Kids can be cruel, and now technology can be -- and is -- used to amplify that cruelty. An article written by Amanda Paulson in the Christian Science Monitor last December, and carried locally in yesterday's Seattle Times, talked about this new trend, including a reference to a web site devoted to raising awareness and calling for action against this practice:
Cyberbullying involves the use of information and communication technologies such as e-mail, cell phone and pager text messages, instant messaging, defamatory personal Web sites, and defamatory online personal polling Web sites, to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others.
The article describes some truly awful actions taken by some teens to threaten and harm others. Among other reactions and reflections, I started wondering why these smear campaigns seem so prominent among teens and politicians (or their supporters); I suppose a big part of the teen years is jockeying for position, status and popularity, and one way to look good is to make someone else look bad.
Among the statistics quoted in the Paulson article were the following:
One in 17 kids ages 10 to 17 had been threatened or harassed online, and about one-third of those found the incidents extremely distressing, according to a 2000 study by the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center. A study in Britain last year by NCH, a British children's charity, found that 1 in 4 students had been bullied online.
This seems to be quite a disparity (1/17 vs. 1/4), part of which may be explained by some combination of differences in time, place, definition or interpretation of terms, or survey methodologies. Some of it may, of course, be due to cultural differences, but it's hard to imagine that British students are that much crueler than their American counterparts. I wonder what kind of disparities exist between cyberbullying by politicians (and their supporters) in each of the two countries.