Around the school yard it’s easy to spot a bully, but when harassment takes place online, cyber bullies often torment their victims behind the mask of anonymity, making it difficult to hold them accountable. Just who are these cyber bullies? Are they vengeful youth lurking in online chat rooms or are they “friends” on Facebook? What’s the profile of a cyberbully?
While research suggests that anyone is just as likely to be a bully or a victim, here are a few common profiles of youth-tormenting cyberbullies:
The Peer Predator
It’s not surprising that most cyber bullies are the same age as their victims and equally as likely to be a boy or girl. These peer predators are more apt to be the Facebook “friends” of their victims. According to a 2004 study by the Journal of Adolescence, 68% of these offenders (typically age 9-14) use the Internet for four or more days per week, while those whose use the Internet most often for chat rooms are three times more likely to harass others online than those who don’t. As the peer predator passes age 15, bullying becomes more violent and often evolves into sexual harassment.
On Facebook he is the dreamy 17 year-old boy or girl everyone has a crush for, in real life he is a middle-aged man, logging into Facebook from his garage to seek out shy, withdrawn, or handicapped children who are vulnerable to his advances. Most often men (though they do include women), these perverts gain the trust of their victims and convince them to take pornographic photos of themselves–which the pedophiles promptly share online with the victim’s peers. Just last week, teenager Amanda Todd killed herself after a string of harassment emanating from an incident where a mystery man posted a photo exposing the teen’s chest.
Its probably a teen’s worst nightmare to be ‘friended’ online by their parent, or a friend’s parent on Facebook or Myspace. But when parents impersonate teenagers online in an attempt to take justice into their own hands or “investigate” activity in their child’s social network, it can get really nasty quick. In 2007, a Missouri mom posed as a foreign 16-year-old boy to feign interest in teenage girl Megan Meier, a former friend of her daughter’s to investigate what Megan was saying about her daughter online. After online manipulation and harassment the girl committed suicide at the Missouri mom’s urging.
Holding Cyberbullies Accountable
Too often these faceless bullies torment their victims without facing consequences for their actions. For youth victims however, their tormentors aren’t faceless: the profile of a cyberbully is often the kid sitting next to them in class, perhaps a soccer teammate, or a facebook friend, people they know but are too embarrassed to report. Stopping “the peer predator”, “the pedophile” and “parent/impersonator” and other online tormentors is possible by encouraging victims to speak out–identify and report cyberbullies to school administrators and law enforcement when necessary.