How do we promote kindness within a society? If we cannot encourage people to be kind, how can we at least stop them from being mean and aggressive? History and the current state of social interactions are replete with examples of people treating others badly. From murder and assault to robbery and defamation, ill will abounds. Turn on the nightly news or peruse your preferred news source on line and you will find no shortage of stories in which individuals bring harm to others. Over the last 20 years with the development of the internet and—more recently—social media, a new venue has emerged in which we can mete out harm to our fellow human beings.
The federal government website StopBullying.gov defines cyberbullying as “bullying that takes place over digital devices on online forums where people can view, participate in, or share content. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behavior.” Anyone can be cyberbullied. Cyberbullying can occur between strangers in the comments section of a news site or through nasty tweets on Twitter. More often, though, cyberbullying happens between people who know each other. The most common and troublesome populations in which cyberbullying occurs is among school acquaintances.
In order to stem the proliferation of cyberbullying, the topic needs to be addressed head-on in the educational setting with effective digital citizenship programming. The question is what are the components of good digital citizenship curriculum that will curtail cyberbullying among students in our K-12 institutions? I believe a strong curriculum would have three objectives: 1) stress that online life is real life. There should be no distinction between our personalities and the conduct we exhibit online versus how we behave “in real life.” Our online activities are part of our “real lives.” 2) provide examples of how individuals have been harmed by cyberbullying. We are all social creatures, and when we are exposed to examples of online behavior that harms people in real devastating ways, that can be a powerful impetus for us not to engage in that kind of behavior. 3) Finally, we must devise digital citizenship curriculum that relates to students’ own lives. Through journaling, get students to share incidents in which they have either engaged in or witnessed cyberbullying. Get them to delve into how it made them feel, why it was wrong, and what they could do in the future to prevent it.
A final crucial piece of digital citizenship instruction must be to reinforce to students that we all have a role to play in calling it out. Whether they witness cyberbullying being committed against themselves or another student, they must share that information with a trusted adult. The victim’s life could depend on it.
What Is Cyberbullying? (2019). Stopbullying.gov. Retrieved from: https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/what-is-it/index.html
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