullied
offline usually resulting from the same motivations. The new addition to the online
bullied are generally those who are retaliated against by empowered Vengeful Angels and
Revenge of the Nerds. In either case, online victims are viewed by the bully as deserving
of the treatment they are receiving (Trolley, et al., 2006; Willard, 2007).
Typically, the cyberbullied respond to the aggression in much the same fashion as
traditional victims have been shown to do. Chait (2008) states that
Cyber victimization has been shown to cause poor grades, emotional spirals, poor
self-esteem, repeated school absences, depression, and in some cases suicide.
These outcomes are similar to real-life bullying outcomes, except for that with
cyber bullying there is often no escape. School ends at 3 p.m., while the Internet
is open for business year round (¶ 7).
Because of this extension of time and space for online bullying, additional signs may
exist for cybervictims. They may seem anxious and have unexplainable mood swings
after online use or stop using their equipment at home all together. They are less likely to
talk about their online experiences or friends, and may avoid allowing others to view
their computer usage. (Shariff, 2008; Trolley, et al., 2006; Willard, 2007).
The bigger issue for the cyberbullied is trust. Face-to-face situations usually allow
the victims to see the bully and those who are supporting the bully’s actions. Likewise,
the victims have a better chance of knowing who is on their side and can be trusted.
Cybervictimization takes this away. The Internet is open to classmates and to the world,
and it is hard to be completely sure of the person(s) on the other end. The anonymous
nature of cyberbullying leaves the victims paranoid and unsure of their surroundings.
This self-doubt can be debilitating (Willard, 2007).
Like traditional victims, cybervictims are not likely to tell adults about the
mistreatment they are receiving. Statistics show that 58% of those who are online bullied
do not tell an adult – parent or others (Juvonen & Gross, 2008). This unwillingness to tell
is not only due to the fact they feel adults may not respond appropriately, but because
they fear their Internet usage will be taken by those who are trying to protect them. This
fear turns to panic when the objects being used against them – personal photos or
messages – are not something that they would want shared with adults (Coloroso, 2003).
Linking the Cyberbully and the Cyberbullied
The twist in cyberbullying is that the difference between the cyberbullied and the
cyberbully is not always clear. Once the cyberbullied reacts to the cyberbully, he can no
longer be called a victim, per se (Willard, 2007). The victimization can be recurring. As it
progresses, those involved continually switch roles between bully and bullied. To
conceptualize how one incident of aggression can grow from a small laptop to the whole
school or world and back, one must know the actions through which cyberbullying
Table 2, Cyberbullying Avenues, is taken from the efforts of Trolley, et al. (2006)
who base their work upon the research of Willard and add their own interpretations for
school systems’ understanding and direction. They believe school systems must “define
and recognize the severity of a threat…so that (school officials) can accurately report to
outside agencies” (p.12).
Table 2: Cyberbully Avenues
Name of Avenue
Definition of Avenue
Explanation of Avenue
Sending angry, rude or vulgar
messages directed at a person or
persons privately to an on-line group
Language that moves
dialogue to a new level
Repeatedly sending a person an
Consistent messaging and
repeating the action –
Harassment that is highly
intimidating or includes threats of
Harassment that is more
serious in nature; this is a
threat of impending harm
Sending or posting harmful, untrue
or cruel statements about a person to
This is the art of putting
someone down - slander
Pretending to be someone else and
sending or posting material that
makes that person look bad or
places that person in personal
This is a person who poses
as someone else to retrieve
sensitive or private
information - fraud
Sending or posting material about a
person that contains sensitive,
private or embarrassing information,
including forwarding private
messages or images; engaging in
tricks to solicit embarrassing
information that is then made public
This person is pretending
to be a friend. It includes
information and them
sharing and mocking the
Actions that specifically and
intentionally exclude a person from
an online group, such as exclusion
from an instant messaging
Not allowing someone to
be part of a group;
intentionally leaving them
or and not allow them to
participate in electronic
communication - exclusion
Table 2 Source: Trolley, et al. (2006. p. 13).
While each behavior is described in isolation, the users of these avenues generally
combine them while perpetrating acts of aggression online. No matter the avenue(s)
through which the online bullying takes place, it is easy to see why someone who is
victimized would be tempted to respond. The impulse to react is hard to control,
especially for children (Coloroso, 2003); thus the painful cycle begins and everyone
inappropriately responding owns a part of the blame (Willard, 2007).
The role of the bystander is one that is not often given much study in the process
of cyberbullying (Coloroso, 2003). Perhaps this is because the bystander(s) in an incident
of cyberbullying can never clearly be defined. The audience of an act of cyberbullying is
not just those who witness the incident unfold at the time that it occurs. Bystanders can
witness the act several days, months, and possibly years later as words and images often
placed online can be retrieved indefinitely (Coloroso, 2003; Shariff, 2008).
Willard (2007) believes cyberbystanders play an important role in preventing acts
of bullying. Research shows that the role of friends, those who have been identified
online as such, is a determinant of how the victim will respond to acts of online
aggression. If he is supported by his friends, and they take up for him in appropriate
manners online, he is more likely to feel less victimized. Therefore, “empowering
bystanders will be a key prevention strategy” in averting cyberbullying (p. 4). By
teaching them how to influence the online climate and report incidents to others,
cyberbystanders will have the tools to decide which role of the two bystander roles they
wish to play, bystanders who are part of the problem or bystanders who are part of the
solution (Trolley, et al, 2006; Willard, 2007).
Other Stakeholders in the Issue of Cyberbullying
Parents, school officials, and school boards play decisive roles in how acts of
online aggression are understood and approached by all involved (Coloroso, 2003;
Shariff, 2008). It is to adults that children look for guidance and support when they
experience problems. The disconnect occurs in situation’s of cyberbullying because
children tend to understand the medium through which these aggressive acts are
occurring better than the adults that are supposed to guide them ( Hinduja & Patchin,
2008) The children are more knowledgeable than those who are normally in charge
(Shariff, 2008). Just as the actual acts of cyberbullying are waged to show control or
power over another, so are the rules and guidelines that are set forth by the adults in a
child’s life. Since most equate knowledge with power, the Internet has created a power
struggle between children and the adults who are responsible for setting the rules and
guidelines the children must follow (Shariff, 2008).
Parents are decisive in the prevention of cyberbullying. Aggressive acts of
cyberbullying are happening in their homes using communicative devices that they have
typically purchased for their children. The best tactic for parents to take is the direct
approach – talking about limits, expectations, and precautions can stop a lot of the issues
before they begin. Remember that not all parents have children who are victims. The
cyberbully has parents, too. Parents who are aware of acts of cyberbullying should take
action. Contacting other adults who need to be notified and talking about how to stop the
acts will make them part of the solution (Coloroso, 2003).
Teachers and School Administrators
Studies have not shown teachers and school administrators in a pleasing light for
responding to bullying at school. The question has been asked, if they will not respond to
acts they see, why would they respond to those they do not? This question has merit.
Research shows that school officials are more likely to respond to bullying when the
incident involves physical injury. Generally their responses are to the act of aggression
and do not address the reasons why it happened (Shariff, 2008). The battle wounds
garnered from an act of cyberbullying will not display themselves as bruises or cuts and
without understanding why someone was victimized, it is almost impossible to stop.
School boards have a responsibility to understand the issues that are facing the
students, administrators, and communities which they serve. School systems have
developed policies to cover equipment and Internet use, purchased filtering systems that
ban certain words or topics, and generally employ more individuals who are responsible
for fixing the equipment than individuals who are responsible for teaching how to use the
equipment and related application, thus hampering at-school technology use more than
encouraging it (Daniels, 2008). Policies against cell phones, student email and social
forum use have almost completely halted the use of these applications at school (Shariff,
While these policies have allowed school systems to stymie abuse of the Internet
at school, it has also separated teens from what makes them uniquely different from
previous generations. Through policy implementation, school boards have taken from
students their native tongue and have forced them to use antiquated forms of
communication and expression. Students have been stripped of their identities on the
school campus in order to protect school systems from legal and other outside
repercussions. These reactive school measures are passed due to “a need to appease
powerful voices rather than a genuine concern for the diverse perspectives and values of
the school community… the challenge for school boards increase as they attempt to
navigate competing rights and interests” (Shariff, 2008, p. 182-183).
Cyberbullying: The Law
At this point, no decision on a cyberbullying case has been made by the United
States Supreme Court; the issue is just too new. Nonetheless, as reported by the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) (2008), Congress has recognized the issue of
cyberbullying through the recent updating of the 2001 Children’s Internet Protection Act
(CIPA). CIPA requires all schools who receive federal funding through E-rate, a grant
program that makes affordable specific communication devices for schools who qualify,
to follow set guidelines to receive funding. Initially, these guidelines focused on policies
and filtering systems that limited children’s access to unsuitable content and materials
In the summer of 2008, the requirements of the grant were modified to require
receiving schools to have safety policies and technologies planned and implemented
before receiving funds. Specifically, “schools and libraries must also certify that, as part
of their Internet safety policy, they are educating minors about appropriate online
behavior, including cyberbullying awareness and response and interacting with other
individuals on social networking sites and chat rooms” (¶ 3).
State response to cyberbullying across the nation has been great. Thirty-six states
have anti-bullying laws dating back to 1999. According to research done by USA Today
(2008), of these 36 states, 10 states have laws that specifically address cyberbullying
while numerous others are currently considering cyberbullying bills. In 2006, South
Carolina passed The Safe School Climate Act. This act required school districts in the
state “to adopt policies to prohibit harassment, intimidation or bullying at school.
Electronic communication was included in the definition of bullying.” (USA Today, ¶ 8.)
In 2007, Arkansas passed a bill that allowed school officials to intervene in acts of
cyberbullying even if the acts of cyberbullying did not happen on campus. As stated in
the bill, school officials have the right to act “if the electronic act is directed specifically
at students or school personnel and is maliciously intended for the purpose of disrupting
school, and has a high likelihood of succeeding in that purpose. (USA Today, ¶ 1) Both
of these state examples are similar to bills being created across the nation. These state
initiatives are models for other state response across the country.
Unfortunately, state reactions have usually been in response to great tragedy. A
recent case surrounds the 2005 suicide of a Florida teen, Jeffrey Johnston. At the age of
15, Jeffery committed suicide after two years of ongoing cyberbullying by a classmate.
On April 30, 2008, the Florida senate unanimously approved HB669, the Jeffrey
Johnston Stand up for All Students Act (i.e. Jeff’s Law, 2006). As stated on the Florida
House of Representatives website (2008), the bill has been established to: (a) Prohibit
bullying and harassment of any student or employee of public K-12 educational
institutions, (b) require school districts to adopt policies prohibiting bullying and
harassment, (c) provide immunity for school officials and restrictions with respect to
defending the action and application of policy provisions, and (d) require Florida DOE
approval of school district policy and school district compliance with reporting
procedures as perquisites to receiving state funds.
This law obliges school systems to address the issues of bullying on all levels,
including cyberbullying. This law also grants some immunity to school officials as they
address these new issues. Just as in other issues of student rights, the requirement of the
school to safely guard its students has once again over ranked the school system’s
obligation to ensure student free speech. Jeff’s Law will become the measuring stick for
other states as they respond to this issue. It is imperative that school boards take a closer
look at this case as they address policy requirements.
In 2001, Act 230 (R.S. 17:416.15) was passed by the Louisiana Legislature. Act
230 gave rights to the school systems to operate against bullying and required school
systems to develop zero tolerance policies that outlined the consequences of such acts.
While the term cyberbullying is not specifically mentioned in the wording of Act 230,
this law is often used as a basis for cyberbullying issues on school campuses. It should be
noted that this law gave leeway for school administrators to address cyberbullying issues
if the threats are “so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it creates an intimidating,
threatening, or abusive educational environment for a student” (Damico & Toomy, 2001,
p. 2). It is further stated that “any student, school employee, or school volunteer who in
good faith reports an incident … shall be immune for a right of action for damages
arising from any failure to remedy the reported incident” (p. 2).
Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti, Jr. has become an advocate for
cyberbullying prevention. Within his own department, he has created a high tech crime
unit that focuses a great deal of its time on crimes against children, even when it is
perpetrated by other children. His staff currently travels the state and nation advocating
for cyberbullying prevention and education (Ford, 2008). In the PowerPoint presentation
she presents to school faculties, parents, and students, Monica Ford (2008), a member of
Attorney General Foti’s high tech crime unit, references the rights of the schools and the
school administration to act upon cyberbullying using Act No. 230. She states that it is
not just a right, but a legal obligation for school officials to report suspecting incidents of
Cyberlaw: Legal Considerations for School Systems
School systems and educators across the nation want to know when it is legal for
school systems to discipline students for cyberbullying. Bullying is not a crime. One can
not be arrested for bullying and is not defined by law. However, the factors related to
bullying, such as slander, defamation of character, physical harm, harassment, threats of
physical harm, are legally defined. In order for schools to react to acts of bullying, they
must have proof of one or more of these underlying factors (Hinduja & Patchin, 2009;
Shariff, 2008). Actions brought against school systems and educators have focused on
these traditionally defined factors and applied them to the precedents set by case law.
Cyberlaw takes traditional legal concepts and laws related to constitutionally
given rights and extends them to the digital domain. (Yamaguchi, 2006). Cyberlaw
“means investigating at a more basic level what values free expression and the flow in
information on the Internet fulfill for individuals and societies. It also involves
consideration of how the harmful effects of these activities can be controlled” (p. 531).
The merging of cyberlaw to school law is complicated. While school officials generally
have more leniency than other public officials when dealing with school crime, state tort
immunity laws for educators do not always protect districts from being held negligent
In the issue of cyberbullying, school officials have been given leeway when they
can prove that a student’s actions have materially and substantially disrupted learning,
interferes with the educational process, utilizes school-owned technology to harass, or
threatens other students or infringes on their civil rights (Hinduja & Patchin, 2008). Some
states have gone as far as defining these concepts as they specifically relate to bullying,
thus cyberbullying. Arkansas is one such case.
In 2007, Arkansas passed Public Act 115 which defined material and substantial
disruption as it applied to bullying. According to Act 115, “substantial disruption means
without limitation that any one or more of the following occur as a result of the bullying:
1. Necessary cessation of instruction or educational activities;
2. Inability of students or educational staff to focus on learning or function as an
educational unit because of a hostile environment;
3. Severe or repetitive disciplinary measures are needed in the classroom or
during educational activities; or
4. Exhibition of other behaviors by students or educational staff that
substantially interfere with the learning environment.” (Handuja & Patchin,
2008, p. 117)
The concept of material and substantial disruption has created a relationship between off-
campus issues and school related repercussions because of them. This merging has
created the nexus or connection that has given school systems ownership of the problem
and has opened the doors for them to legally respond to off campus issues.
According to Mason (2008), there are certain questions or guiding principles that
can be used when deciding upon how to react to cyber issues at school:
1) Did the incident happen on campus or off? If the incident happened on campus,
the school has more authority to address the issue. If the issue of cyberbullying
happens on campus, more than likely, the perpetrators are breaking other school
rules and policies that administration can use to enforce consequences for their
actions (Mason, 2008). When the incident happens off campus, it is important
that a school nexus can be found before schools respond with disciplinary
measures. If the material was redistributed using school equipment, this nexus is
easy document. If not, then the schools have a harder time substantiating their
actions (Willard, 2007).
2) Can the school place restrictions on off-campus student free speech? Precedents
already set in the area of student free speech and expression can be applied to
this question. Does the student speech appear sponsored by the school even if
the incident happens off campus? J.S. v. Bethlehem Area School District (2000)
found that schools can address off-campus speech “that threatens the safety of
another person when they can demonstrate harm to the victim” (Hinduja &
Patchin, 2008, p. 127). J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District (2007) expanded
this right of schools to react when off-campus online speech disrupts school
operations or interferes with the civil rights of others on campus (Hinduja &
3) Does the student speech create a school climate that is not conducive to student
well-being? Many precedents have been set that allow school administration to
act if there is a substantial interference in the educational process. Tinker v. Des
Moines Independent Community School District is usually cited in this area as
the precedent for the expression materially and substantially disruptive was
established with this case (Mason, 2008). In Layshock v. Hermitage School
District (2006), a student created a non-threatening, non-obscene website about
the school administration. The student was disciplined by the school, and the
student brought the case to court. The school system’s disciplinary measures
were upheld because the student’s actions required school administration to
investigate, resulting in lost time, and the school had to shut down the computer
system (California School Boards Association, 2007).
4) Were search and seizure measures followed? A search of student Internet usage
history and files can be conducted as long as there is a reasonable suspicion that
misuse has occurred. Students should have a limited expectation of privacy
when on school grounds. It is, however, still questionable if school personnel
have the right to read or access text message on students’ PDAs. At this time,
the general consensus is that this might violate wiretapping laws (Mason, 2008).
Klump v. Nazareth Area School District (2006) found that “school
administrators cannot violate students’ Fourth Amendment protection against
unreasonable searches of their cell phones for voice-mails or text messages,
unless they have clear, articulated, documentable, and reasonable suspicion that
school policy has been violated” (Handuja & Patchin, 2008, p. 127).
5) Did the school act in a reasonable and prudent manner? This question is more
concerned with the degree of response that an act of cyberbullying receives. As
in any act of school aggression, the severity of the punishment should fit the
severity of the crime. School policies and procedures should be followed at all
times. This is why it is vital that school system’s address cyberbullying in their
policies. Even if the school system does not have a legal reason to act against
cyberbullying, the systems do have an ethical need to prevent such crimes
against students they serve (Mason, 2008).
All of these legal issues and questions reflect to the concept of in loco parentis
provided by tort law to school officials. It is the obligation of administrators and teachers
to act as careful and prudent parents for students while they are at school (Shariff, 2008).
As long as the officials are acting for the greater good of the school and its children, the
courts generally prevail on the side of education. It is in the best interest of school
systems to create protocol for education and response to cyberbullying so that they are
not held liable for neglecting their roles of careful and prudent parents (Kowalski, et al,
Because their motives differ, the solutions and responses to each type of
cyberbullying incident have to differ too. Unfortunately, there is no "one size fits
all" when cyberbullying is concerned… Experts who understand schoolyard
bullying often misunderstand cyberbullying, thinking it is just another method of
bullying. But the motives and the nature of cybercommunications, as well as the
demographic and profile of a cyberbully differ from their offline counterpart.
On November 2, 2007, the National Association of Secondary School Principals
(NASSP) published a public issue statement on Internet safety and its impact on school
policy and response. The NASSP listed several guidelines for policy makers to follow
when making policy change considerations.
The NASSP (2007) recommends that policymakers:
1. Formulate policies that reinforce a balanced approach to the use of Internet
technologies and protect students and personnel from Internet crime,
2. provide funding and other resources to support ongoing professional
development of school leaders and staff on Internet safety issues,
3. where appropriate, build the capacity of central office to be the clearinghouse
for district wide technology issues,
4. hold Internet service providers and social networking Web sites accountable
for reporting criminal behavior to the appropriate authorities,
5. reward schools that are using technology in effective and innovative ways.
Solicit, showcase and recognize these best practices, and
6. remind parents to oversee their children’s Internet use. (¶ 6)
In 2007, The California School Boards Association created a policy brief
concerning cyberbullying that can be used as a guide. The California School Boards
Association (CSBA) suggests that issues of cyberbullying are incorporated in standard
school board safety policies. Since standard school safety policies already address issues
of bullying and harassment, it is easier to modify existing policies than create new ones.
The following policy areas to be reviewed and revised are suggested:
1. Integration of strategies to address cyberbullying in the existing school safety
2. Search and Seizure polices should be revised to address online issues,
3. Student Technology policies should be adjusted to address bullying,
4. Education and Professional development of students, parents, and staff should
5. Acceptable use of the district’s technological resources,
6. Use of the filters to block Internet sites,
7. Supervision and monitoring policies of students’ online activity while at
8. Due Process and Disciplining Procedures (CSBA, p. 4).
While The California School Boards Association (2007) suggestions deal directly to
policy and the types of policy that should be revised or created, the suggestions of the
National Association of Secondary School Principals (2007) also include educating all
school stakeholders about the issues of cyber safety.
The appendix includes a cyberbullying framework that has been created by
Willard (2007). The framework includes three pieces: (a) a Cyberbullying or Cyberthreat
Situation Review Process (Appendix A), (b) a School Actions and Options form
(Appendix B), and (c) an Incident Report and Evaluation Form (Appendix C). These
forms have been released for use by school systems and are currently being used across
the nation to guide educators through the process of recording, reporting, and disciplining
cases of cyberbullying.
Willard’s (2007) framework provides a detailed outline of the steps that school
administrators can follow when responding to acts of cyberbullying. These steps take into
consideration the guidelines of the law and a school administrator’s right to respond. As
one progresses through the framework, guiding questions and follow-up procedures are
delineated. While this is a review and response framework for incidents of cyberbullying,
Willard states that this plan will best work after school systems have: (a) conducted a
policy and practice review, (b) provided professional development for school
stakeholders, (c) practiced parental and community outreach activities, (d) provided
student education, and (e) conducted ongoing needs assessments to monitor the progress
of the school plan. She condones both proactive and reactive measures to address the
issue of cyberbullying.
Summary and Interpretations
Olweus’ work (1993) on traditional bullying in the late 1970’s set the tone for
future work in the study of school bullying. He brought to light the common occurrence
of child on child aggressive behaviors at school and the detrimental affects these
behaviors had on those who were involved in them. Subsequent research supported that
bullying incidents at school were traditionally seen as rites of passage that allowed
children to learn to adapt to the real world and take up for themselves (Coloroso, 2003).
This was substantiated by the fact that although most instances of bullying were
witnessed by others, few actually did anything to assist those who were bullied and the
victims were often left to fend for themselves (Craig & Pepler, 1998).
Studies concerning traditional school bullying were not conducted in America
until 2001 with the work of Nansel and colleagues, the same year that researchers began
to study the emergence of a new school aggression issue, cyberbullying. Since then, these
issues have been merged in the works of researchers conducting quantitative studies and
meta-analyses of previous research to shed light on the commonalties and differences of
these aggressive acts and how related factors influence social reactions and school policy.
Belsey (2008) and Willard’s conceptual frameworks (2003 & 2007) on cyberbullying and
responses to cyberbullying have been guiding pieces for the subsequent work of Aftab
(2006 & 2008), Hinduja & Patchin (2008), and Shariff (2008). All concur that
cyberbullying acts are reflective of traditional bullying acts in that they are attempts of
one group to have power over another. All also concur that the medium through which
these cyberbullying acts occur – the Internet – has created a construct difference that
must be recognized in order for all involved to appropriately respond.
Research advocates it is through education and awareness that true strides will be
made in the deterrence of cyberbullying (Hinduja & Patchin, 2008; Kowalski, 2008;
Shariff, 2008; Willard, 2007). Common reactive practices by school systems to apply
disciplinary actions against those who commit acts of cyberbullying have not proven to
be effective. Likewise, it is not always clear which school system disciplinary responses
against these acts are permissible by law. Reactive measures taken by schools may reduce
aggressive incidents from reoccurring by those who are caught, but is takes programs that
instill character and cultivate healthy behaviors to affect long term changes (Perry, 1999).
Teen responses to the Internet, its uses, and issues related to it will be directly affected by
the responses of the adults who are around them. If this response is constructive,
educated, and positive, more teens will respond in like fashion (Kowalski, 2008).
Cyberbullying is undeniably an issue that is emerging on school campuses. While
it has always been understood that school and home issues are not mutually exclusive, it
is becoming more common that on-campus concerns for student safety and well-being are
related to off-campus student Internet use (Shariff, 2008). Online social networks have
emerged as prominent factors in the lives of the students served by school systems, and
the line that separates their online actions from home and school is blurring. Due to the
nature of this online aggression, it is not always easy for school officials to understand
when their rights begin and those of the cyberbully and cyberbullied begin. More work is
needed to develop better response frameworks for administrators and school system
support. However, the judicial system will ultimately set the standards upon which these
frameworks will be based and only time will tell what the legal precedents may be
While many names researcher names are beginning to emerge in the study of
cyberbullying, most of their ideas are based upon the traditional work of Olweus and the
frameworks of Willard. No studies were found that contradicted their basic thoughts in
this field of study – they only substantiated and expounded upon them. Common terms
and like concepts were used repetitively to address the same basic guiding questions in
the literature surveyed. These same guiding questions were used to develop this literature
review and, consequently, may have limited the scope of the reviewer and the breadth of
Separate but Equal? Bullying and Cyberbullying
Today’s children are much more fluent at using online resources than ever before.
Their understanding of cyberlanguage and cybersociety is poles apart from today’s adults
who were not born into a world that has evolved from a physical environment to infinite
cyber space; today’s youth do not see the Internet as separate from traditional
socialization and interactions, but as common as face-to-face talking (Shariff, 2008).
Adults view the Internet as tool to be used; teens view the Internet as an extension of
themselves. These differing viewpoints have caused a division in how Internet use and
the issues related to it are understood by various stakeholders (Goodstein, 2007).
Possibly, this division in understanding has also created a divide between traditional
bullying and cyberbullying that does not exist nor needs to be focused upon when
developing overarching policies and programs to address bullying and cyberbullying.
Until the late 1990s, traditional bullying, the roots to cyberbullying, had never
really been recognized as an issue that needed to be addressed on school campuses. Since
then, many character education programs have been developed to instill good citizenry
and middle class values, but there is no real research to gauge if they have been effective
in curbing bullying behaviors at school or if the same basic premises can be applied to
cyberbullying response (Coloroso, 2003; Shariff, 2008). Do these two issues, bullying
and cyberbullying, need to be separated in order to be addressed? Studies show that the
acts of aggression in both types are based upon the same desires: power and a need to
dominate or subdue others (Shariff, 2008). Conceivably the answers to solving both types
of bullying may be more alike than different.
Consider this. When students hit with their fists, it is called physical bullying.
When students tease with their mouths, it is called verbal bullying. It only makes sense
that when one harasses using the Internet, it is called cyberbullying. This idea is alluded
to by Shariff (2008) who believes that “cyberbullying is simply a progression of
traditional bullying using new means” (p. 31). Shariff’s comment brings to mind
Coloroso’s (2003) analogy that incidents of traditional bullying are simply acts being
played out by characters on a stage.
Instead of the scene unfolding on the school playground, the characters of
cyberbullying are staged in a virtual world that has its own setting concerns and issues to
be addressed. The premises of the play and the characters who unfold before the audience
have not changed, but have simply adapted to their new stage. How they play out the
scene depends upon the dialogue or tools that they are given to use. Are the words that
they type from a keyboard really different from those that they speak from their mouths?
The reactions of bystanders to incidents of bulling have been portrayed as
decisive in the overall outcome of an act of bulling (Coloroso, 2003). Though not
mentioned in the role of bystander in the literature, it can be proposed that parents, school
site personnel, and school boards who are responsible for the education and protection of
children should be thought of as bystanders and studied as such. Simply referred to as
other stakeholders in the literature (Shariff, 2008), these groups are aware of the problem
and are not necessarily reacting appropriately to it. As the roles of bystanders are
conceptualized (Coloroso, 2003; Willard, 2007) this would categorized these adult groups
as bystanders who are part of the problem. While they know children under their care are
victims of bullying, they are not reacting in suitable ways to stop the occurrence.
Parents want their children protected, but they do not want their rights violated
while they are being protected. This often confuses their stakeholder role in an act of
aggression. While they know the incident is occurring, they also have a need to protect
their child, whether they are the bully or the bullied (Shariff, 2008). This places them in a
bystander role that is not easy to define and often complicates the situation (Coloroso,
2003). Until teachers and administrators become active participants in educating students
about and responding to online issues, they are acting as bystanders who are not part of
School boards have the biggest responsibility of all. They create the policies and
fund the programs that teachers, administrators, students and parents are expected to
follow. Perhaps it is the battle to balance the rights and interests of these varying diverse
groups that is holding school boards back from deciding which bystander role they will
take in this issue. While they have an obligation to provide a well-rounded educational
system to their students, they also have to battle the legal and ethical issues that are
attached to this obligation (Kowalski, et al., 2008; Shariff, 2008). Consequently, school-
based officials will generally respond as outlined by school boards (Sampson, 2002).
The bystander role taken by school boards will be mostly guided by what the judicial
system will allow them to take. The bystander role taken by school officials will be the
one that is dictated to them by the school system. The best scenario would be that all
parties, parents, school officials, and school boards act as bystanders who are part of the
solution and react to acts of cyberbullying in an appropriate manner.
While social networking sites have been the topic of research, no studies were
found that used these sites as vehicles for study. Studies conducted in the nature setting of
the problem and those who are part of the problem will create a more conducive
environment in which true responses can be acquired. Focus groups gathered from these
sites or other online social forums would use already created participant samples that
have self-formed based upon interests prior to researcher manipulation. Asynchronous or
synchronous online interviewing protocol could be followed in order to develop studies
qualitative in nature and that would give voice to those who are most affected by the
issue if cyberbullying – the children. Quantitative studies could also be conducted in like
fashion by distributing using surveys and questionnaires to already created listservs and
forums to gather stakeholder perception data.
Further research in the systemic patterns that are related to bystander reactions to
online bullying would bring to the forefront how the audiences’ responses to
cyberbullying influence future occurrences. To implement programs and policies that are
comprehensive in nature, all school stakeholder roles and responsibilities must be
considered. The old adage, It takes a whole village to raise a child, has never been more
true, and in the realm of the Internet, the boundaries of the village are growing to
encompass multitudes of individuals and personalities that have never been considered
before. Familial influences, namely parents, and the response of those of those who are
witnesses to acts of bullying, the bystanders, are most influential in determining how an
act of aggression will result (Aftab, 2008; Willard, 2007).
Throughout the literature review, children and their safety have been placed in the
center of the issue of cyberbullying. The body of literature is all written from the
perspective of the adult and how adults understand the issue and what adults perceive the
best practices to be in addressing cyberbullying. No research specifically addresses the
viewpoints of children and how they understand traditional bullying and cyberbullying in
theory. This issue is about children and their need for control. Their voice needs to be
heard and their perceptions of the problem may shed a new light on adult understanding
of the issue.
The research for both bullying and cyberbullying concludes that it will take
proactive measures to develop character development and stakeholder education to truly
direct all stakeholders in the right direction (Willard, 2007). “Preventing school violence
involves comprehensive programs that forge close, trusting relationships and help young
people develop a host of healthy behaviors including conflict resolution and anger
management skill…focusing on the hardware of control will not resolve dilemmas
involving the software of our students' hearts” (Halford, 1998, p.103).
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