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A cyberbully is a person who harasses or intimidates people online via message boards, chatrooms, social networks, and instant messages (IM). This may be an extension of offline bullying activities or it may be only related to online activities. People of all ages can experience cyberbullying, not just school children
There are a number of different reasons why cyberbullies act as they do but it often comes down to an attempt to gain power over others. By posting a derogatory message or sending an insulting IM, some bullies hope to establish a pecking order, with themselves at the top. Others may hope to retaliate against someone who caused them offline trouble at school. Sometimes several people may entertain themselves by defaming or mocking more vulnerable classmates together.
If you find yourself the target of a cyberbully, one of the first lines of defense is to block the sender and keep a record of all harassing communications. Never accept a message from a sender you do not recognize, as the sender may use any response against you later. Choose a generic, gender-neutral online nickname whenever possible, to prevent an offline bully from discovering your identity. Run periodic online searches of your name to check for any defamatory websites.
Cyberbullies thrive on the attention they receives from the victim, so it's best to ignore them. If you're a child, you should tell a parent or teacher about the messages you've received and any real-life names you can attach to the sender. Quite often, the online actions of a cyberbully mirror offline events during the day. An unfriendly encounter with someone during the day may lead to the formation of a hateful website or the sending of altered photographs to the victim through email that evening. All of these incidents should be noted for possible legal action by the sender's Internet Service Provider (ISP).
Direct confrontation with a cyberbully, whether online or offline, is not recommended. By ignoring his or her messages and online taunts, the victim takes away much of his or her steam. The person will usually either move on to another victim or escalate the attack until it becomes quite evident that action must be taken by the chatroom or message board moderators. Until the messages specifically mention criminal acts or credible threats of violence, the bully may be protected by the First Amendment. Chatroom and message board moderators can choose to delete inflammatory messages or ban troublemakers, but some people do maneuver around such actions.
Sometimes the best way to handle a cyberbully is to limit your online activities and communications. Use the telephone for casual conversations with friends, rather than a public chatroom or instant messenger service. Be prepared to change your online accounts and nicknames to thwart future attacks. Avoid posting dramatic good-bye messages in public chatrooms or message boards following an attack. This will only send the person a message that his or her methods of intimidation were successful.
Parents should take any reports of cyberbullying as seriously as physical bullying. Children may become severely depressed or even suicidal after encountering ongoing cyberbullying. Derogatory websites created by anonymous classmates should be reported to the domain's host immediately. There is a very good chance that the images and language used on such websites are in violation of the hosting company's Terms Of Service (TOS), which gives the company every right to remove the offensive website.
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