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The Rise In Cyberbullying

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The Rise In Cyberbullying

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The Rise In Cyberbullying

The Rise In Cyberbullying

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NPR's Melissa Block talks to Justin Patchin, associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, about the increase in cyberbullying, and what's being done to combat it.


As we've heard, the suicide of Tyler Clementi has renewed a conversation about cyberbullying and the invasion of privacy facilitated by people using online social networks.

Justin Patchin is co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, that's an online clearinghouse of information. He says as new technologies take hold, expectations of privacy are shifting.

Mr. JUSTIN PATCHIN (Co-director, Cyberbullying Research Center): I think it's a different perspective that we, as adults, have, compared to adolescents, as far as what would be considered a breach of privacy. And oftentimes, I talk to those who engage in cyberbullying behaviors, and they genuinely didn't realize the harm that would come from them posting certain information online. So, again, it's just sort of a different world for adolescents these days.

BLOCK: When you talk to people who have engaged in cyberbullying, what do they tell you about what motivates them? Why they think that's okay?

Mr. PATCHIN: Yeah, most of the time when we're speaking with individuals who admit to cyberbullying, they're students, high school students or middle school students. And what they tell us is, first of all, they don't really see it as something wrong. They think it's fun. They think it's funny. They don't think they're going to get caught because they can kind of hide behind the anonymity of the technology, and they really don't see it as that big of a deal.

BLOCK: Do you find that it's just that, the shield of privacy online that makes bullying escalate? Does it get worse and worse because of the privacy and the anonymity?

Mr. PATCHIN: It definitely does. We've seen a lot of examples where seemingly insignificant actions online, maybe it's a post to a picture on Facebook, a comment about something, it just sort of blows up at school either because of some misperception or whatever. I mean, when we're communicating in real life, we can kind of see the signals and the signs and the tones of voice, and we can see that we're joking. But when these things are done online, we have no idea what the intent is and are you making fun of me or you're just joking. You know, there are just certain social cues not readily apparent when communicating online.

BLOCK: I supposed one other thing that might play in here is that the bully would not be registering a response on the part of the victim that might say, whoa, you know, I need...

Mr. PATCHIN: That's right.

BLOCK: back off.

Mr. PATCHIN: That's exactly right. So, you know, if I say something mean to you in real life, I'm going to have to deal with the consequences of that, and, hopefully, I'll adjust my behavior accordingly. Maybe you start crying. Maybe you punch me in the nose. Maybe, you know, again, there's a response that I'll have to deal with, and I can use to maybe modify my behavior. But that's not readily apparent online. And so maybe I didn't really mean to cause you harm, but you're really hurt by it, and I would have no idea.

BLOCK: Rutgers University has just started a campaign, a two-year campaign they were calling Project Civility before this incident happened. This has been in the works for a long time. And I noticed that one of the seminars that they had planned down the line has to do with technology and civil behavior. It's called "Uncivil Gadgets." And it asks: How do emerging technologies affect our conduct, how are they affecting our privacy, personal relationships and behavior? Clearly, this was on their mind on some level, not on this level to be sure.

Mr. PATCHIN: Oh, I'm sure many universities and high schools and middle schools know that technology is creating a lot of challenges with respect to civility and problematic content posted online. And we know that the vast majority of cases of cyberbullying fall short of sort of a criminal sanction. And so it really takes some of these informal - other informal remedies to both respond and to try to prevent, as it appears that Rutgers was trying to do, and develop, you know, a community where nobody is engaging in these kinds of behaviors, whether it be online or off.

BLOCK: Justin Patchin, thank you very much.

Mr. PATCHIN: Thanks a lot, Melissa.

BLOCK: Justin Patchin is a professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center.

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