Cyberbullying 101 - Seven Questions for South Dakota's School Administrators

Question #1 - What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology.

Question #2 - What is electronic technology?

Electronic technology includes devices and equipment such as cell phones, computers, and tablets as well as communication tools like social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites.

Question #3 - How prevalent is the use of electronic technology among students?

In 2007, an estimated 45 million children between the ages of ten and seventeen used the internet daily. In 2010, an estimated 50.1 percent of children between ten and eighteen used Facebook regularly, and 40.7 percent used instant messaging programs. Cell phones are even more pervasive – in 2010, 83 percent of adolescents between ten and eighteen used cell phones regularly.

Question #4 - What are examples of cyberbullying?

Examples of cyberbullying include cruel text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles.

Question #5 - How is cyberbullying different from traditional bullying?

Cyberbullying is different from traditional bullying in three primary ways.

First, cyberbullies can attack anonymously.  Before advances in technology, bullying required face-to-face interaction. Today, however, bullies can hide behind virtual identities as they bully their victims at any time of day or night. This lack of face-to-face contact makes the cyberbully less aware of the consequences of his actions and less likely to stop his behavior. 

Second, cyberbullies have the Internet to increase their audience. While traditional bullying may have included a bully or two, cyberbullies can target a single victim with the click of a mouse and once the information is uploaded onto the Internet, it is permanently published. This makes cyberbullying a potentially endless experience for the victim.

Third, although teachers and parents can monitor traditional bullies, they often lack the technological expertise to monitor cyberbullies. Traditional bullying victims can depend on school officials or parents to intervene and stop the bullying. However, teachers and parents may no longer be able to provide a safe harbor to those students who are cyberbullied.

Question #6 - Does South Dakota recognize cyberbullying as a form of bullying?

Yes.  S.D.C.L. § 13-32-15 defines bullying as:

[A] pattern of repeated conduct that causes physical hurt or psychological distress on one or more students that may include threats, intimidation, stalking as defined in chapter 22-19A, physical violence, theft, destruction of property, any threatening use of data or computer software, written or verbal communication, or conduct directed against a student that (1) places a student in reasonable fear of harm to his or her  person or damage to his or her property; and either (a) substantially interferes with a student’s educational performance; or (b) substantially disrupts the orderly operation of a school.

S.D.C.L. § 13-32-18 also provides that “[n]either the physical location nor the time of day of any incident involving the use of computers or other electronic devices is a defense to any disciplinary action taken by a school district for conduct determined to meet the definition of bullying. . . .”

Question #7 - May a school district discipline students for “on-campus” cyberbullying activities?

Under most circumstances, school officials should be able to discipline students engaging in “on-campus” cyberbullying without violating the students’ First Amendment rights.

For more information about cyberbullying in South Dakota's public schools, read Chapter 17 of The South Dakota School Law Deskbook.