Cyber bullying is a form of harassment in electronic communication mediums, such as text messages, emails, social media, internet forums or chat rooms. As opposed to real-life bullying, cyber bullying takes advantage of the anonymity of digital media, as well as of the possibility to quickly spread rumors, gossip, photos or other information, whether true or made up, with the intention of humiliating, hurting or defaming a possible target. This phenomenon occurs at an alarmingly growing rate among children and teenagers and, many times, is performed by their peers. Common types of cyber bullying among middle schools students in the United States include spreading rumors online, leaving mean or hurtful comments online, as well as being threatened to being hurt through a cell phone text or online. Making fun of other people to someone else online, calling someone fat, ugly or making fun of their physical appearance via digital platforms are also examples of cyber bullying activities.
In the United States, where more and more children gain access to digital means of communication at young age, cyber bullying has become a common topic. In late 2016, around 12 percent of middle and high school students in the U.S. stated that they have been cyber bullied before. In most instances of online harassing, the perpetrators are in the same age group as their victim – and many times also a school colleague or neighbor. Therefore, some cyber bullying incidents may not be reported. Due to their insidious nature and persistent damage such harassment may inflict, internet bullying is listed amongst the most important online safety topics for both online teens and their parents as of 2016. Cyber bullying is indeed one of the most discussed topics in regards of social media risks according to parents in the United States. They are also interested in information about preventing online identity thefts and keeping their devices secure.
A number of highly publicized suicide cases, in which youth affected by online threats, teasing or malicious rumors spread about them online have decided to take their own lives, have helped create laws in the U.S. which aim to discourage perpetrators and to protect victims of such acts. As of the beginning of 2016, all 50 states have passed bullying laws, and 48 states have included electronic harassment in these laws. About 23 states have included explicit cyber bullying laws. Many state laws also focused on sexting, that is, the act of sending, receiving or forwarding photos or videos with explicit sexual content. Although the sender or receiver intended for this content to be private, the ease of digital technology can lead these images or videos to reach a wider public. As of November 2016, 25 states in the U.S. had sexting laws, and nine explicitly included the word sexting. Six states included the potential for felony punishment in their sexting laws as well.
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