These are my notes from Nancy Willard’s afternoon breakout session “Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats: Responding to the Challenge” presented at the 10th annual “Safe and Healthy Schools” conference in Oklahoma City on November 10, 2008, in Oklahoma City. Safe and Health Schools is sponsored by The Oklahoma Department of Education. MY THOUGHTS ARE IN ALL CAPS. I WILL POST SOME SYNTHESIS IDEAS / PERSONAL TAKEAWAYS FROM THESE POINTS SOON IN A SEPARATE POST.

Dr. Nancy Willard
– director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use (

My old definition of cyberbullying: “Cyberbullying is being cruel to others by sending or posting harmful material or engaging in other forms of cruelty using the Internet or other digital technologies
– also called online social aggression or electronic aggression
– “mean kids online”
– survey people are now asking about cyberbullying are asking if young people have received hurtful messages, lots of kids say yes
— we need better measurements: repeated acts, widespread dissemination
— we need to focus on significant issues, not minor or isolated issues

cyberbullying is primarily a bullying problem, not an Internet SAfety problem
– three specific technology-related concerns
— material is posted in an electronic form
— ability to hide or create a false identity
— dealing with harmful online strangers

in 2004 Nancy started this research
– created a taxonomy of forms
– Flaming: online “fights” using electronic messages with angry and vulgar language
– Harassment: repeatedly sending offensive and insulting messages
– Denigration: sending or posting cruel gossip or rumors about a person to damage his or her reputation or friendships
– Exclusion: intentionally excluding someone from an online group like a “buddy list”

New forms
– Impersonation: impersonating someone to make the person look bad, get the person in danger or trouble, or damage reputation or friendships
– Cyberstalking: repeatedly sending messages that include threats of harm or are highly intimidating
— engaging in online activities that make a person afraid for his or her safety
— using technology to control a partner in an abusive dating relationship

Love Is Not Abuse website

other new forms
– Outing: sharing someone’s secrets or embarrassing info or images online
– Trickery: tricking someone into revealing embarrassing information, which is then shared
— deceiving someone online to humiliate or cause harm

Megan Meirs case: police chief told Nancy what was reported in the media was not what he understood to be the facts of the case

– Julie was talking about cyberbullying in her earlier session in the context of cyberbullying
– cyberthreats are direct threats or disressing material that raises concerns or provides clues that the person is emotionallly upset and may be considering harming someone, harming himself or herself, or committing suicide

big problem” “Off-campus, Not my job” perception of administrators
– the impact of cyberbullying does or could:
— jeopardize the safety of students
— interfere with educational performance
— damage the school climate

why school officials might not respond
– lack of clarity about legal parameters when responding to off-campus student speech
– situations can be difficult to resolve
– school officials often do not understand the technology or teen online culture, so they feel unfomfortable

We cannot move forward without a partnership between educational technology folks and safe schools / prevention folks in schools

Observation Insight
– How: posted on social networking profile or sent via social networking, instant or text messaging
– When use of specific technologies expands, then cyberbullying associated with those technologies emerges

When Nancy started researching this in 2004 YouTube did not even exist
– she did not include/know about social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook
– this landscape has changed QUICKLY and is continuing to change

Where take place?
– significant amount occurs off-campus, but it is impacting relationships on campus
– also occurs through the district Internet system or personal digital devices used on-campus, including image devices

Story of Nancy’s teenager being taught by peers how to bypass the school filtering system, and erase her web history to cover her digital footprints

We can’t address this by stopping kids from using these technologies
– we can’t just block them from this
– we have to move to more engaging uses of these technologies for learning in schools

Who does the cyberbullying? Possibilities include:
– total stranger
– known individual
– anonymous, but has a relationship
– cyberbullying-by-proxy
– impersonation

many kids are pretty bad about hiding their identity
– can look at friendship links, other clues, often can figure out who is involved
– law enforcement just gets involved in when they believe a crime has been committeed

sometimes cyberbullying is a continuation of face to face bullying, sometimes it is a retaliation
– you absoulutely cannot figure out what is going on JUST looking at the online information and materials
– do not immediately assume the student posting harfmul material is the origin of the problem
— substance of the communications must be analyzed

Girls tend to be more involved than boyx
– sometimes personal and sexual relationships are involved
– can be fights between or fights about

sometimes can be about race, religion, obesity, and frequently about sexual orientation
– can be students at different schools
– can lead to violence at competition events

IMpacts in some situations can be greater than F2F contexts in some cases
– vicioius communications
– no escape
– wider distribution
– anonymous bullies
– bullying-by-proxy

have been 2 school murders reported internationally related to cyberbullying (1 in Japan and 1 in India)
– many school violence situations now involve some online communications leading up to the indicdent

– kids are reluctant to tell adults because they fear they will overreact, blame them, not know what to do, make matters worse, retrict their online access

MUST focus on bystander strategies / peer leadership
– role of friends are key
– adults are simply not present in most of these situations
– many times it is friends who step in to resolve these situations

Nancy’s son in 5th grade is getting trained as a “peer mediator”
– we need training in helping address and resolve these problems

Young people can powerfully influence online social climate in many cases
– can give the targets strength and guidance
– in some situations, confront the perpetrator

There are different groups with profit motives promoting the predator
– degree of harm in research is often tied to how the questions are asked
– we are not often distinguishing between minor and major incidents

results from Disease Control study
– depending on how questions are asked, between 9% and 35% report victimization
– girls outnumber boys in victimization
– no differences in gender in perpetration
– approximately half of targets reported they didn’t know the perpetrator or just knew them online

Students NOT involved in F2F bullying reported involvement in cyberbullying
– most frequent victims online ALSO report they are victims at school

are/were significant differences between online stranger and known-peer situations
– a significant number of online stranger-incidents were needed with simple or no action

those harassed by known peers are also significantly more likely to also
– engage in online harassment
– more…

Both targets and perpetrators demonstrate significant psychosocial concerns

Targets were 8 times more likely to report bringing a weapon to school

students view this as a problem, they don’t think school personnel can help, they can easily bypass the school filter
– majority of incidents are off-campus but there is a harmful impact at school
– cyberbullying text messaging is also occurring at school
— but students will not report this because using a cell phone at school is a violation of school policy (in many cases)

Often student knew they could block or ignore the cyberbully
– but did NOT know how to file a complaint or respond as a helpful bystander

– this is a significant concern that is impacting SOME children (not everyone_
– we should pay attention to this
– increasing use of technologies increases the potential uses of these tools for bullying

We should:
– edcuate young people about how to avoid and effectively respond to online-only or other minor incidents, this will help make these incidents more easily manageable and less distressing

young people make threats all the time
– their tone of voice, posture, overall interaction allow others to determine if it is “a real threat”
– Nancy thinks students are biologically incapable of assessing how others will perceive that threat

just because it is posted online, that does not make it by itself MORE of a real threat

online material that looks like a threat could be:
– a joke, parody or game

Online “leakage” photo from FBI report after some school shooting incidents
– “when a student intentionally or unintentionally reveals clues to feelings, thoughts, fantasies, attitudes, or….

Jeff Weis, shooter at Red Lake

some students who are victimized at school by students or teachers, are retaliating by expressing anger or threats online

simply cutting these kids out of school, espcially when they are the ones being victimized, is not appropriate

the manner in which officials respond to a situation that was not a “real threat” will influence whether students will report suspected threats in the future
– severely punishing a student who was found not to pose a “real threat” could lead students to decide not to report the next time they see an online threat

If you don’t want students “figuring out threats by themselves” you’ve got to address these perceptions

continual reassessment is necessary to determine whether

follow the secret service guidelines on threats
– not if threat was POSTED but if the person POSES a threat

threat assessment protocols and suicide prevention plans MUST be revised to incoroporte the reality of posting information online

Range of material posted that targets school staff
– targeted by “nasty” student
– convenient target and lack of sensitivity
– student perception of “inadequacy” (highlighted by some student created videos of teachers in class losing patience(
– student venting frustration
– student bullied or mistreated by staff (this is an issue not being effectively addressed)
– legitimate objections

NEA example of cell phone videos of teachers proselytizing in class, calling students names in class, etc: students are capturing evidence of this online

– Nancy is seeing significant issues in school contexts where students are targeting school staff
– this is similar to documented cases of police abuse

school staff bullying of students is REAL
– reporting by students is VERY risky because of retaliation
– some teachers ARE inadequate, removing those teachers is costly and difficult

If a student is being abused by a staff member and retaliates online when there is no other safe reporting mechanism…

Do not immediately assume the student is the origin of the problem
– look at the entire situation
– understand students have a free speech right to protest the actions of staff and school policies, but they can and should be held responsible/accountable for the impacts of their actions

Sexually related risks
– engaging in activities online related to emerging sexuality
– teens must understand
— the kinds of sexual risks

self-harm communities in which students are involved
– these can provide strong emotional support for highly vulnerable youth
– a safety plan must be established to disentangle a teen’s association in these communities
– you can’t just tell a parent to cut off access for the child at home

teens involved in hate groups, gangs, or may form troublesome youth groups
– gang prevention efforts must address…

Online gaming
– cyberthreats could be related to online games
– forming guilds to work together to execute a violent attack, take over a village
– have had some some reports of students planning violent attacks at school who have been attacking vitually together in their guild
– there may be a transfer here (NANCY’S CONJECTURE, NO RESEARCH ON THIS)

Many teens do not understand the potential harm from unsafe communities…

addictive access
interacting with others: need to know how to safely interact with those they know and those they don’t

Why might students NOT make good choices online
– young people at risk in real world are at greater risk online

4 groups
1- savvy youth have effective knowledge, sills, and values to independently make good choices
2- Naive youth lack sufficient knowledge and skills to make good choices
3- Vulnerable youth are facing temporary emotional challenges
4- At Risk youth are those who are “at risk” in other areas of life

greater the degree of risk, the greater the liklihood the young person will be:
– searching for acceptance and attention
– vulnerable to manipulation
– less likely to make good choices
– less attentive to Internet safety messages
– less resilient in getting out of risk situations

Saavy kids can become peer leaders

Brain development
– teen’s frontal cortex, they are biologically incapable of consistently making good decisions, but biologically compelled to make their own decisions
– learning to make good decisions requires paying attention to the consequences of your actions, and that is more difficult to do online

We must give guidance to teens to solve these problems independently, but also highlight when it is appropriate to seek helkp

perception of invisibility or creation of anonymity reduces concerns of detection that could result in disapproval or punishment
In face people are NOT invisible online
– they leave cyberfootprints that can be traced
– anonymity is greater in chat rooms than in social networking environments

Need to focus on the development of internalized control
– is this the right thing to do?

“I can’t see you” element
– lack of tangible feedback about consequences of actions
– interferes with empathy, which leads to remorse

we have to focus on consequences (predictable ones) with kids and discipline that helps them to understand the harm, not simply the power of the authority to punish them

students are exploring who they are
– that can result in disclosure of material that can be used for harmful purposes
– attacking people to gain attention

We must set up web 2.0 learning activities where students can learn to present a good public online image and evaluate the images presented by others
– review good and bad examples of adult online images and postings
– encouraging students to create higher quality online standards for their generation

How are we going to teach our kids to use these tools in safe and responsible ways if we are not using them in the schools in moderated communities? We can’t

Question for kids: “Am I Hot?”
– our culture, kids are emerging sexually in a culture that promotes provocative sexuality
– students post provocative images
– explore sexual relationships online

we must have media literacy classes that help students learn to challenge this culture

American Psychological Assn report on the Sexualization of Girls

we need from a media literacy to teach kids how sex is being used to sell, to manipulate
– we need to provide comprehensive sex education
– we need to address sexual orientation

Some online social norms support risky or harmful behavior
– “life online is just a game”
– “It’s not me, it’s my online personna”
– “what happens online, stays online”
– “I have the free speech right to write or post whatever I want regardless of the harm it causes”

What kinds of norms are students helping create for their generation’s online communities
– seek to empower students

Question of teens “How far can I go?”
– exploring boundaries
– need to teach about risks for online behavior, not by fear mongering or taking the just say no approach, but rather by providing them with accurate information

techniques now being used to influence attitudes and behavior
– usually involve providing attention or goodies
– need to teach kids about this

Legal issues
– offline speech presents challenging
– the more harmful incidents are occurring when kids are off-campus, but the harmful impact is also taking place at school
– students have free speech rights but officials have responsibility for safe schools

regardless of where the speech occurs, when the impact is at school and jeopardizes…

Basic constitutional standard
– authority to formally respond to off-campus speech to protect the rights of other students to be safe and receive an education

supreme court cases on free speech: court has upheld both standards in school
– school officials can restrict speech (natural rights – Tinker case)
– under Bethel: student officials can restrict speech that is totally against the schools’ educational mission

for cases involving offsite speech, school officials can’t restrict speech to inculcate values
– but CAN restrict if that speech could cause concerns for the safety and well being of students, or restrict the delivery of instruction

there needs to be a “school nexus” for speech being restricted
– something about that speech relates to school
– impact at school that is material and substantial
– or is reasonably foreseeable will be a material or substantial impact

Disruption or Interference
– significant interference with instructional activities, school activities, or school operations
– physical or verbal violent altercations
– a hostile environment that impairs a student’s ability to participate in educational programs or school activities
– assessed based on objective and subjective analysis

Speech that targets school staff or challenges school policy will often not meet this standards
– frequently will not meet substantial disruption standard
– unless substantial disruption of instruction, school operations, or school activities
– students have the right to petition school officials to right a wrong or correct problem

Our founding fathers called King George a “tyrant” in the Declaration of Independence

School officials must respond to online material that raises a concenr a student may pose a threat
– issue is not whether a threat was posted
– issue is whether the student POSES a threat

respond to on-campus speech
– legal standards are not very clear on authority and responsiblity to respond to harmful speech through district internet system

Does Oklahoma have a student free press statute?
– watch out on that: that is for school newspapers, often that does not address things students post in other places

School officials have authority and responsibility to respond to any harmful speech that takes place while students are using personal digital devices on-campus
– ability to monitor and review is limited
– must address the concern that students are not reporting because of fear of consequences for cell phone policies

What if student speech has created a hostile environment for students at school
– school officails LIKELY have the responsiblity to respond to off-campus online speech that has created a hostile environment at school
– they definitely have a responsibility if the district Internet system was used or are associated with on-campus harmful interactions
– failure to investigate and respond could constitute “deliberate indifference”

VERY important to get the bridge between edtech staff and safe schools staff
– review team mebers who could include an administrator, counselor, tech coordinator, librarian, school resource officer, and community mental health rep

if there is an imminent threat, contact law enforcement
– remember an impersonation could be taking place

Evidence gathering should be well documented and preserved
– determine identity of cyberbully(ies)

Search for additional harmful material
– conduct analysis of all involved students through district internet system
– ask about related on-campus actions

What appears to be off-campus behavior may not be

Bypassing the filter by school officials is NOT a violation of CIPA
– this IS essential to protect student safety
– failure to be able to bypass the filter can be construed as “deliberate indifference”

Sometimes the student how posts harmful material is a victim

Because of litigation: DOCUMENT EVERYTHING
– officials must be able to prove disruption or potential for disruption
– need to document the degree to which something is a hostile environment

personal digital devices
– have a lot of unresolved issues related to wiretapping law and investigation of student cell phones
– if need to review and no consent, confiscate device and contact school attorney
– if possible criminal concern, contact policy

Imposition of formal discipline will never be an entirely sufficient response to resolve the problem
– stopping the harm and rebuilding relationships are the most important objectives
– ensure removal of harmful materials
– prevent retaliation
– address support needs of target
– help the perpetrator remedy the harm

Nancy supports a focus on “restorative justice”
– can respond both formally and informally

Nancy’s research-grounded, comprehensive approach
– grounded in Olweus bully prevention program
– not research based
– enhanced with insight into cyberbullying, technical issues, and legal issues

systematic change in organizational structure of schools and how we are addressing these issues
– edtech staff and prevention staff must work together
– need more formal and informal needs assessments on this

bypassing the internet filter needs to be a policy for staff

cyberbullying policy: expanding definitions of bullying (already happening in Oklahoma)

Revise threat assessment protocol and suicide prevention planning to Internet communications

work with legal counsel to craft personal digital device policy that is in accord with state wiretapping law

also addresses digital devices: what if students are bringing their own devices to school
– how can we get students to report these cell phone incidents that they are not reporting now

need policies specific to taking pictures on school grounds or at school events
– school is not a public place to take pictures
– specific permission should be required before taking a picture of anyone at school or activities
– exclude journalism and public events
– prohibit use of imaging device in restroom or locker room
– taking a picture of someone at school with an intention to harm should be a major policy infraction
– reporting procedure should be clarified

if you are being cyberbullied: DON’T RETALIATE!
– save the evidence
– try to figure out who the cyberbully is, if you do not know
– decide whether you can handle the situation yourself or should tell an adult

steps to try first
– simply leave a public site
– calmly an strongly telling the cyberbully to stop and to remove any harmful material or you will take further action
– ignore or block the communications and remove the friendship links
– file a complaint with the website, ISP, or cell phone company
– your parents can send the material the cyberbully has posted to his or her parents and demand they make it stop
– if the person cyberbullying you goes to your school, your school counselor, principal, or resource officer can help
– parents can contact an attorney to send a letter or file a lawsuit against the parents of the cyberbully
– parents or the school can contact the police if the cyberbullying includes any threats or is a crime

Be a good friend
– take action if you witness it
– help the person being cyberbullied

the fact that harmful material is or can be preserved in electronic format, and the true author can generally be identified, provides significant advantages for cyber-savvy school personnel to more effectively discover and intervene in situations that are negatively impacting students.

Larry Magid article from today “Obama raises hopes for online civility”

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One Response to Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats: Responding to the Challenge by Nancy Willard


    Interesting: cyberbullying is a “bullying” problem not an “internet safety” problem. Is this a helpful distinction? Exploitation and abuse, I would have thought are essentially problems that arise from particular types of communication. The digital world merely transforms the ‘communication’ into another media. Ultimately Internet safety is about addressing people problem. I would have liked to have listened to Nancy’s talk – as she raises lots of good points.
    Thank you for posting the summary

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