Penalties For Cyber Bullies

October 21, 2009

Schoolyard bullying is a problem that has been around for generations.

In the past, whatever a person might face in their work or school environment, the problem was contained. Home would be a space of both physical and psychological refuge.

The internet is causing a breakdown of the barriers of time and space; this is exciting and promising for some areas of our lives, and frightening for others.

Cyber-bullying is an increasingly pressing issue. Most would be aware of the infamous Megan Meier case, where a 13-year-old girl committed suicide, allegedly because of a cruel cyber hoax set up by her former friend’s mother.

Megan Meier

Megan Meier

Courtesy: Tina Meier (ABC NEWS)

Megan MeierAccording to article “Parents: Cyber Bullying Led to Teen’s Suicide

“When a cute boy befriended Megan on the social networking site MySpace, the two formed a quick connection during their more than month-long relationship.”

Turns out ‘Josh Evans” was simply a hoax account, however:

“The mother  created a fictitious profile in order to gain Megan’s trust and learn what Megan was saying about her daughter.”

More recently, a woman who was already had a protective order taken out against her violated it, harassing the victim via Facebook:

“Shannon Jackson, a 36 year-old from Hendersonville, Tennessee previously had been accused of harassing, threatening and verbally abusing Dana Hannah and had a protective order put in place banning Jackson from “telephoning, contacting or otherwise communicating with the petitioner.”

Apparently, Jackson jumped onto the popular social networking site and sent Hannah a ‘poke.’

(See the full article: “Woman Arrested For Facebook Poke“)

Bullying is no new phenomenon. What is disturbing is that the internet can amplify the problem so that the victim is perpetually exposed to potential attacks. The emotional attachment to home as a ‘safe place’ is broken. I would speculate intrusive anxieties and fears become as intense as when the victim is at school or at work – in direct contact with the bully.

I believe that the Megan Meier’s case demonstrates not only that the consequences of this can be extreme, but also highlights the additional problem of anonymity on the internet. The bully has been traditionally typecast as the coward, and the internet provides the perfect impetus for a bully to harass and abuse someone without having to face the consequences of getting caught.

Perhaps better education on how young people should respond to cyber bullying is the answer.

I think, though, the Australian Government should seriously consider tough penalties in schools, similar to what some European countries have introduced. See “£1,000 fines for parents whose children are cyber bullies.



October 7, 2009

In light of the recent controversy over freedom of religion in Australia, I thought it would be interesting to delve into how religious debates have been played out in the cyber realm.

Some groups have embraced social networking sites as a way to reconnect with a disaffected and secular youth culture.

Take ‘Faithbook for example:

“A new group called Faithbook hope that they can use the social networking site to improve relations between different religious communities.”

“The Faithbook project was created by Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand of the Reform Judaism movement with the aim of promoting debate and constructive dialogue amongst different religions and developing interfaith relations.”

Certainly the opportunity for dialogue between various religious groups and discussion of religious issues is a good thing. Such discussion can increase tolerance and prompt people to reconsider their own views, discarding them in light of new evidence or becoming stronger in their beliefs from reevaluating them. Now that schools and other similar institutions are increasingly become religion-free zones, the internet could be an excellent forum to continue these discussions.

However, in my experience, discussions of a more serious nature on Facebook often disband into petty arguments, chaos and flaming‘.

Perhaps there is a need for greater moderation of internet forums to protect those of any belief from having their views attacked and or ridiculed by users who can hide behind a cloak of anonymity.

Religious leaders, such as Rabbi Dov Greenberg, are skeptical however, about the possibilities of real, constructive religious discussion online:

“Facebook and all electronic communication is less personal, and it is harder to connect,” Greenberg said. “Facebook is a wonderful tool to advertise the events, but it is not the best venue to discuss them.”

Quote Courtesy of ‘”Faith and Facebook: When Social Networking and Spirituality Collide“.

It’s a Woman’s World

October 1, 2009

According to the article ‘Women Outnumber Men on Social Networking Websites’ , women are much more frequent users of social networking sites then men:

“Females outnumber guys 2-1 across a host of websites, and more than half of Facebookers and Twitterers are women, figures show.”

Interestingly, this was not blanket trend however;

“Digg is a boy’s club – 64 per cent of its users are male. LinkedIn and YouTube had an equal number of male and female members.”

Why are women so much more prominent on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace?

Women and Men Online

Women use Facebook more than Men

Image: Postmagusa.Com

Well obviously women are great talkers – and studies have shown women enjoy sharing about their subjective experiences and personal lives more than men. This is one of the main purposes of Facebook.

However, I still find the figures suprising considering that studies have shown men spend more time online than women.  Also, websites like Facebook are methods of building business relationships and keeping in touch with family and friends, which I would have thought would be things equally valued by men and women. What I would have expected to have seen was equal numbers of men and women as members on these websites, but perhaps men using the site to write shorter comments, less frequently than women.

Perhaps men find the very public nature of Facebook more confronting than women or prefer to use websites that demand less engagement from the user.

If this trend continues, maybe the future will see the development of male-oriented websites that can cater to their different needs and natures in navigating online networking.

Further discussion on the issue can be found here.

At a recent work experience placement at a local newspaper, I noticed the journalist sitting next to me would intermittently flit to her Facebook news-feed between phonecalls. (Or while on the phone if it was a particularly dry interview).

Such is no surprise. Doesn’t everyone use their Facebooks/Twitters/MySpaces (for the old-fashioned) at work these days?

Apparently not. According to this Computerworld Article , 54% of US companies have instituted a total ban on use of social networking sites during working hours.

Said Dave Willmer in the article:

Using social networking sites may divert employees’ attention away from more pressing priorities, so it’s understandable that some companies limit access,”

This news startled me somewhat. I was sure a few months back I had read articles extolling the benefits of employees using these sites (albeit infrequently) at work.

Sure enough, here was the “Read Write Web” article I had read:

A new study just published by Australian scientists found that taking time to visit websites of personal interest, including news sites and YouTube, provided workers a mental break that ultimately increased their ability to concentrate and was correlated with a 9% increase in total productivity.”

Of course there are limits to this:

“…within a reasonable limit of less than 20% of their total time in the office.

Either American workers are spending much more than their allotted time on Facebook or  CEO’s are misguidedly taking a zero-tolerance approach when they really should be adopting a “little-but often” mantra?

From my own experience, a little time on Facebook at work does offer you the opportunity to rest your brain from the rigours of work. However, for me, it also allows a sense of connection to the outside world while you are glued to your desk.

In fact, there does seem to be a bit of psychology behind why social networking sites are beneficial at work. This article offers ‘5 reasons why Social Networking Websites Increase Productivity at the Workplace’.

It suggests technology is “the new cigarette break”, and brings “‘life into the workplace” . This acts as an antidote to growing resentment at long working hours and less time spent with friends and family.

You don’t need to rush home from work to plan your night out as “employees can now access social networking sites to make arrangements, plans and dates during the day”.

The writer also suggests that social networking can benefit the business, forging links between employees and allowing for business networking.

Off to go and check my news feed – guilt free.