net behaviour

Cyberbullying: a virtual menace takes its toll on college students

Monica Lewinsky has given a name to her harassment 17 years ago: cyberbullying. New research shows just how widespread it is.

It’s easy to think of college as a time for freedom from problems you might have had in high school, like bullying. You might also think that students have become more confident in their identities, so bullying may not be as hurtful.

However, new research shows that cyberbullying is becoming a serious problem on college campuses, especially for female students. Depression and even suicidal thoughts have been found to be high among victims of cyberbullying. In fact, cyberbullying has been associated with a three-fold increase in depression in female college students.

My recent study with the Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team of the University of Washington, that looked at cyberbullying and its negative consequences amongst female students at four universities in the Midwestern and Western US in the fall of 2012, found that a fourth of the students had experienced cyberbullying.

In our study, 27% of women had experienced cyberbullying at some point during their college years, whether as a bully, a victim, or both. These rates of cyberbullying are comparable with those seen amongst high school and middle school students, where cyberbullying was believed to be the worst.

Cyberbullying carries a high risk of depression

Earlier studies on cyberbullying have shown that girls in middle and high school were not only at a greater risk of cyberbullying but also had higher rates of suicidal behaviours. Even those who had cyberbullied others were found to have increased odds of depression and alcohol abuse.

Amongst the cyberbullying behaviours in college, sexual harassment was most distressful.

Such behavior included unwanted sexting or other sexual content, such as sexually explicit text messages or emails.

Other cyberbullying behaviours in college included hate speech and hacking of personal online accounts: 26% of students had experienced hate speech. And half of the students reported either hacking another person’s online accounts or being victims of hacking.

Our research shows that some other cyberbullying behaviours, such as posting embarrassing photos, revealing secrets without permission, or creating an online profile with an intention to harass, were quite similar to those seen in high school.

Different perceptions of cyberbullying in college

It was interesting to note the differences in what is perceived at the college level to be a bullying behaviour. Studies have shown that college students see some cyberbullying behaviours differently than younger students.

For example, cyberbullying insults in younger teens might attack another person’s physical appearance, while in college, cyberbullying could consist of attacking someone’s personal beliefs and identity. Interestingly, name calling, which is explicitly seen to be hurtful in high school years, was dismissed by college students as a joke or taken to be a sign of childish behavior.

Another difficult area when it comes to cyberbullying in colleges, is that authorities do not know what to do about it. Whereas in middle and high school, the school might have jurisdiction to enact consequences for bullies or reach out to victims, in college such measures are not in place.

Most colleges and universities have policies about sexual assault, hazing and discrimination, all of which are on a spectrum of aggression that includes bullying, but there is little in these policies that can check cyberbullying.

Should authorities intervene?

Even students feel that college authorities should not interfere. A previous study has suggested that college students feel that school officials or law enforcement should not intervene if cyberbullying is happening.

Often the bullying party remains unknown. Even during our research, we were unaware whether the cyberbully was a friend, acquaintance, romantic partner, or an anonymous stranger. As the field of research is very young, we do not know how much that matters.

In terms of addressing this problem, authorities are faced with complex issues. Policies addressing social media and other electronic behaviours in student codes of conduct are, as it is, slim, and cyberbullying in particular is unlikely to be addressed.

Furthermore, campuses rightly value freedom of speech, which could offer protection to online bullies.

It is important then for students to learn early on about their digital footprint and the impact that negative posts can have on their future relationships and employment.  Colleges too can work toward creating a climate of respect online and in-person, as well as offer support to those suffering from the negative impact of cyberbullying.

Finally, if students see cyberbullying, they should voice their concerns over it, instead of remaining silent. As a researcher, I believe that building a supportive community will enable a healthy dialogue on the issue.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.


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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.