Schools need to start with a formal assessment of the extent and scope of the problem of cyber-bullying within their school by collecting survey and/or interview data from their students, teachers, parents, staff and technical experts to establish the baseline measures of Internet usages, instances of cyber-bullying, the extent of bullying, profiles of victims and bullies, pretext of bullying, effects of bullying, coping strategies of students, involvement of teachers in counseling, parental awareness of cyber issues, formal complaints lodged with any authority, list of concerned local and other government officials and the possible patterns, if any.
Based on the analysis of the baseline measures, a school’s specific priorities and initiatives to tackle cyber-bullying will emerge. In general, the following are the recommended core of initiatives for schools:
- Students must be cultivated into appreciating and accepting that bullying in any form is uncivil and unacceptable.
- Students must be made aware of the stringent laws of the land regarding ragging and harassment and how cyber-bullying borders ragging/harassment.
- Students must be informed how the school has declared cyber-bullying a serious disciplinary issue and any violation may attract severe disciplinary action.
- Students must be explained, with the help a technical expert, how the users in cyber space are always traceable. Examples may be cited from the public domain to attest the traceability.
Here is one such instance for reference where a ‘cyber activity’ was cracked and arrest made in just 14 hours post report of the crime (this is drawn from a report in The Times of India but we are withholding further details of the publication for reasons of discreetness):
In this case, even the server logs were not available when the case was discovered and it was impossible to know the Internet Protocol (IP) address that gives a fair indication of the location of the user. What other techniques could the investigating agencies use? They decided to fall back on tried and tested “old style policing”.
Instead of tracking the IP address, they got down to tracking a tee-shirt. From the images on the Internet of the suspect, whose face was blurred, a clearly visible t-shirt worn by him became the first definite trace. What also helped was his voice. A voice analysis pointed to a man in early or mid-20s with a definite popular accent.
Within hours, trawling through Facebook pages using special software, checking for pictures of people sporting similar tee-shirts had already reduced the search to just a few hundred profiles.
It was followed up with matching the voice accent and the “tee-shirt shortlist” and the search list reduced to under 10! The rest was not too difficult.
Students must also be reminded of the fact that all the activities conducted in cyber space are almost always permanently ‘stored’ in some server or the other; data is never permanently lost in the digital world. There is no escape for the bully – he/she may be caught years later, the bullying text/image may surface just at the wrong time, e.g. when seeking job, contract or marriage.
- Help students realise how school is within its right to take cognisance of behaviour that occurs miles away from the school, if it substantially disrupts the environment of the school.
- Set and repeatedly communicate clear rules regarding the use of the Internet, computers, mobile phones, intranet, Wi-fi, tablets and other electronic devices. Post signs or posters in the computer labs, hallways, and classrooms to remind the students to use technology responsibly.
- Encourage teachers, administrators, and counsellors to be technologically aware and help them be continuously abreast of the emergent issues – technological, legal, social, behavioural.
- Parents must be very closely involved in cyber routines as their ignorance and ‘soft-parenting styles’ are not commensurate with the demands of the time. Parents must be made aware of the laws, traceability of cyber users, permanency of cyber acts/content /texts/pictures/video, good cyber practices. Parents must be pushed to control access to Internet and mobiles by agreeing on a ‘usage protocol’ at home as a family – parents must also be model users. Parents must see cyber access and etiquettes as life skills issue and develop family norms and values on these issues too.
- Use peer mentoring, older students should be called in to handhold the younger students in handling the first brush with cyber issues and act cautiously. Older students should informally teach and share their experiences of the Internet with younger students to promote positive online interactions
- Take help of technology providers in creating a safer intranet and device locks within the school premises.
- Revisit and update the school policy and operations manual with cyber issues in mind.
- Make cyber safety and etiquettes, along with the larger concept of digital identity and citizenship, an important part of value education and life skills curriculum.
- Create a ‘climate committee’ focused on preventive aspects of digital missteps by continuously holding school climate micro-audit to identify issues and individuals prone to missteps and use informal consultations and sanctions to prevent ill-occurrences. There is a link between a perceived ‘negative’ institutional environment and the prevalence of bullying.
- Create an ‘advocacy committee’, composed of students, parents, technology ‘experts’ among parents and teachers, to proactively secure better digital citizenship and be responsible for continuous education of all stakeholders on cyber issues.
- Create a ‘disciplinary jury’, with a composition similar to the advocacy committee, focused on suggesting disciplinary actions whenever required.
There is a lot schools can do to prevent and control cyber bullying.