For the first eight months or so of living in Saudi Arabia, I kept a regular blog. My target audience was my friends and family back in Canada and, as such, I made sure to check off as many privacy buttons as possible and only shared the link with those I wanted to read the blog. I wasn't writing anything disrespectful or untoward my host country, I was merely providing my perspective of my new experiences with, admittedly, a comedic spin. I loved writing my stories. I enjoyed my writer's voice.
One day, unbeknownst to me, my students got a hold of my blog. I do not know how they did so as I had rendered my blog "un-Google-able" and had, I thought, checked as many privacy filters as possible. I had recently posted a blog post and was checking my stats for views when I noticed an anomaly. Where I would normally have maybe 5 - 25 views, I all of a sudden had 100s. Nasty comments then started to appear across my blog (all anonymous of course). I knew the comments came from students as they mentioned my classes, how they hated me, and told me to pack up and head back to Canada. Some comments were even nastier.
I then did some sleuthing on Twitter (Twitter was my students' preferred social media platform at that time) and discovered my name and blog was trending among the student body. Tweets directing students to my blog, encouraging others to make comments, and some expressing glee for what I would think when I saw the comments they made. They were hostile*.
I shut down my blog. I didn't write another story. I was silenced.
To this day, I fear being public with my ideas and views. I post little on Facebook, I tweet sporadically at best, and I seem to muster only enough blog content to satisfy a quarterly report at most.
If I'm an adult feeling this way after being bullied on-line 8 years ago, I can't even imagine what our students feel. I can formulate positive self-statements to keep my self esteem and self worth intact. I have those coping skills. My sense of my online self may falter and I may hesitate posting online, but my sense of my offline self is solid.
But what about our students? Patchin (2019) reported 37% of students between 12-17 have experienced some form of online bullying. Tragic. How are these students maintaining their sense of self? How are they rebuilding their confidence to carry on surviving and thriving in their offline and online community? How are we helping students move through this in our classes or at home?
Jennifer Casa-Todd, author of Social LEADia: Moving Students from Digital Citizens to Digital Leadership (2017), often points out the need for adults to model expected online behaviours. How can we as educators, though, work to model how to deal with cyber-bullying?
I guess one way for me to model is to put myself back out there and share my thoughts and ideas with others. Perhaps my story may help others to have the confidence to do the same.
How do you work with your students to combat or cope with cyber-bullying? What suggestions can you offer others?
*Over the course of weeks/months, I discovered who in my classes were responsible for some of the hurtful comments and eventually we became allies and friends. I never told them I knew what they had done or how they affected me. Perhaps I was wrong in not confronting them. Perhaps not. I'm just thankful for the opportunity to have built a relationship with those young women and to understand more of their perspectives and culture.
Patchin, J. (2019, July 9). "2019 Cyberbullying Data." Accessed October 29, 2019, https://cyberbullying.org/2019-cyberbullying-data