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Defining Cyber Bullying

What is cyber bullying? It can be as blunt as a verbal attack on a MySpace wall or as subtle as having a third party watch over an instant message conversation unbeknowst to the victim. In order to understand how to stop it is, one has to know what it looks like. Here is a brief guide that can help parents and teachers identify cyber bullying.

Flaming • Online “fights” using electronic messages with angry and vulgar language.

Harassment • Repeatedly sending offensive and insulting messages–the online equivalent of directbullying.

Cyber stalking • Engaging in online activities that make a person afraid for his or her safety.

Denigration • Sending or posting cruel gossip or rumors about a person to damage his or her reputation or friendships.

Impersonating • Impersonating someone to make the person look bad, get into trouble or danger, or damage that person’s reputation or friendships.

Outing • Sharing someone’s secrets or embarrassing information or images online.

Trickery • Tricking someone into revealing secrets or embarrassing information, which is then shared. Deceiving someone online to humiliate or cause harm.

Exclusion • Intentionally excluding someone from an online group. The online equivalent of “You are not my friend”.

Effects of Cyber Bullying

Cyber bullying is such a recent phenomenon that very little research is available about the long-term effects that cyber bullying can have on any student – either with or without a disability. However, research have suggested that cyber bullying effects are very similar to something called “relational aggression”. “Relational aggression” roots from a destructive relationship and intends to cause harm through humiliation, lying and depletion of social status and relationships. Some research has indicated that relational aggression can indicate a risk “for future social-psychological adjustment problems” (Crick, Ostrov and Werner, 2006).

We can’t underestimate the power that cyber bullying can have on students. Some cyber bullying can bring students to take their own lives like in the cases of Megan Meier and Phoebe Prince. In the case of Megan Meier, students were denouncing her as “a fat whore” and a liar. What’s so destructive about these words is that they become publicly announced and often can only be changed or edited by the perpetrator. The anonymity of the internet allows for others to play tricks – like a boy pretending to “like” Megan. For her, those words are what drew her to take her own life. Phoebe Prince, a girl recently transferred from Ireland to a Massachusetts school, took her own life after nearly three months of verbal abuse both in-person and online.

While neither of these girls had cognitive disabilities, they had very distinct characteristics that made them stand out from their peers. Megan was overweight and struggled with depression and attention deficient disorder. Phoebe was an immigrant from Ireland and also struggled with depression. Both students were targets and many students with cognitive disabilities may stand out from their peers (especially with the increase exposure in inclusive classrooms) based on their physical appearance, communication skills or their “social status”.

Not all effects of cyber bullying are as extreme as these two cases. Here are some other effects that cyber bullying can have on students:

1. Embarrassment, fear and anxiety

2. Absenteeism

3. Poor academic performance

4. Self-esteem issues (carrying over into adulthood) (Council for Exceptional Children, 2010)

5. Feeling that no one supports you (Mahdavi, Carvalho, Russell, & Tippet, 2008)

6. Feeling unsafe

7. Lack of attention in school

8. Trouble making decisions

9. Potentally hurt career or job opportunities/outcomes (Girl Scouts Reserach Institute, 2010)

10. Considering cyber bullying as “normal”  or “acceptable”

11. Rejection within social group of friends (School Psychology International, 2009)

Surprisingly, cyber bullying doesn’t only affect the students. Poor behavior of student-student relationships has the potential to create a negative school culture that can lead to higher turnover and retirement rates in teachers.

Current Legislation

Legislation to prevent cyber bullying is state-mandated. Currently (July 2010), 44 states include statewide laws for bullying. Five states include the term “cyber bullying” while 30 states include “electronic harassment” (Cyberbullying Research Center, 2010). While only a few states actually have criminal sanction for these issues, many states hold the school districts responsible by mandating a school policy to be in place. Therefore, it is often up to the teachers and administrators to ensure that students are knowledgeable about the dangerous effects of cyberbullying.

Bill HR1966, Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act, was introduced April 2009. The summary of the bill is:

“Amends the federal criminal code to impose criminal penalties on anyone who transmits in interstate or foreign commerce a communication intended to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to another person, using electronic means to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior.”

The House of Representatives has completed holding subcommittee hearings regarding cyberbully safety for students recently (June 24, 2010). Many testimonies are urging the House of Representative to add language to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as the No Child Left Behind Act). Action by the House of Representatives would help push forward the necessity for states to have laws for bullying and cyber bullying. The next step for to get this bill passed is for the subcommittees to report and recommend this bill for a vote. Read more at:

According to, in 2006, 1 of 3 teens and 1 of 6 preteens were victims of cyber bullying. These statistics may or may not include students with disabilities, but if these are the numbers for general education students, the implication for students with cognitive disabilities indicates that education on this subject is just as important if not more for students that might be easily goaded into cyber bullying others and/or have difficulty expressing their need for help. Legislation on a national level may help push for curricula to include cyber bullying recognition and response.


Cassidy, W., Jackson, M., & Brown, K.N. (2009). Sticks and stones can break my bones, but how can pixels hurt me?: students’ experiences with cyber-bullying. School Psychology International, 30 (4), 383-402.

CNN Wire Staff (2010). Prosecutor: 9 teens charged in bullying that led to girl’s suicide. Retrieved from

Crick, N.R., Ostrov, J.M., & Werner, N.E. (2006). A longitudinal study of relational aggression, physical aggression, and children’s social–psychological adjustment. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 34(2), 131-142.

Eckholm, E. & Zezima, K. (2010, March 29). 6 teenagers are charged after classmate’s suicide. The New York Times. Retrieved from:

Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J.W. (2010). State cyberbullying laws: a brief review of cyberbullying laws and policies across america. Retrieved from

Maag, C. (2007, December 17). When Bullies Turned Faceless. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Napolitano, D. (2010). Proceedings from U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor. Ensuring Student Cyber Safety. Washington, D.C.

Smith, P. K., Mahdavi, J., Carvalho, M., Fisher, S., Russell, S., & Tippett, N. (2008).  Cyberbullying: its nature and
impact in secondary school pupils.  Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49, 376-385.

(2010). 1 of 3 Teens & 1 of 6 Preteens Are Victims of Cyber Bullying. Retrieved from

(2010). Bullying of Children with Exceptionalities: Tackling It in Your School and Your Classroom. Council for Exceptional Children.  Retrieved from:

(2010). 28 Students Suspended for Cyber Bullying. Curriculum Review, 49(7), 3. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

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