Online Harassment

ghost

Written by David M. Stone, University Laboratory High School, Urbana, IL


Introduction

Unlike most computer crime / misuse areas which are clear cut in terms of actions and legalities (e.g. software piracy), online harassment encompasses a broad array of actions including spamming, stalking or threats. Regardless of the situation, online harassment involves abuse of computer network access and may affect the victim's ability to use network-provided resources (e.g. e-mail, web browsing), sense of mental well being or safety.

The communications are often constant, filled with disturbing and inappropriate content, and do not cease even after the victim asks for the behaviors to stop. A very good source of additional information regarding this topic is "Web Psychos, Stalkers, and Pranksters : How to Protect Yourself in Cyberspace" (1997) by Michael A. Banks.

Within a school setting, online harrassement is often an extension of bullying that may occur in school, extracurricular or outside of school settings.


Issues

By providing students with e-mail accounts, we are allowing them a much broader circle of communication than was previously available. Along with the privilege of increased options for communication goes the responsibility to use it in ways deemed socially acceptable. This is where it essential that students get some training in acceptable and unacceptable online communication practices, that they clearly be made aware of those responsibilities through an Acceptable Use Agreement, and that their parents be made aware of the agreement by being required to sign that agreement.

The increased communication options allows students to communicate with a variety of groups whose activities are antisocial (e.g. white supremacist groups, neo-Nazis and anti-gay activists). These hate groups can influence the thinking of some individuals and may catalyze harassment to the point that it escalates to violence. In school situations where there is reason to be concerned regarding these type of interactions, it may be in the school's and the student's best interest to log interactions and web browsing associated with these groups. This leads to issues regarding individual freedoms versus the welfare of others. this is another good reason for a well defined Acceptable Use Policy, as well as a reminder every time the student logs into their account, which simply states "All keystrokes may be logged by the computer system." An excellent chapter dealing with online hate groups can be found in "Steal This Computer Book - What They Won't Tell You About the Internet" (1998), by Wallace Wang.


Ways to Minimize Potential for Online Harassment

There are a number of ways for schools to minimize potential for online harassment.

  1. Schools need to clearly establish and articulate student rights, as well as a school- or district-wide harassment policy.
  2. Schools need to clearly establish acceptable computer and network use policies and delineate appropriate and inappropriate actions to both students and staff.
  3. Students and staff need to instructed regarding online harassment, the mentality associated with it, and the consequences of various actions.
  4. The use of filters may be considered in reducing access to hate group-associated web sites, newsgroups and organizations. Unfortunately, filters also prevent students from doing legitimate research which may be facilitated by examination of these sites, therefore the decision to use filtering software should not be made lightly.
  5. Ironically, any sort of bullying or harassment which occurs online may be easier to address than typical bullying in that there is written evidence of the behavior. Be certain in technology training to remind students that those online messages are evidence which may be used directly against the harasser and these should be retained and forwarded to the school's technology director.


Annotated Web Sites

Stalked (http://francieweb.com/stalked/)
An excellent introduction to stalking and its potential ramifications. Sections of this document link to pages dealing with types of stalkers and the way they operate, suggestions on how to remain safe, and how to try to stop the stalking and true accounts of stalking.

The Stalking Victim's Sanctuary (http://www.stalkingvictims.com/main.htm)
This site includes the same categories of information presented at the previous site, as well as links to regaining control of your life and support groups.

HateWatch (http://www.hatewatch.org)
Civic watchdog organization that tracks hate groups. It includes links to hate group home pages and provides links written by scholars. Currently the page is being restructured, though it has a WebBoard discussion which is still functional.

Newsgroup and Email Spamming (http://www.aros.net/policies/spam)
Concise introduction to spamming and its impact.

Spamming - Policies, Regulation, Scams and Issues (http://www.cmi.k12.il.us/Urbana/projects/UMSwater/commercial/index.html#Jan)
Links to numerous sites pertaining to spamming definition and policy, constructed by one of our classmates.

Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHO@) (http://www.haltabuse.org/resources/stats/index.shtml)

Updated on March 15, 2002, this site offers statistics in online harrassment related to demographics. Although some of the information is not as recent (going up to only 1999 or 2000), much of the information is relevant nonetheless. In addition to statistics, it contains links to laws and legal resources.

Online Harassment (http://www.onlineharassment.com/)

This site offers many links to different anti-harassment and harassment-interest groups. It also provides a question-answer site and an online poll about harassment-issue laws.

Social and Technical Means for Fighting Online Harassment (http://www.ai.mit.edu/people/ellens/Gender/glc/)

A text report presentation by Ellen Spertus of MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Offers suggestions on how to combat online harassment through social and technical means rather than through legal sources.


Return to Educator's Guide to Computer Crime and Technology Misuse

Developed 3/17/99. Last modified 5/9/99.