Cyberbullying: When chatting online goes too far

By on June 11, 2010

by Elaine Cannell
Kaneland Krier Reporter

It starts with a rumor. A murmur behind closed doors—or open phones. Soon it escalates into a full-blown texting war, a small disagreement that gets too far out of hand to control. Then the fighting spreads from mean comments on Facebook walls to nasty insults flung back and forth over instant messaging.

Counselor Andrew Franklin said that when students have a screen name, a cell phone or an e-mail address to hide behind, they feel stronger and are able to say those mean things they wouldn’t dare to when looking into the victim’s eyes.

“People will be cruel this way because they can, because it’s easy,” Franklin said.

One of the worst parts about bullying through MySpace or Facebook posts is being called names by people anonymously, junior Allie Jones said. She also said she has seen other people be harassed online by total strangers.

“Half the time that someone is bullying you this way, you don’t know who it is or where it’s coming from,” Franklin said. “Sometimes you even think it’s coming from one person, but it’s actually from another, setting you up. Cyberbullying is hard to deal with because it does hurt just as much. Words hurt.”

Business teacher Andrew Igras thinks that cyberbullying should be considered a real issue.

“It’s just like any other type of bullying,” Igras said.

Jones said she feels that cyberbullying, although more prominent than it used to be, isn’t as serious as the bullying that takes place in school hallways.

But other Kaneland students disagree. A Krier survey showed that 86 percent of girls and 72 percent of guys think it’s easier to say hateful things when not face-to-face. The poll takers were of a KHS stratified random sample. Out of the 82 students’ valid polls, 57 had participated in arguments through technology.

Senior Vince Micek believes it’s easier to be cruel online because a person doesn’t have to look at the person he or she is bullying.

Junior John Kintz agreed that being online or holding a cell phone makes people much bolder.

“There are plenty of people who act like they’re tougher online. They (suddenly) feel braver when they aren’t face to face,” Kintz said.

Jones and Kintz both said they had been in a fight over texting in the past.

It’s definitely easier to be mean, Jones said. “It’s easier to get your point across when you have more time to think about it,” she said.

The survey showed that KHS girls are more likely to bully and be bullied online than boys.

While just 62 percent of Kaneland boys have had online and texting fights, 77 percent of girls admit to having had them. Of the 36 percent of girls who have felt bullied through technology, 89 percent said it was by other girls. An example of girls fighting by way of text messages came from Jones.

“The fight started in person and continued over texting and Facebook,” she said.

Sophomore Mercedes Walper said moving fights into the cyber world drags them out.

“It (drags it out) because people will say things publicly that aren’t necessarily true—things that the other person doesn’t want the world to see,” Walper said.

Franklin said he believes these arguments, the bullying and the online fighting have one simple preventative measure—get offline and put down the cell phone.

“You have to ask yourself, is it worth it to be on a site like this? Personally, I don’t think it’s worth it to deal with it,” Franklin said.

Walper had another solution to keeping fights from starting over technology—keeping a cool head.

“If somebody texts me something dumb, I just don’t respond,” Walper said.

Franklin also said to consider who is on the other end of the conversation. If someone is treating another person badly online, he or she shouldn’t have to deal with it.

When online, “treat people the way you want to be treated face-to-face,” Franklin said. “Would you hang out with someone who treated you (this badly) in person? No. The answer is no.”