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Siena College studies cyberbullying as problem grows

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ALBANY, N.Y. -- In Florida two girls have been arrested and accused of stalking a fellow student who eventually committed suicide – now local researchers are looking for a solution to this growing problem.

Three faculty members at Siena College spent one year researching and studying cyberbullying in video gaming, the results they say transcend into cyberbullying in social media as well.

As they study the research results, they say taking away cell phones should not be the first reaction.

Rebecca Sedwick, 12, of Florida, committed suicide after allegedly being cyberbullied. On Monday, two girls, ages 12 and 14 were arrested and charged with felony Aggravated Stalking.

The Polk County Sheriff says an alleged Facebook post on one of the girl's pages led to the arrest.

 

(Photo: Polk County Sheriff's Office/ABC Action News)


The accused 14-year-old's parents said in an interview Wednesday that their daughter would never write something like that, and that her Facebook account had been hacked -- a claim police don't believe. It is alleged that Sedwick was bullied from December 2012 to February 2013.

"We are making an example out of those girls and we are going to make an example of anyone else who does the same thing," said Sheriff Grady Judd.

Doctor Meg Fryling, an assistant professor of Computer Science at Siena College, says as she and her colleagues study the data they collected from 1,000 surveys given worldwide on cyberbullying, there seems to be a disconnect on behalf of teens about the damage bullying behind a computer screen or cell phone can do.

"If I push someone and I bully them that way, I see the damage right away. They may cry, they may have a skinned elbow, something like that.  In a virtual world, you don't really see it, so it's a different experience," she says.

Doctor Fryling says while the knee jerk reaction might be to ban cellphones from teens, many consider the cell phones to be their lifelines. She says the focus of her research will be to ultimately help parents understand how to actually use technology to detect the beginning signs of cyberbullying.

"Taking that away in this environment, you think, oh taking that away will stop the cyberbullying, but it also takes away my connection to all my other friends, all the other people who can support me," she says.

Of course, people on the other side of the issue say the cellphones should be taken away at the first sign of possible bullying.

Doctor Fryling says she and her colleagues plan on applying for a grant from the National Science Foundation to continue their research.

In the midst of the growing trend of cyberbullying, Facebook announced Wednesday that the social media site will now allow teen's ages 13 to 17 to post publically to the site.

Previously that age group had been limited to only letting friends, or friends of friends, view posts.

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