Rationale: The purpose of this lesson is to increase awareness and empathy among students with regard to cyberbullying and online social cruelty. Through visual media and discussion, students are encouraged to reevaluate their own online behavior and to explore their collective civic responsibility to make the Internet a safe “neighborhood.” Students are challenged to analyze how social norms contribute to negative online behavior, and to design a campaign to reshape these norms in their school community.
NOTE: This lesson focuses only on the ways in which students communicate with peers online. It is not intended to be a comprehensive approach to Internet safety, which should address topics such as predatory behavior, pornography, privacy and the safeguarding of identity. For resources on these broader issues, consult the organizations listed in Cyberbullying Resources.
- Students will increase their awareness about the problem of cyberbullying and develop greater empathy for the targets of online social cruelty
- Students will explore their civic responsibility to make the Internet a safe space
- Students will investigate how social norms around online behavior influence them
- Students will work to change the social norms in their school community
National Standards (.pdf format -35 KB - requires Acrobat Reader)
Age Range: Grades 9-12
Handouts and Other Documents: (.pdf format -35 KB - requires Acrobat Reader)
- Online Behavior: What Do We Think? (one for each student)
- If the Internet was a Neighborhood, Challenging Social Norms at Rutgers University and Challenging Social Norms at University of Missouri-Columbia (create overhead transparencies of these images or save them on a laptop so they can be projected on to a large screen)
- Background for Educators: Social Norms Theory (for teacher reference only)
- Internet Safety Strategies for Students (one for each student)
Other Materials: laptop/LCD projector or overhead projector, screen, Internet access, large sheets of newsprint or construction paper, assorted art supplies (markers, crayons, etc.)
- Reproduce handouts as directed above.
- Prepare a laptop/LCD Projector for viewing of cartoon (see step #3), film (see step #5) and poster (see step #9).
Time: Approximately two hours or three class periods (Note: If time is limited,
implement only Part II of the lesson, which can be completed in 45 minutes)
Techniques and Skills: analyzing visual art, brainstorming, collecting and analyzing data, cooperative group work, forming opinions, large and small group discussion, media literacy, social action
Key Words: bystander, civic, cyberbullying, denigration, exclusion, flaming, harassment, impersonation, misperception, outing, social networking sites, social norm
Part I: Pre-Lesson Survey (10 minutes)
- A day before the lesson, have students fill out the survey, Online Behavior: What Do We Think?1 Explain that they should answer each question twice, once based on what they believe and once based on what they think the majority of their peers believe. Emphasize that the survey is anonymous (no names should be written on top) and encourage them to answer honestly.
- Collect the surveys and tally student responses by calculating both the average numerical response for each item and the number of students who chose 4 (agree) or 5 (strongly agree) for each item. Save the original surveys as they will be used in class during the lesson.
Part II: Building Awareness and Empathy about Cyberbullying (45 minutes)
- Project the cartoon, If the Internet was a Neighborhood, on to a large screen. Discuss the image using the following questions:
- What do you observe?
- In what ways does this cartoon reflect your online experience?
- Is there anything missing from this picture? (Mention cyberbullying and online social cruelty if students do not bring it up.)
- Would you want to live in a real-life version of this neighborhood?
- Why do people put up with such environments online?
NOTE: During this discussion, begin to explore with students the notion of a collective civic responsibility to make the Internet a safe “neighborhood.” Challenge the assumption that negative behavior online is something that “we just have to put up with” or “can’t do anything about.”
- Tell students that while this cartoon highlights a number of negative Internet behaviors, this lesson’s focus will be on the issue of cyberbullying because it seems to be a growing trend among young people. Use the following questions to learn what students know about cyberbullying and what their experiences have been with this problem.
- What is cyberbullying? (Cyberbullying is the intentional and repeated mistreatment of others through the use of technology, such as computers, cell phones and other electronic devices.)
- What forms does it take among your peers? (Some forms include flaming, harassment, denigration, exclusion, impersonation, outing and trickery; see Glossary of Cyberbullying Terms for definitions.)
- Where does it happen most often? (Common vehicles include social networking sites [MySpace, Facebook, etc.], other Web sites, chat rooms, e-mail, instant messaging, text/picture/video messages, gaming sites, blogs and message boards.)
- What experiences have you had with cyberbullying?
- How do you/other youth respond when it happens? How about adults?
- Show Let’s Fight it Together, a seven-minute film produced in the United Kingdom by Childnet for the Department for Children, Schools and Families to help sensitize young people to the pain and hurt which can be caused by cyberbullying. After the viewing, elicit student reactions and discuss the following questions:
- Why do you think Kim targeted Joe for harassment?
- Why do you think Joe endured the cyberbullying without seeking help?
- Why do you think Rob and the other bystanders joined in or allowed the cyberbullying to go on without interrupting it?
- Have you experienced or witnessed instances of cyberbullying like this one? If so, how did you respond? After watching this film, would you respond differently in the future?
Part III: (60-90 minutes)
- Suggest that one reason many young people put up with online bullying and cruelty has to do with something called social norms. Explain to students what this means and how it relates to cyberbullying by paraphrasing from the reading, Background for Educators: Social Norms Theory.
- Tell students that the survey they filled out, Online Behavior: What Do We Think?, is meant to demonstrate how social norms work. Randomly redistribute the surveys filled out earlier, one to each student. Ask students to stand if the survey they received indicates that the individual (who filled it out) agrees (4) or strongly agrees (5) with the first statement. Have everyone look around before sitting down. Next ask people to stand if the survey in their hand indicates that the typical peer agrees (4) or strongly agrees (5) with the statement. Have everyone look around again before sitting down. Repeat this process for the remaining three statements. Summarize the results of this survey by posting or verbally sharing the tally you compiled in step #2 above, then discuss the following questions:2
- What did you observe during this exercise? (Most often, individuals believe that their own online behavior and attitudes are different from their peer’s behavior and attitudes.)
- How do you think that this misperception affects people’s behavior? (Students are more likely to take part in negative online behavior and less likely to stand up to it.)
- Now that you have more accurate information about your peers’ attitudes, how might this affect your behavior? (Students will feel more comfortable resisting cyberbullying and other forms of online social cruelty, and acting as an ally to those who have been targeted.)
- Ask students for concrete examples of how the four social norms listed on the survey play out in their day to day lives. Elicit stories that demonstrate, for example, how assumptions about the meaning of free speech have led students to say cruel things online; or how the unwritten code, “what happens online stays online,” has prevented students from reporting cyberbullying that they witnessed even though they knew it was wrong.
- Ask students if they think that it is possible to change the social norms in a community. Inform them that social scientists have come up with ways to re-educate students about social norms to address campus problems such as binge drinking, sexism and homophobia. Display the Challenging Social Norms at Rutgers University and University of Missouri-Columbia posters and explain that these were part of campaigns designed to correct misperceptions of, and to reduce, student alcohol and other drug use. Tell students that these posters were distributed through campus media, presentations, and mailings to first year students, members of Greek organizations, athletes and other groups most likely to engage in excessive drinking.
- Tell students that they are going to engage in an experiment to see if they can reshape the norms in their community around negative online behavior. Divide students into four groups and assign each group one of the following online social norms from the survey:
- I have a free speech right to say whatever I want online.
- On the Internet it is okay to reveal personal secrets for others to see.
- What happens online should stay online.
- What happens online is mostly a game, so no one can really get hurt.
Instruct each group to come up with a message for re-educating their peers about the norm they were assigned, to create a poster illustrating the message and to identify some strategies for disseminating their message.
- Reconvene the class and have each group share its work. Ask students to come up with a name for the overall campaign and to create a plan for launching it in the school.
- Distribute the handout,Internet Safety Strategies for Students, and review the information with students to reinforce safe and responsible Internet use. Send the handout home for students to share and discuss with family members.
1 Willard, Nancy. An Educator’s Guide to Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats. Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, http://www.cyberbully.org/cyberbully/docs/cbcteducator.pdf (accessed January 2008); and Smolinsky, Tanya. Unpublished documents. The Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley. The norms on the survey are adapted from Willard and the survey itself was adapted from original work by Smolinsky. All material used with permission.
2 Smolinsky, Tanya. Unpublished documents. The Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley. Survey and social norms activity adapted from original work by Tanya Smolinsky and used with permission.