It’s no secret by now that social networking has a huge place in our daily lives. It exploded in a way that no one really expected and, now more than ever, it’s good to be aware of the issues that arise from having a public profile on the Internet. But wh

There are, of course really positive aspects to social networking; you can connect with people who go to the same or different schools and link with those relatives’ or friends who live in different parts of the world that you would not otherwise talk to on a regular basis. Forums, as well as sites like Twitter and Facebook are a great way to have collective discussions about certain subjects. Another advantage is all the information available to us through these sites. A wealth of opinion can be got in a short amount of time about relatively any topic.

But what about the other side of social networking? A major issue that is still a concern today is Cyber Bullying or Cyber Harassment if you’re an adult. Sure it existed before sites like Facebook, Bebo and Twitter really took off, but has since amplified with these sites and public forums. 

The term ‘Cyber Bullying/Harassment’ is used to describe the actions of persons who relentlessly pursue others online with the intention of frightening or embarrassing the victim. It can affect anyone in their teens or as adults.

A survey about social networking and cyber bullying taken in May last year reveals some unsettling facts about the issue:

32% of online teens and adults have experienced some form of harassment via the Internet, a problem known as cyber bullying. According to this survey, 15% of online teens have had private material forwarded without permission, 13% have received threatening messages and 6% have had embarrassing photos posted without permission. Cyber bullying does not just apply to children or teens. There are adult groups dedicated to harassing and defaming others as well.

With such a wealth of your personal information online, it is easier than ever for many to be subjected to cyber bullying through any online forum as well as the popular social network sites. 

Though cyber bullying can and still does occur through Facebook for example, due to the extent to which you can hide your information from others, (you can customise settings so that you alone can view all the information on your profile) the issue is that it has the most universal usage and other sites or forums tend to be interest focused rather than life-casting.

Cyber bullying is far more prominent on Internet forums. 

It is all too easy for a heated discussion to start that can get out of hand – even on generic sites such as the YouTube comment pages or even Boards.ie (www.boards.ie) a single comment can be misinterpreted and ‘slagging matches’ can start up.

Another main issue is that these electronic forums often lack supervision. While chat hosts regularly observe the dialog in some chat rooms and forums in an effort to police conversations and evict offensive individuals, personal messages sent between users are viewable only by the sender and the recipient, thereby outside the regulatory reach of such authorities.

The publishing of defamatory material about a person on the Internet is extremely difficult to prevent and once it is posted, millions of people can potentially download it before it is removed. Also remember that while some websites have specific terms of service set up to protect people from cyber bullying, not all do.

 For instance, Blogspot, a blogging service run by Google, has it written in their contact information that they will not take a blog down if the blog contained defamation of character unless by court order. Facebook will promptly remove any pictures of a defamatory nature but it takes longer to have a page or fully removed from the site itself.

This issue can have serious effects for the victim in question – depression, increased feelings of desperation, loneliness and isolation, not to mention feeling threatened etc, so it is firstly important to tell someone early on if this is occurring so that it can be stopped right away. And always report any issues regarding inappropriate content to the site owners.

One possible advantage for victims of cyber-bullying is that they may sometimes be able to avoid it simply by avoiding the site in question. Email addresses and phone numbers can be changed; in addition, most e-mail accounts now offer services that will automatically filter out messages from certain senders before they even reach the inbox.

But unfortunately, there is no quick solution to fully prevent this issue so always make sure that you are fully aware of all the privacy settings when you join any social, interactive or forum online. Not matter how secure your privacy settings are, always be cautious of what personal information you have online. Make sure only people you know and trust are your ‘friends’ and that only those whom you want to share information with can see it.

For more information visit:

http://www.stopcyberbullying.org/

http://ie.reachout.com/find/articles/cyberbullying

http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=13495