When a child is the victim of cyberbullying, just getting the harassment to stop can be a tricky matter in itself. Cyberbullies can be a persistent bunch, and generally don’t stop the torment until pressured or forced to do so. That said, there are several ways you can get a cyberbully to stop:
1. IM or chat room bullying
If the bullying is occurring through chat or Instant Messaging IM, the easiest thing to do is often to block the bully. Since chat rooms take place in real time and what is posted isn’t archived in a way that’s accessible to everyone, ignoring it is more of an option, and often the best option. The bully can still talk mean to whoever is listening, and just like bullying in real life it will hurt. But there’s often little residual power from bullying in chat rooms. Once the conversation is over, it’s not archived or permanent. Also, you should contact the moderator. Most chat rooms have policies against flaming or bullying, and may take actions to block the bully, or warn them about uncivil behavior.
2. Bring cyberbullying to the attention of site administrators
Whether it is Facebook, YouTube, or a chat room/forum on some other website, almost all websites (certainly all the reputable ones) have policies against cyberbullying. Although webmasters can be quite slow and may require persistent (but polite) pestering on your part to address the issue, they will usually work with you to eliminate the problem. Users found to be breaking cyberbully policies can be warned, have their posting privileges suspended or subject to censorship, and if this doesn’t work, can even be banned from the site or have their accounts frozen.
Remember, websites have an incentive to keep the atmosphere civil. Not just in the spirit of basic human decency, but because profit depends on it: advertising contracts and the like often have “no hate speech” stipulations, and uncivil behavior diminishes the ad value of a site overall. A 2014 survey found that social networks shut down the accounts of reported bullies 61% of the time. (Svoboda, 2014) So contact the site administrators via email, and explain in detail what is going on. Include some of the messages/postings from the bully if you can, and ask that they put the account holder on notice and monitor for bullying. (Don’t try to push that they be banned outright , since this may escalate the bullying in the real world or prompt them to amp-up their tactics elsewhere. Your goal is to stop the harassment, not retaliate in-kind.) Faced with the threat of being banned by Facebook or another important site, most cyberbullies will stop.
3. When a cyber bully is unknown
Most children are cyberbullied by kids they know in the real world. But occasionally, the source of the cyberbullying isn’t known to the victim. In this case, you should A) Look for personal details used in the post which might give you a hint about who is posting, B) Contact the site where it was posted and explain that whoever owns this account is committing slander, and you would like to know what steps can be taken to address the issue.
One popular form of cyberbullying is to create fake accounts in the victim’s name and then post phony, embarrassing stuff using this fake profile. (Posting a picture of the victim within an ad for escort services, for example, or setting up a fake profile that lists the target as gay.) If you discover a fake page or profile created for the purposes of cyber bullying, alert the webmaster of the site. Explain that the account or posting is fraudulent. Ask them to delete the account and then ask what steps can be taken to identify the ISP# of the person using the account. Most websites automatically log the ISP of their users, and most adolescents are not web savvy enough to take steps to cloak this information. However, many sites may refuse to give out this information absent a court order. But if there is fraudulent or slanderous activity going on, the site can handle it on their end, and generally will to avoid liability.
4. Alert the cyberbully’s parents
Many parents have no clue what their child does online, and would stop their kid from cyberbullying if they knew it was going on. So if your child knows who the perpetrator is, look up the parents’ information and send a letter, including some of the things posted. Do not take a confrontational approach; rather, sympathize with them that kids will be kids but you just wanted to make them aware of what is going on, and want to work together to help your kids put an end to this issue.
5. Stop cyber bullying with the threat of litigation
We live in a litigation crazy society, and do not advocate suing willy-nilly. The bottom line is that teens are often mean to each other, and it would be neither practical nor appropriate to sue anyone who upsets your child. You should also understand that suing can open you up to countersuits, and many parents have filed a lawsuit and then been surprised when evidence surfaces that their child has been equally complicit in bullying that went the other direction.
However, the THREAT of litigation is often a powerful persuader, and sometimes may be necessary to get a bully off your child’s back or whip the parents into action. A great way to grab attention is to send a certified letter containing a “notice of intent to sue” along with a cease and desist request to the parents’ house. (You can find free samples of both types of letters through an Internet search.) Include a good contact number, and you’re likely to get noticed and can hopefully resolve the issue out of court. Just be sure to try contacting the parents first, however. Otherwise you just might come off as a prick.
6. Remove slanderous information from search results
Depending on the circumstances, you can try contacting search engines such as Google to have them remove the offending page(s) from their cache, which means it won’t show up in search results. This can be a long, arduous process, and can have mixed results, but most search engines have policies against slanderous material. See Protecting Your Child’s Online Identity for more information.