Due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, educational institutions across the country have shifted to remote virtual learning platforms to ensure the health and safety of staff and students. As students increase their use of technology and various social media platforms, the risks of cyber-bullying and harassment are heightened.
Many students are isolated and physically distanced from friends and family, therefore it’s natural for anxiety levels and emotions to run high. The increased stress of current times could cause some students to lash out more often on learning platforms as well as social media. Many students are also facing harassment from trolls in Zoom classrooms and from other bad actors online. Depending on their age, students may be unaware that their behavior constitutes bullying, harassment, or stalking. Thus it makes it very important for parents and educators to discuss appropriate online behaviors with all students.
While cyber-bullying, harassment, and stalking are not new issues for educators, the pervasiveness and impact of incidents during distance learning may be unique. Students who may not have previously engaged with technology and online learning platforms are now being forced to do so in order to conduct their coursework. This further magnifies socioeconomic inequities which are often a source of bullying.
Additionally, educational institutions may see an increase in xenophobic and racist cyberbullying as some continue to refer to COVID-19 as a “foreign virus” or by other derogatory terms. The Asian American community has increasingly been targeted in hate crimes, bullying, and discrimination due to the pandemic. We encourage individuals who have experienced an incident of hate, racism, or discrimination tied to the coronavirus outbreak to report it to StandAgainstHatred.org.
Finally, students are more vulnerable to virtual sexual harassment, cyber stalking, and even the sharing of nonconsensual pornography (sometimes referred to as “revenge porn”) because it becomes easier for students to engage in this misconduct while hiding behind a computer screen. Many educational institutions have failed to establish systems for identifying, preventing, and addressing harassment occurring in their virtual classrooms. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there is a rise in cyberbullying nationwide and three times as many girls reported being harassed online or by text message than boys.
It is important for educators and bystander students to take the time to address ignorant misconceptions, misstatements, and other harmful behaviors online. Cyberbulling and harassment are just as harmful as other forms of bullying and harassment, and in some cases, can have significant effects on the victim. Harassment on virtual platforms is hard to escape and can reach an overwhelming number of people in a matter of minutes. This is even more true for students who are compelled to attend classes virtually. Being constantly connected to technology may mean that bullies and harassers can sneak into the lives of students and make them feel like there is no safe space to be.
Many victims of cyberbullying and cyber sexual harassment do not disclose incidents to their family or educators. Therefore, when incidents occur, they may suffer in silence. Educators and student colleagues must be extra vigilant in these times to protect vulnerable student populations. Below are some tips for how you can help.
Tips for Students
- Preserve Evidence: Take screenshots or video recordings of any harmful behaviors towards yourself or others.
- Take a Break: Don’t unnecessarily engage on social media platforms when you are feeling anxious.
- Socialize: Actively reach out to your friends and family to discuss how you are feeling and create a game plan for remote socializing.
- Don’t Interact with Strangers: Change your privacy settings to ensure that all of your social media accounts are visible only to friends who you know and trust. Block and unfriend anyone that is abusive or harmful.
- Maintain your Privacy: Keep your personal details private. Do not post your home address, email, phone number, or any other personal information. Use a backdrop for all virtual sessions so others cannot see into your home.
- Dismiss the Trolls: Do not respond to mean or trolling messages. Trolling tends to increase with further interaction so it is best to disengage.
- Seek Support: Speak with someone you trust about how you are feeling and what support you need.
- Report: Report bullying and harassment when it happens. Report the incident to the respective social media platform, your teachers, and your parents.
- Be an Upstander: If you see an explicit photo or sexual video circulating, or notice people trolling someone online with harassing and bullying comments, do not further circulate the image or contribute to the harassment.
If you are being sexually harassed online or are experiencing other virtual gender-based harassment and would like to make an appointment to receive free advice and counseling, please contact our ERA advocates by filling out our online inquiry form here.
Tips for Parents
- Drop Some Truth: Explain what the realities of the pandemic are to ease anxieties and clear misconceptions. For resources on how to talk to children about this pandemic, visit childmind.org.
- Socialize: Provide children with additional time and opportunities to interact with friends and family via virtual platforms. In the midst of crisis and uncertainty, it is essential to the continued healthy development of children to be able to socialize and connect with friends and loved ones.
- Get Active: Encourage physical activity while social distancing.
- Parental Power: Parents should feel empowered to oversee and monitor the social interactions of their children on all virtual platforms.
- Increase Unplugged Communication: Use family dinners or general family time to check in with your children. Encourage children to put away their devices during this time to ensure true communication.
- Talk Safety: Have age appropriate conversations with your children about internet safety, appropriate behavior online, and what to do if someone behaves inappropriately towards them or their peers. For resources, please visit the Dept. of Justice’s internet safety tips and/or StopBullying.gov.
- Don’t shame: Your child may not disclose that they are being harassed or bullied because it would mean sharing their other social media posts or pictures with you. Parents are often surprised to find out the types of online behaviors students engage in and that the behavior is quite abundant. You can help support an open and meaningful discussion with your child if you remove shame from the conversation.
Tips for Educators
- Set Expectations: Be clear about expectations up front for respectful behavior among all students. Reiterate these expectations at the start of each virtual session.
- Use Predetermined Backdrops: Require students to use a predetermined backdrop on all virtual sessions to prevent students from seeing into their homes and using inappropriate or otherwise offensive backdrops.
- Secure Technology: Ensure that all remote virtual sessions are secure and private from outsiders. Some suggested ways to make virtual sessions more secure include: password protecting all video conferences or calls, and using a different password for each session; Do not use video conference waiting room features during virtual sessions (researchers have found privacy flaws with this feature).
- Preserve Evidence: Encourage students to look out for each other and to take screenshots or video recordings of any harmful behaviors towards themselves or others.
- Monitor Interactions: Keep close tabs on online interactions that are under your purview. Appoint a person (teaching assistant or volunteer) to monitor chats and/or online interactions and conduct.
- Informed Reporting: Ensure students know who, where, and when to report cyberbullying and/or harassment.
- No Tolerance for Bad Behavior: Make clear that bullying and/or harassment will not be tolerated, and set and explain clear disciplinary consequences for such conduct.
- Acknowledge the Pandemic is Scary: Everyone is adjusting to a new chaotic normal, so it is all the more necessary to be kind towards one another and hold space for each other.
- Create a Safe Space: Incorporate daily positive peer interactions to create a safe remote learning environment.
- Increase Communication: Check in with students who you know to be especially vulnerable, need a deeper connection, and those who need encouragement or accountability.