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.

Bill Kostroun/AP
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.

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.

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.

Overall, social networking makes most college students feel more connected (85 percent) rather than more isolated (14 percent), according to the poll, completed by about 2,200 undergraduates at 40 randomly selected four-year colleges.

In another case that has sparked controversy, recent Duke graduate Karen Owen created a mock-thesis PowerPoint presentation analyzing in graphic detail 13 Duke athletes she had sex with. It has spread rapidly online this month, although Ms. Owen has reportedly said that was not her intent. Some observers have celebrated it for turning male objectification of women on its head, while others decry it as yet another form of cyberbullying.

As part of an ongoing campaign against digital abuse, MTV has teamed up with actress Brittany Snow, the Jed Foundation, and several other groups to promote “Love is Louder,” a new initiative where people can post short videos on or send messages on Twitter and Facebook to show how love and support is more powerful than whatever would try to bring people down.

Earlier this week, TV host Dr. Phil focused his show on bullying. It included a panel discussion with victims of bullying led by actor Mark Indelicato, who played a gay teen on “Ugly Betty” and also posted a video last week on his blog about remembering what it was like to be bullied and to not fit in during grade school.

On Friday night, CNN personality Anderson Cooper will present a town-hall meeting on bullying. It will include guests ranging from “American Idol” finalist Crystal Bowersox to Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education Kevin Jennings.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project is offering free to schools a teaching kit and a new documentary, “Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case that Made History.” The film tells of a student who filed a federal lawsuit against his school district in the wake of anti-gay bullying.

"Students should never be afraid for their safety at school,” says Jamie Nabozny, the subject of the documentary and now 34, in a press release. “This film offers hope to students who are being harassed and should inspire educators to live up to their responsibility to stop the bullying that is shattering lives.”

Fifty-two percent of teens and 20-somethings say homophobia is a big issue in their communities, according to the TRU survey.

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