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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Call a Spade, a Spade: Cyberbullying As Misnomer

On 22, Apr 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

Almost a year ago now I went with my husband to Common Sense Media to help them create a toolkit for implementing a 1:1 computer program for schools. One of the other educators said something that was completely unrelated, but stuck with me. He said that he wished people would stop using the term “cyberbullying”. I didn’t think much of it at the time, except that you could wish that for any number of terms that become buzzwords. Then the other day my husband came home and told me about a bullying issue that the school where he works was having. This is, of course, just one incident in a long list of bullying incidents that go on at schools across the nation, but it rankled me because the school was attaching the term “cyberbullying” to it and were wanting my husband, the technology director, to respond. Suddenly Ed’s comment came screaming back to me and I couldn’t help invoking his name and wish as my husband and I discussed the issue.

Now, sometimes I like terms like this because they help articulate what it is you are thinking or doing. Things like “transliteracy” or “digital literacy”. Sure, they may not actually be new ideas or new concepts. It is possible and probable that these things have been around for ages, we’re just suddenly naming them and talking about them more. But when it comes time to explain what you  do or want to do, especially with someone who is not a librarian, having a succinct and clear way of labeling something can be really helpful. On the other hand, I don’t like labels because they get over used or become buzzwords. And when that happens I think it can detract from their importance and make people take the concept less seriously or treat it like a fad. For a good articulation of why using terms as buzzwords is a bad idea see here.

But “cyberbullying” is a totally different problem. It’s a misnomer. I am a huge proponent of calling spades, spades. Cyberbullying is bullying. By adding “cyber” onto bullying it lulls people into thinking it’s a problem with the technology and not the people involved with it. Social media and the Internet DO NOT make anyone bully someone else. Let me repeat, social media is NOT the problem. It does make bullying easier and maybe even more tempting because discovery is so much more difficult. But Facebook is not twisting people’s arms and forcing them to post mean or inappropriate comments.

Parents are already scared of technology. They don’t need the added fear that the computer (or Internet or Facebook or Twitter) is also making their child into a monster. Bullying, on- and offline, is a parenting issue. Which is not to say that the parent is making their child into a monster. Kids, even adults, are prone to teasing and picking on others. Some of this stuff is going to happen.

I think by calling it cyberbullying, you also relinquish some measure of control. Parents (and educators, too!) are already frightened  and feel powerless when it comes to their children and technology. By blaming social media you just affirm their impotence. By calling it cyberbullying you also relinquish some degree of culpability.  Not only do they feel like they have no control, parents and educators give themselves a pass on dealing with the issue head on. They just block the website and hope it takes awhile before their kids find another one. Or worse, naively assume that they won’t find another site. And that’s why we need to stop calling it anything but bullying, plain and simple.

In terms of the incident that happened the other day at school, the school handled it very well. They spoke to the kids about making good choices both on and offline. They also informed the parents that it was an ongoing, team effort between the parents and school to raise respectable people.

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