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University forum addresses online bullying

Nicholas Knoske

Issue date: 11/12/10 Section: News
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In response to the recent online bullying and its resultant suicide at Rutgers, Case Western Reserve University's Share the Vision committee sponsored an open forum last Thurs., Nov. 4, to address issues of harassment, privacy, and anonymity on the Internet. Extensive discussion was led by panelists that included representatives from student affairs, information technology operations, the university attorney's office, and the student body.

The forum, attended by faculty and students, served as a means for the university both to address concerns regarding online relations and to educate attendees on the legal and ethical implications of employing technology to bully other people anonymously.

"The anonymity of the Internet is just so dangerous," said Shannon French, the Inamori Professor of Ethics and forum moderator. "People are emboldened by anonymity."

Recounting her time in grade school, French noted that she still remembers the face and name of a girl who bullied her. In a strange way, she said, this identifying information humanizes the bully. And it does likewise with the victim, meaning that face-to-face bullying is likely to be less vicious (and less frequent) than its online variant today.

Panelist Joel Kraft, director of CWRU's IT operations group, contended that anonymous communication can be "useful" as when an individual seeks important but personally embarrassing information on the Internet. Careful to avoid placing blame on anonymity, Kraft also acknowledged the minor annoyances he's noticed while browsing the Case Forum, often caused by anonymous and disrespectful students.

Case Forum is moderated, however; though it tolerates profanity and the occasional rude response, it is able to efficiently remove personal attacks or particularly unhelpful information. This puts it in contrast with other communication media like Facebook and Twitter, social networking sites where forms of bullying can manifest very publicly (although less anonymously) in unmoderated modes of discourse.
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