Cyberbullying can be particularly traumatizing because it means home is no longer a safe place. A cell phone, video game or social network becomes just another form of harassment. Fortunately, there are some ways to deal with the cyberbully problem.
Most games, Web sites and ISPs provide systems to deal with disruptive users. Some are integrated into the program and user-controlled, as in the case of social networking sites that allow you to block certain users from interacting with you. Many companies provide a formal complaint process, through which users may be warned, suspended or banned.
Educators and campaigns like stopcyberbullying.org say that children should be educated about the impact of this form of bullying. Children should have outlets in which to talk about and report the problem. Potential bullies need to know that consequences exist, while parents should talk to kids about using technology responsibly and acting appropriately online.
Some cases of cyberbullying have spilled over into real-life altercations or even reported instances of suicide. Besides the Belgian investigation into the virtual rape in "Second Life," the law has gotten involved with cases of cyberbullying. Police in Japan arrested a man for repeated virtual muggings in the game "Lineage II" [source: Washington Post]. That arrest was likely due to the fact that the stolen virtual goods were later sold for real-world currency.
Some analysts advocate using Dunbar's Number to prevent cyberbullying from occurring. Dunbar's Number says that social groups of more than 150 people break down because people can't maintain connections to others in the group. Limiting the size of online groups, such as by making game worlds, virtual towns or other groups smaller, may make people feel more interconnected. That sense of community would in turn engender a sense of responsibility and fair treatment toward others.
Another proposal entails the adoption of an Avatar Bill of Rights -- essentially a list of rights for online personalities. There's some debate about what such a document should contain and how it would be enforced. Still, many members of the gaming and development communities have called for a substantial and vigorously enforced Avatar Bill of Rights.
One problem with stopping cyberbullies is that some game worlds or social networks are simply too huge and the number of complaints filed too numerous. "Second Life," with more than six million registered players, is often cited as needing more regulation, especially since it allows its players to earn virtual money that can be exchanged for real American dollars [source: Washington Post].
"Second Life" bills itself as an entire virtual world, where "citizens" can earn real money as they conduct business, interact and live out an existence that in many ways mirrors the real world, all the way down to the realistic appearance of their avatars. Companies like IBM have opened stores and offices in "Second Life." Several countries have "Second Life" embassies.
As perhaps the most prominent of the merging of real and virtual worlds, "Second Life" is also a place where abuse, bullying and other virtual crimes have become frequent occurrences. The founder of "Second Life" said that he hopes that players eventually devise their own legal code and justice system, which may help solve some of "Second Life"'s bullying and harassment problems [source: Washington Post]. For the time being, some aspects of "Second Life" and other online games, such as gambling and, in some countries, virtual depictions of underage sex, remain governed by real laws and carry real penalties.
For more information about dealing with cyberbullying and to read copies of the proposed Avatar Bill of Rights, please check out the links on the next page.