Tragic event shines a spotlight on cyberbullying

After an 11-year-old Michigan boy found out his girlfriend had committed suicide, he took his own life as well. But the information about his girlfriend’s death was false – a hoax started by the girl herself that the boy believed to be true.

This tragic event has sparked a conversation about cyberbullying: what is it and how should it be punished, especially when the bullies are children themselves?

Parents of teenagers in a Mott Poll were conflicted about what actions should be considered cyberbullying:

  • 63% of parents said it’s definitely cyberbullying to start a social media campaign to elect a student for homecoming court as a mean joke
  • 45% said sharing a photo altered to make a classmate appear fatter is definitely cyberbullying
  • 43% said it’s definitely cyberbullying to post rumors online that a student was caught cheating on a test
  • 65% said posting online rumors that a student had sex at school is definitely cyberbullying

Parent views on how to punish cyberbullying also varied, with the most severe punishments recommended for students who post online rumors about having sex at school:

Consequences for cyberbullying: Parent views on how schools should respond

These Mott Poll results highlight the conflict parents feel in responding to cyberbullying. Although the impacts of cyberbullying can be very profound, there is not a consensus on how to define it, punish it, or prevent it from happening in the first place.