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Ghost In The Machine: Cyber Harassment, Technological Bullying

Have you ever dreaded opening your email or other electronic messages because the tone and language was beyond insulting?

As we all are increasingly relying on email, texts and electronic communication in work and education, the opportunity for cyber harassment also increases.

The US Department of Education reports that there are currently 12 million students online, burgeoning to 22 million in the next five years.

More faculty and more students will be using electronic messaging… and there is something about the anonymity of the computer that can bring out the most hostile language and tone.

In a recent unpublished study, Dr. Vance of the University of Hawaii reports that 18% of participants in an online study of higher education, experience cyber harassment.  39% of the faculty reported the same experience. Similar to other studies on bullying, 43% believe nothing will be done if the problem is reported (Vance, 2009).*

As the Obama administration has pushed for 60% of Americans earn some form of college education, many of those students will seek online options to gain the education.

However, we are also finding that the online environment also needs to be protected from harassment, incivility and bullying. With few avenues for relief, there are a few things the target of cyber harassment can do.

1) Keep a copy of the harassment and be sure NOT to respond in kind.  Always be pleasant in writing when responding to  harsh memos in cyber space

2) Review the acceptable use policy. Some forms of cyber harassment (cursing and pornography) are unacceptable and actionable.

3) Consider collaborating with Human Resources to craft anti bullying policies that apply to the online environment.

4) If you decide to conduct a job search, be quiet about it.

Technology is a wonderful thing that keeps us connected and working more efficiently that possible even 20 years ago. Technology also gives us the immediate power to reach out and crush the human spirit immediately. Think twice before pressing the “SEND” button in anger, and consider that cyber harassment as the same impact as in person harassment and bullying.

* Source: Research information from Justin W. Vance, Ed.D. Interim Dean; Off-Campus Programs; Hawaii Pacific University