Cyber Bullying – is banning social media in schools the answer?

I was interested to see that the Herald picked up the story of a facebook removing a pro-bullying group. What was interesting about this case was the reason that the group was taken down, it was due to parental action rather than school action. In fact according to the report the principal was unaware of the incident when he was first contacted by reporters (who had likely been tipped off after the topic became a heated topic on the Trade Me message boards).

This story brings up three important issues for me.

Firstly there is the concern that social media is taking bullying to a new level of awfulness. In some ways this correct. Students literally have a new medium for which torment each other. However while the internet has aided and abetted a bully’s ability to public humiliate victim. There is a positive aspect to this, it means that they are leaving a trail of nastiness which makes it easier for people to take action because, especially in the case of Facebook, the offenders are a lot easier to track down. More importantly cyber-bulling leaves a cyber trail of evidence so that those being bullied aren’t re-victimised by having to go through the process of talking about incidents all again and more importantly it doesn’t come down to a differing accounts of the story.

Secondly, as with all online campaigns I find myself a bit uncomfortable with the ‘fight fire with fire’ approach that many commentators use when they see cyberbullying going on. Alexandra Wallace the UCLA student whose now infamous racial rant ended up having to leave the University under a cloud of death threats after the video went viral back in March. Personally I’m a big fan of humour but that brings me to my last point.

Is the answer to the problem of cyber bullying merely to ban it schools? After years moderating a chat board (yes I am showing my age) and being an administrator on a blog with over 1000 hits a day (obviously not this one), I’m starting to think that schools putting a blanket ban on social media isn’t going to make the problem of cyberbullying go away. As this story indicates the lines between home and school are increasingly blurred with the advent of the internet (one would argue it started blurring with the advent of the phone). There are some instances where the schools need to be judicious with what sites are blocked, for instance primary school students are all under the age for Facebook so I can understand why the site is banned for the under 13s (though CEO Mark Zuckerberg would like for younger uses to have access to facebook and I don’t think adding netnanny to teachers’ job descriptions are the way to go either. But I do think it is important that students should learn the ins and outs of responsible cybercitzenship as part of their school day. However rather than just jamming another ‘important thing’ into the curriculum I would be finding ways to incorporate netiquette into existing learning areas.  This assumes that all teachers are literate in the ways of the web and more importantly web 2.0. Which perhaps is the topic of a post for another time…

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