Saturday, December 20, 2014

Cyberbullying on rise at universities

VANCOUVER—Cyberbullies have grown up.
Research out of Simon Fraser University suggests that the online abuse that has been so prevalent on the teenage battlefield is carrying through to the arena of adults at Canadian universities.

Papers to be presented at a symposium in Vancouver tomorrow say that undergraduate students are harassing their peers on social media, instructors are on the receiving end of student-led online smear campaigns, and faculty members are belittling their colleagues in e-mails.
“When you look at cyberbullying among younger kids, or kids in middle and high school, usually by age 15 it dies off,” said education Prof. Wanda Cassidy, who worked on the study with two others.
“What was surprising was the fact that it is happening in universities to the extent that it is.”
While many studies have been done on cyber abuse involving adolescents, research on the behaviour among adults is limited.
Cassidy said she and her colleagues were curious to know whether teens who bully others online still do it after entering university.
The research team also wondered whether faculty staff are being targeted in cyberspace.
They surveyed more than 2,000 people and interviewed 30 participants from four Canadian universities—two in British Columbia, one on the Prairies, and one in Atlantic Canada.
Though some of the data from two universities still are trickling in, the available information so far indicates roughly one-in-five undergraduate students has been cyberbullied—mostly through Facebook, text messages, and e-mail, Cassidy said.
Some students said they were the target of crude slurs.
Faculty members—mostly women—also said they’ve been harassed online by students or colleagues.
In one interview, a professor said she was bombarded with e-mails and text messages from a student who called her lousy, incompetent, and useless.
In another school, an instructor found herself fighting a losing battle against a colleague who was convinced she was gossiping about her.
“She texted me 73 times in one day, and over a week it was about 180 messages,” the instructor said.
“When I didn’t respond, it was worse.”
Cassidy said the emergence of cyberbullying in an older population comes with grown-up consequences, such as ruined professional relationships or reputations, anxiety, sleep deprivation, and thoughts of suicide.
“There was a fair proportion of people—both faculty and students—who said it made them feel suicidal . . . which is quite frightening, particularly when you think of faculty members,” she remarked.
“There should be some element of security that they don’t have to worry about colleagues bullying them,” Cassidy added.
“But obviously they do feel like maybe there’s no way out, there’s no way getting around it.”
The sense of helplessness is not uncommon, Cassidy noted. The anonymity granted to cyberbullies makes it difficult to go after perpetrators.
And as more communications occur online, it becomes harder to avoid the angst that comes with reading a potentially-abusive e-mail or comment, she said.
Cassidy added that the website Rate My Professor, which allows students to grade teachers anonymously and post comments, is particularly distressing for instructors.

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