Guide to Avoid Cyber Bullying

When someone knocks your books out of your arms in the hall or picks a fight in the school’s playground, you know you’re being bullied. Cyber bullying may not be as easy to spot because the perpetrators are often anonymous and instead of beating your body up, the attackers focus on humiliating and unnerving you. These types of attacks may not leave any physical scars, but they can be far more harmful leading some children to commit suicide. In the same way you would fight a bully who picks a fight, you have to learn to protect yourself in the new school playground: cyberspace.

Take a Look Around

Cyberspace can be a virtual wonderland that comes with new experiences and online friends. Before you go into any virtual area, you need to understand what areas are safe and which carry more risks. Unlike the real life playground where only your school friends are present, cyberspace is open to anyone, and that’s where the dangers come in.  Here are a few places that you might want to explore, and some of the dangers associated with them.

  • Facebook and Twitter – These social networking sites can provide instant popularity by allowing anyone online to friend or follow you. That also means that you will need to be extra careful about the types of information you reveal in your status updates and pictures. While Facebook has ways to limit your profile information to only friends, you also may not know who are the people behind the Facebook pictures and end up friending someone with evil intentions.
  • Online Game Sites – You go online to have fun and play a few games. Don’t expect that because it’s a fun place to be that you are safe there from cyber bullying.  Online game sites can also make it easy for a person to disguise who they really are by picking an avatar like a small child instead of whom they are in real life. You might think you are talking to one type of person and you are really talking to a different one altogether, maybe someone from your school who has learned you play games online and wants to gain your trust so they can bully you more effectively. Be very careful friending people online, even when the site is just for fun and games.
  • Bulletin Boards – Whether it’s a school online bulletin board or one that is for a special hobby, they can also be places where bullies go to spread rumors and gossip online. School bulletin boards can have all your friends neatly in one place, making them also easier to target, too.
  • Email Accounts – You may be in the school library accessing some online email and end up giving away your password innocently to someone. Once a bully has your email account password, they can impersonate you online and send messages from your account to your friends saying nasty things or telling embarrassing lies about you.
  • YouTube – The fact that cell phones now come with video cameras that can be used to capture photos where you are being bullied to post online and increase your sense of humiliation is a sad truth. Also, you have to be very careful about what pictures and videos you allow your friends to take or you might suddenly find it posted for the world on YouTube, without your permission.

How to Control Your Space

With so many electronic opportunities to steal your private information and use it against you, it becomes important to learn how to control your online space to reduce the possibility of it being used to cyber bully you. Before you decide to post anything in your status feed, upload a photo, or chat with someone online, ask yourself this question:

“Would I want everyone to see this piece of information I am about to share?”

If the answer is no, then you probably don’t want to share that information online, either. The best way to make sure that there is no way to reveal anything that can be used to bully you is to simply not reveal it in the first place. However, there are times when people will try to hack into your accounts to harass you and use your own accounts against you. What can you do to control your space then?

  • Passwords – Passwords should not be easy to guess. They should follow rules for good passwords, if possible. It will depend on the site you are on, but a decent password should not be less than six characters, include some upper and lowercase letters, and a special character. Not all sites allow you to do this, but those that do can help you create a password that is difficult to hack. Do not forget to change your password often. Do not use the same password for all your sites as hacking into one will reveal all the others. Use different passwords for each site. Lock your phone so that information stored on it can’t be accessed.
  • Permissions – Facebook will allow you to customize your profile so that you can limit what the public sees on your Facebook profile. However, you privacy settings are often changed within Facebook making some items visible to the public that you thought were hidden. So, although you can change privacy settings, you should just avoid posting anything that might be used to cause trouble for you later.
  • Blocking – You can unfriend and block someone on Facebook so that they never have access to your profile. This will work if you know who is using your information to bully you online. However, profiles can be faked, so it can be had to figure out who is behind the profile that is getting information to post elsewhere. One way to avoid this is to friend only people you know in real life.

Real Life Dangers

A status update as innocent as suggesting that you are at the mall looking at shoes, instead of at home, can be an invitation for someone to use that time to toilet paper your house knowing that you are away. The fact is that being friendly online comes with risks – more than you might imagine. Being online can make it almost impossible to escape others who want to reach out at any time to harass you from the safety of their computer screen or smartphone.  If you don’t have many friends to begin with, the idea that you could be popular online may be tempting, but it can lead to enormous problems if people are faking their interest in your life. A virtual friendship is not a real friendship, and shouldn’t be treated as one. Avoid the temptation to give out real personal life details and/or share secrets online. Do not post embarrassing pictures that others can share widely. Always assume that the person on the other end of the site could be someone they say they are not.

What to do?

Did you know that information brokers, analytical companies and others are routinely compiling vast amounts of your personal information (names, addresses, phone numbers, voting, divorce and legal records, political views, financial history and lots more) for the exclusive purpose of selling your information on the Internet to virtually anyone without your knowledge or permission? Imagine! In a just few clicks a complete stranger can find everything they want to know about you! This is a serious issue with many having been victimized already. So, what can we do about this at both individual and organizational levels? The only practical solution is to remove your personal information from these sites. But, that task is easier said than done.

There’s lots of good advice out there, such as:

  • Don’t use your actual name on the Internet;
  • Never give out personal information like phone numbers or physical addresses;
  • Don’t send sensitive information from a personal computer;
  • Remove personal information from social media accounts;
  • Clear cookies and browser cache on a regular basis; and
  • Countless suggestions regarding safe email usage, etc.

At the end of the day, while all of this is useful and well intended, the only practical solution is to remove your personal information from these sites. But, that task is easier said than done.

The unfortunate reality is that removing personal information from these sites is intentionally convoluted and difficult. While it is technically possible, most people do not have the time or patience to execute each of the following steps:

Step 1 – Identify all of the more than 200 sites that compile, maintain and sell personal information, and then zero in on the 50 that can really hurt you.

Step 2 – Dig through each of the sites to locate the particular set of instructions for opting out of that site.

Step 3 – Follow each of the required processes, prepare and submit the necessary form or forms, and provide the additional information necessary (including a photo ID in some cases) to complete the opt out request.

Step 4 – After the full set of opt out instructions have been submitted, revisit each of the sites to verify they have complied with the opt out request.

Step 5 – More than a step, this is an on-going process. Even after many of these sites have complied with the initial removal instructions, they will repopulate personal information over time. So, periodically (at least every 30 days), it is necessary to return to Step 1 and repeat the entire process.

Protecting your personal information in an on-line world is a never ending and time consuming, but very necessary process for individual and family safety – especially today. For more information, please visit