Cyberbullying involves many kinds of hurtful tactics

Adults have a responsibility to learn about harmful online behaviors affecting young people; MSU Extension offers workshops to help adults engage in this responsibility.

Digital pile-ons. Haters’ clubs. Rating sites. Imposter profiles. Videojacking. What are these things and what do they have in common? According to Kay Stephens and Vinitha Nair, co-authors of Cyberslammed: Understand, Prevent, Combat and Transform the Most Common Cyberbullying Tactics, these are all names of different kinds of cyberbullying behaviors.

Cyberbullying is defined as using the Internet, cell phones or other electronic devices to send or post text or images that are intended to harm or embarrass another person. This issue continues to be a topic of concern for many young people, parents, educators and lawmakers. In 2011, the Michigan Legislature passed Public Act 241, also known as Matt’s Safe School Law which required public schools to develop clear policies prohibiting bullying of students, as well as retaliation against targets or reporters of bullying behaviors. In 2013, bills were introduced in both the Michigan Senate and Michigan House of Representatives that would further define and address issues specifically related to cyberbullying.

Many researchers and educators working to address issues of cyberbullying – including Stephens and Nair, believe that it’s critical for adults to have a good understanding of the different kinds of cyberbullying behaviors that the young people in their lives may be experiencing, witnessing or contributing to. Following are descriptions of three of the cyberbullying tactics that Stephens and Nair highlight in their book:

  • Digital pile on: This hurtful tactic occurs when a group of people gang up on another person online for fun or to feel superior. A digital pile on, which can take place on a social network site like Facebook or Twitter starts when one person makes a hurtful comment about someone and it quickly escalates to a “pile on” of additional negative comments from other people.
  • Rating website: A rating website involves the creation of an online poll that’s designed to get bystanders to rate their peers in negative and hurtful ways. For example, the person creating the poll might ask people to vote for their “fattest” or “dumbest” peer. These kinds of polls may frequently sexualize and denigrate girls based on their appearance, while boys may be rated based on whether or not they fit into narrow standards of masculinity.
  • Videojacking: This tactic involves video footage that is potentially embarrassing or denigrating for the subject. It can involve a person using existing video footage or using a camera (usually with a cell phone) to create new footage. This “videojacker” then shares the images with others online (for example, on sites such as You Tube or Vimeo) without the express permission or knowledge of the target.

If you’d like to learn more about different kinds of cyberbullying tactics – as well as strategies that can be used to prevent, combat and transform them – you may want to take part in an upcoming Michigan State University Extension webinar titled Exploring and Preventing Cyberbullying which will feature Stephens, co-author of the book highlighted above. This webinar is part of the MSU Extension Be SAFE: Safe, Affirming and Fair Environments initiative, which also includes a comprehensive curriculum designed to help young people and adults work in partnership to create environments that are physically and emotionally safe, including ways to address cyberbullying.

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