Sexting and Cyberbullying
Del Siegle’s article “Cyberbullying and Sexting: Technology Abuses of the 21st Century” was published in the Spring 2010 issue of Gifted Children Today. This gives a basic bias to Siegle’s presentation of the issue: the article is careful to cite studies showing that gifted children are far less likely to be viewed as bullies by peers or by teachers. What is being analyzed here is, of course, the relevance of these new-technology related issues to “gifted” children, not necessarily to all children, although Siegle does her best to examine adolescent populations more generally in terms of their reported incidence of cybermisbehavior. That being said, Siegle’s article takes the form mainly of a survey of existing writings on how children use new technology to bully each other — her bibliography, however, contains only two peer reviewed sources (and both concentrate solely on gifted children). Otherwise Siegle relies on journalism and publications of a cyberbullying resource: this is not an in depth analysis of the problem, it is more a flimsy survey of current recommended responses.
Cyberbullying is broken down by Siegle into eight basic categories: Flaming (which consists of written messages using angry or vulgar language), Harassment (which consists of repeated sending of such messages), Denigration (which is gossip or slander online), Impersonation (which is a way of harming a person’s reputation by pretending to be them), Outing (in which personal information is leaked maliciously), Trickery (in which information about a person is gained by pretending to be someone else), Exclusion (in which someone is not allowed to join in the cyber-reindeer games with a specific cyber-group), and Cybsterstalking (which is repeated harassment that includes threats and creates fear). Siegel’s segue into a cursory discussion of “sexting” is not particularly well-handled, except to note that in one case sexting and new-technology techniques of bullying resulted in a suicide — it seems to have been included in the title to lend relevance to what is otherwise a remarkably out-of-touch analysis of the effects of new media on old problems.
Siegle rather inexplicably fails to note the ways in which these behaviors are basically no different from what was taking place in elementary schools and middle schools before the present ubiquity of cell phones and internet usage. The only thing that is different here is the technology, and presumably the parents who have a greater difficulty in understanding the way in which that technology is being used to promote the same old adolescent social dramas. The only way in which Siegle approaches the novelty of the subject of cyberbullying is by noting that the technologies enable speed of communication and rapid replication and distribution of personal information. The question of whether or not — as has been suggested in other studies about online behavior — the disconnection inherent in text-based communication (whether via SMS text message on a phone, or via Facebook and instant messaging online) permits a substantial reduction in empathetic responses. In other words, this is not an article that seeks to understand the way in which new technology may be qualitatively changing the behavior of the adolescents surveyed — instead, Siegle seems largely content to suggest that there is indeed nothing new going on here except for the technology itself.
As befits this conceptual approach — which is largely one of closing the barn-door after the horses have already run off to join a social-media-inspired equine flash-mob — Siegle then proceeds to offer a list of rules and controls to be imposed upon adolescents by parents and educators, in order to cope with the epidemic of cyberbullying and sexting. Siegle devotes a full page of her three page article summarizing these helpful tips for combating the cyberbullies: they include emphasizing that all rules for face-to-face interaction should apply to cybercommunication, putting usage rules and controls on internet access, monitoring young people’s online behavior and controlling it with filtering and blocking software, and educating communities about the threats posed by cyberbullies. The overall impression is that Siegle has rather missed the point about what is most dangerous, and what is most interesting, about these new-media phenomena among youth — the suggestion that the technology may, in fact, be enabling altogether different patterns of behavior. After all, the Polaroid camera existed in the 1980s and 1990s, but there was no epidemic of high schoolers taking explicit snapshots of each other, even if they were still engaged in sexual behavior. Meanwhile Siegle makes no mention of the fact that, in numerous jurisdictions, high schoolers who have been enagaged in sexting have, somewhat inexplicably and perhaps purely punitively, been prosecuted under child pornography statutes. One sign that a large scale social change may be taking place is always the willingness of otherwise intelligent people to react with utterly retrograde understanding of the phenomena under study — when the longer history of cyberculture is written, Siegle’s article will be counted among those that perhaps missed the point about the extensiveness of social and behavioral change permitted by the ubiquity of these new technologies.
Siegle, D. (2010). Cyberbullying and sexting: Technology abuses of the 21st Century. Gifted Child Today, 33(2), 14-16, 65.
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