Cyberbullying victims face harassment long after the school day ends. Here's how to protect students from online tormentors.
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K-12 bullies have taken their taunting and rumor mongering from classrooms to chat rooms, social media, emails, text and other online forums. Security vendor WatchGuard Technologies has compiled several strategies for school administrators to fight back.
Schools can protect students from cyberbullies with the same technologies multinational companies use to guard their financial data, customer information and medical records, says WatchGuard. WatchGuard's got skin in this fight of course, as a vendor of Internet security software and appliances. Among its recommendations:
1. Filter objectionable content and keywords. Schools can track online activity that involves terms commonly used by bullies. When the software detects certain derogatory words, it can record the user's communication or block it altogether. Administrators can catch students using offensive language on HTTPS-protected sites, as the keyword filter bypasses the software that keeps these sites secure.
2. Deploy URL categorization and filtering software. This software categorizes websites such as social networks and gaming sites. Schools can limit access to certain site categories.
3. Application control. Instead of blocking websites altogether, administrators can limit the functions of certain sites accessed from the school network with app control software. Schools might let students go on Facebook, for example, but keep them from posting comments on friends' walls. The software also audits application use so that administrators can observe how often students use certain applications or site features.
4. Stay current on trends. "Schools are a little behind the times," said Corey Nachreiner, director of security strategy and research at WatchGuard. Most have banned Facebook and Twitter but are unaware of sites such as Snapchat and Vine, which are also used by cyberbullies.
5. Implement awareness campaigns. Although cyberbullying is commonplace, 90% of teens who witness online harassment say they ignore it. Make educators and students aware of the tragic effects of bullying and how they can help prevent it.
Cyberbullying doesn't stop when the school day does. Kids are vulnerable 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and have no control over what bullies put online. In fact, they might not even know the identities of their bullies. "It's different from traditional bullying," Nachreiner said. "The cyber aspect makes it worse."
Cyberbullies often create fake social media accounts to manipulate their targets. In a recent U.K. case, a group of girls used a fake social media account to lure their target into a fake relationship, then embarrassed her with the truth.
Cyberbullying affects 52% of students, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. According to an infographic from OnlineCollege.org, one in three kids under age 13 has been threatened online. The statistic makes sense, given that 81% of young people claim that it's easy to get away with bullying online.
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