3.9 Case study 3: Emails from an unknown sender

SaraAt the beginning of the school year, Sara moved into a new school. At first, things were great and Sara was very popular. However, after a couple weeks at her new school, her parents noticed that she seems depressed and anti-social. They observe that she rarely socializes with her friends. Sara’s parents are worried about her and suspect that something is not quite right at school. They try to talk to Sara, but she is reluctant to talk. She tells them that she and her friends had an argument and are not getting along. Sara’s parents do not realize the problem is more dangerous than a disagreement between friends.

One day as Sara arrived at school, other students began to giggle and laugh at her. Some even made strange remarks about her eating lunch in the lunchroom. Sara was embarrassed and confused. She did not mention this to anyone that day and thought that it would just go away.

After returning home from school, Sara decided to check her email. She had one email from a person that she did not recognize. Inside the email, was an embarrassing picture of Sara in the lunchroom eating. Immediately, Sara realized that this picture was the reason that all the students had been laughing at her when she arrived at school that day. Another student must have taken this picture in the lunchroom at school and sent it to everyone in her class. Sara was alarmed and began to cry. She immediately deleted the email and did not tell anyone about the email.

As the weeks passed, the incidents escalated. Sara received more and more embarrassing and sometimes even threatening emails from the person. She deleted each and every one. Sara was too humiliated to tell her parents or her teachers. Her teachers noticed that she had begun to fall behind in school and seemed to be very depressed.


Type of cyberbullying:

Outing & Harassment (sending or posting nasty, mean, embarrassing messages).

The  (we try to avoid an ascription like typical because anyone can be affected) victim profile:

Likely to be an outsider (new kid, shy, different…), but could be anyone.

The  cyberbully profile:

  • Likely to do it for fun, out of boredom. Could also be out of anger or revenge, unresolved conflict.

How to promote constructive use:

  • Help teens to be included. Be attentive to kids who are isolated. Build empathy and respect among peers.
  • Build a culture where online activities are encouraged, but monitored (still respecting privacy).

prevent-01 How to prevent it from happening:

  • Raise awareness about cyberbullying.
  • Teach conflict resolution skills, tolerance, and empathy.
  • Help new students (and isolated students) feel included.
  • Get the opinion leaders among teens on your side. Use them as role models.
  • Teach parents to limit the online time and monitor their children’s online activities (to a realistic extent).

react-01 How to react if it happens: 

  • Document it (print or save the messages). Then delete.
  • Do not reply. Block sender(s).
  • Report sender to his/her e-mail provider (give evidence).
  • If it escalates, sometimes a very formal short reply from an adult helps. If you do this, introduce yourself as an adult figure (authority), keep it polite but firm, show that you have evidence, tell the bully to stop or you will report him, tell the bully that in similar cases, authorities could find out identities of the bullies by tracking which computers they use. Tell them to stop or you will take action. Only do this once. If it continues, take action (no empty threats!).
  • If it escalates, get the e-mail provider or the authorities to find out the sender’s identity (IP address).
  • Work with the victim, help them feel better about themselves and help them to be included.
  • Understand that if the cyberbully is unknown, there can be a lack of closure for the victim. Help them deal.