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Report: One-third of US teens are victims of cyberbullying

The suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi has brought more attention to cyberbullying. A new study examines the scale of cyberbullying among US teens.

By Staff writer / October 8, 2010

Sen. Bob Menendez, (D) of New Jersey, speaks at a statewide town meeting in memory of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi on Wednesday. Mr. Clementi killed himself after fellow students allegedly broadcast sexual encounters of him online.

Bill Kostroun/AP

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More than half of American teens worry about safety on the Internet and know someone their age who has been targeted by hurtful electronic communications. Nearly a third have been targets themselves.

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Those recent survey results, released by the Chicago youth-market research firm TRU, hint at the scale of the problems being addressed more vigorously in the wake of the suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi and other cases of cyberbullying.

When it comes to safety online, young people’s main “knowledge gap” relates to “setting ground rules of what’s acceptable behavior ... and how that technology may be used against them ... where they could be blackmailed or cyberbullied,” says Richard Harrison, lead mentor for the Safe and Secure Online program, which enlists online security experts to volunteer in schools.

The presentations, given by members of the professional information-security group (ISC)² are aimed primarily at grades 7 to 9. Students discuss scenarios and how to use good everyday judgment to prevent them from reaching the extreme cases they may have heard about in the news.

Parents tend to have these conversations reactively, and often don’t realize a gaming device even has Internet capability, Mr. Harrison says. [For a list of parent tips, see below.]

October is designated as both National Cyber Security Awareness Month and National Bullying Prevention Month.

MTV is enlisting young people to set good standards for themselves with a new iPhone and iPad app called “Over the Line?” Users share and read personal stories about how cell phones and social networking have affected them, then rate whether they think the behavior crossed the line of what’s appropriate. A similar Facebook application has had more than 120,000 users. Examples of teens’ stories range from boyfriends making sex videos in secret and spreading them around school to people being taunted for being gay.

Both of those issues converged at Rutgers University in New Jersey last month, where two students were charged with secretly using a webcam to capture and transmit Mr. Clementi’s sexual encounter in his dorm room.

Prosecutors recently subpoenaed the university for a complaint Clementi made to a resident assistant about his roommate, Dharun Ravi, spying with a webcam. President Richard McCormick wouldn’t comment on the details because of privacy laws, but told reporters Thursday that he believes the school responded appropriately.

It appears that Clementi also reached out to discuss the situation on an online forum for gay men in the days leading up to his suicide.

Sixty-eight percent of college students say they have thought someone close to them was crying out for emotional help through a public online posting, according to an Associated Press-mtvU Poll released Thursday. Thirteen percent say a friend has made a suicide attempt in the past year.

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