April 3, 2007

Perspectives on CyberBullying

This post was last updated on December 12th, 2011 at 03:17 pm

The Kathy Sierria story is to cyberbullying as 9-11 is to terrorism. It’s not that cyberbullying has never taken place but having it happen to someone as high profile as Kathy Sierra brings attention to the problem in a light many have not considered.

I’ve got two concerns about the way things are unfolding. One is the tendency of the media and even bloggers to blow this out of proportion. The other is the focus on cyberbullying as a unique, stand alone issue.

Most of us are aware cyberbullying has always taken place and will always take place. Evil exists. Many have taken this particular incident to perpetuate fear and hysteria around blogging. One reaction certainly to emerge from this is a continued push to ban or restrict the freedom many of enjoy. Some are advocating cyber cops. What is the cost of protection against cyberbullying going to be?

I look at what has become of airport security and the cost behind that and question if it’s really necessary. Those who call for zero tolerance at any cost have to be questioned. The 9-11 and Kathy Sierra incidents are the extremes. We need to keep that in perspective.

My wife told me today of a student that may be potentially entering school in the fall. This student has severe allergies that are fatal. Any whiff of scented perfumes or hair products may be fatal for the child. Is school the best place for him? Can we be sure no one enters the building with hair gel? What is the cost to insure this child is safe? I wonder where we draw the line?

The other issue I have is with focusing on cyberbullying as something unique. While we understand people may act differently online and have the ability occupy a different persona, the issues are societal. I think the best efforts of school to deal with bullying tends to be helping victims and bystanders deal with the evils of bullying. I like Tim O’Reilly’s code of conduct but as Clarence says, this is just common sense. Just as there are a variety of cancers, the goal is to cure cancer. It doesn’t matter if it’s breast cancer, lung cancer or prostate cancer. Yes, there may be preventive measures for specific cancers but the cure for all cancer is the same.

I don’t think we need to draw attention to this anymore than we should draw attention to all the other evils that exist in the world. There are quite few. Certainly those that have been impacted by evil will want to shed light on their particular issue. But without perspective, the general public are often swayed against the truth. Given the amount of data that runs through the pipes of the internet everyday, the amount of cyberbullying has to be minuscule. I joined the cyberbullying social network created by Andy Carvin but now I doubt I’ll be there much (not just because as Will and David I don’t really get it) because the tone of those networks tend to see cyber-bullying as something different than bullying. I see the differences but I don’t think they are great. While I’ve given up on privacy, I’ve not given up on defending against bullying.
So:

  • let’s be sure to model good manners online and offline
  • let’s stand up against bullies
  • let’s be accountable for our words and actions
  • But let’s consider the cost of regulations and policies that might rob us from the power and freedom we currently have online

For more on this, read Laura Moncur’s take and listen to Steve Dembo’s podcast.

I’m sure many will disagree with me and I welcome those comments.

[tags]cyberbullingy, stopcyberbullying, andycarvin,stevedembo,lauramoncur,kathysierra,[/tags]