Tuesday, December 25, 2012

5 Steps We Can Take to Avoid Being Cyber-Bullied

by Philip J Reed, on behalf of Westwood College
(Mr. Reed is a Guest Writer for EOPC)

“Cyber-bullying” is a term we hear more about each day. There are always more examples – all too many of which end in tragedy – of the internet and other technologies being used to torment, browbeat and humiliate otherwise innocent people.

Frequently these targets are children or young people, but a new study conducted by professor Andy Pippen for Plymouth University in England has revealed that adults are increasingly becoming targets as well. Pippen looked only at teachers, but he found that one in three teachers has been cyber-bullied… and that a quarter of those cyber-bullies were other adults!

Cyber-bullies aren’t just children, and neither are the victims. It’s a serious cause for concern, and it’s something everybody should understand, and be aware of the steps they can take to avoid it. Being cyber-bullied can ruin a life, or dramatically increase the quality of that life. Know the facts in advance, and keep reading to find our five tips on how to avoid being cyber-bullied.

1) Keep Your Information Private!
There’s a reason we’re putting this one first, and that reason should be obvious. As Thomas Hobbes once said, “Knowledge is power.” The more you tell your cyber-bullies about yourself, the more ammunition they will have to use against you. And, perhaps, the more they will be able to manipulate you in the hopes that by playing along you will prevent them from releasing (or misusing) more of your information.

Of course, nobody knowingly “provides” their cyber-bullies with personal information. Unfortunately, information provided to otherwise benign websites and databases can either be accessed or hacked by a devoted cyber-bully. Don’t provide any private information about yourself to any site unless it is absolutely necessary. And we don’t just mean your address and social security number. Sensitive information can include (but is not limited to) the town in which you live, your mother’s maiden name, the names of your pets, or even the fact that you’ll be going on vacation for two weeks. Any of this can be used to find you, manipulate you, or access your private records. (A fairly recent high-profile case involved the hacking of Sarah Palin’s private email account, simply because the hackers listened to her interviews and used that basic personal information to solve her security questions!) Take cyber security seriously! The bullies certainly do!

2) Do Not Play Along!
If you are being cyber-bullied, know that it is serious! Do not engage them, do not encourage them, and, most of all, do not try to bully them in return! If a cyber bully has picked you as a target, they are prepared. Any attempt to bully them in return is almost guaranteed to backfire.

Ignoring cyber bullies can actually work, to some extent. If you don’t reply to their emails or instant messages, they can either become bored or convinced that you are not reliably reachable in that way… even if you are. This can encourage them to move on to another target.

Of course, ignoring them won’t work every time, especially if you’ve been singled out by a bully specifically. They may keep emailing, texting, or even calling in the hopes that you are being rattled by their methods. Ignoring them may not stop this behavior, but bear in mind that it does stop them from obtaining any new information to use against you. If you were responding to them, you’d be giving them more ammunition, or just inflaming the situation further. Avoid doing either of those things like the plague!

3) Inform the Authorities!

There’s a fine line between teasing and bullying, but, typically, we know bullying when we see it. Once you’re sure that you’re being legitimately harassed or tormented (rather than, say, a friend playing a joke on you), take it to the police. This is especially true – and important! – if you are being actively threatened. The police need to know, and they need to know soon!

Modern computer forensics techniques can uncover a great deal of information about your bullies, and the sooner you report them, the more likely they can be traced. Of course a technologically savvy bully can cover his tracks in many ways, but don’t assume that they’ve done so successfully! Let the authorities do their best to track them down.

Bear in mind that the police may not be able to do much when the bullying is small scale, but by completing an incident report early on, you will have a stronger case if the bullying continues, or increases, down the line. Don’t wait to report it. If you know you are being bullied, call the police!

4) Always Think Before Responding!
Sometimes bullying can be defused, but often it cannot, or at least not by the victim. Always think twice about responding to any unsolicited messages. If you do not recognize a screen name that is sending you messages, even if they seem friendly, be sure to find out if you actually know this person before divulging anything at all. Tell them that they have three chances to tell you who they are and how they know you, and if they still don’t tell you after the third time you ask, block them.

It may seem callous or even rude to do this, but you can’t be too safe. Even one incident of cyber-bullying can scar a human being for a lifetime; it is not worth the risk.

If you do intend to speak to somebody you don’t know, whether in a chat room or on a message board, always try to be polite. Even if you are blocking or ignoring somebody, rudeness can only inflame situations, so avoid it at all costs!

Which leads us into our final (but not least important) tip…

5) Be Aware of What You’re Doing Online!
The best tip to avoid cyber-bullying is simply to avoid angering a cyber bully in the first place! Of course this is not always possible (for many obvious reasons), but you can minimize the likelihood of becoming the victim of cyber-bullying simply by monitoring your own presence online.

If you are rude to people, the odds are very good that they will be rude in return.

If you compromise somebody else’s security for any reason, you leave yourself open to retaliation. Behave yourself in internet discussions. Be calm, be rational, and be understanding of the viewpoints of others. You will never know what may set somebody off, be it your opinion about politics, religion, or last night’s episode of The Office, so watch how you phrase things, and always be big enough to back out of discussions completely when you see them getting out of hand.

Again, this will by no means insulate you from cyber-bullying overall, but it will help to minimize the potential of becoming a target. The sad fact is everybody on the internet, from the least-knowledgeable young girl with her first computer to the college-educated systems administrator with a degree in information security. Nobody is exempt, and everybody has responsibility to themselves to stay vigilant, to stay alert, and to stay safe.

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