perspective: I recently wrote about a report that indicates teenagers generally are taking some privacy steps to protect themselves from online risks.
That report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project was somewhat of a relief to read. However, another recent Pew report examines a different threat faced by teens: cyberbullying.
About one-third of teenagers on the Internet report that they have beentargets of "menacing" online activities, such as receiving threatening messages, having their private e-mails or instant and text messages forwarded without consent, having an embarrassing photo posted without permission, or having rumors spread about them online. On top of this, girls are more likely than boys to be targets.
In terms of raw numbers, 15 percent of teenagers state that they have had private e-mail, instant messages or text messages forwarded or posted without permission; 13 percent claim that they have had rumors spread about them online; 13 percent have received a threatening or aggressive e-mail, instant message or text message; 6 percent have had embarrassing photos of them posted online without consent; and 32 percent fall within in at least one of the four foregoing categories.
In terms of the cyberbullying gender gap, 38 percent of online girls report being bullied when compared with 26 percent of online boys. Older teenage girls are the most likely to report bullying, with 41 percent of online girls from the 15 to 17 age group reporting such experiences.
Moreover, teens who use social-network sites such as MySpace.com and Facebook and teens who use the Internet on a daily basis also are more likely to be victims of cyberbullying. Indeed, 39 percent of social-networking teens have been bullied online when compared with 22 percent of online teens who do not use social networks.
The most common form of cyberbullying is someone taking a private e-mail, instant message or text message and forwarding it to someone else or posting it publicly. The best advice for teens here is that they should not say anything in their electronic communications that they would not want the whole world to see. Easier said than done, of course.
Because social-networking teens tend to experience more cyberbullying, teens could be advised not to participate in social-networking sites. However, such sites really have become a standard communications medium for teens and they may feel socially excluded if they do not participate. Thus, if they do participate, they should take best steps to protect their privacy--such as interacting only with true, known "friends"--by not disclosing much personally identifiable information, and by not joining general groups.
While there is much concern these days about threats to teens online, an interesting aspect of the memo is that 67 percent of teens say that bullying happens more offline than online, and only 29 percent state that bullying is more likely to happen online. Thus, while it is important to focus on and try to prevent malicious online conduct, we must not lose our focus in terms of warding off harassing conduct in the physical world too.