Friday, January 18, 2008

Cyberbullying and sexuality

In converstations and presentations, I have often remarked on how in coverage of cyberbullying, the sexual component is often ignored -- yet it is an integral part of this phenomenon. Another example of how cyberbullying and sexuality often go hand in hand is the story featured in the San Jose Mercury News this week about a "practical joke" in which classmates placed an ad in a 15-year-old's name soliciting sex with men, listing his home phone number. They also hacked into his MySpace profile, changing his orientation to "gay." The boy and his family received a ton of phone calls and the boy himself ended up dropping out of school over the incident.

The article in the Mercury chooses to focus on cyberbullying in general, why it happens (the anonymity effect), and how this type of bullying leaves a "paper trail" making it easy to catch those who do it. But the sex conversation is lost, even though the other example given concerned a
"slut list" of 23 girls created on MySpace by San Jose middle school students.

At the Sex Tech Conference this week, I hope to convey the message that talk about cyberbullying and online safety cannot be done without explicitly talking about sex and sexuality. They are so intertwined -- why is sex not entering the conversation? Well, we know why -- because sex talk is avoided whenever possible. But if we are to create effective interventions around healthy internet use, this disconnect needs to end.

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