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“Cyber defamation”

  • Cyberbullying
  • Non-especific

• When and how did the bullying start – the month of May 2009
• Main participants
Two girls “authors” of a defamatory publication in the social network My Space, targeted at 29 other girls from the same elite school. 9 and 10 grade.
• Acts of bullying
Two girls from 10th grade undertake a cyber attack towards 29 other girls from the same school. They are blamed for posting a material on the portal of the social network My Space, comprising of personal and defamatory information on the sexual inclinations and relationships of the others, abuse of alcohol and psychotropic substances. One of the victimized girls is actually complaining that due to the lies published on My Space she is being approached with remarks and vulgar proposals by unknown boys and men, including in public places.
Here are listed some of the defamatory lines:
„Everybody thought she was a good girl. In fact she is a bitch and she is quite mean to some people.”
„Х offers sexual services to the boys at school.”
"Everybody says they hate her and that she is really annoying.”
„The greatest book-worm in 9th grade. Everybody openly hates her.”
In more than 2,500 words the two authors present the behavior and relationships of a total of 31 girls – bullies plus bullied.
This publication stayed online on MySpace at least a couple of weeks.
One of the two authors is openly bragging that she turned the life of one of her school-mates into hell after managing to make every one hate her.
Inside their comments the two authors blame this particular girl in offering sexual services to several different boys on a single day.
• Time period
The publication has been removed a couple of weeks after it was uploaded on My Space, but the effects on the victims were present for a much longer time.

The analysis was organized and moderated by:
Petya Marcheva, special teacher, School for students with special education needs “P.R. Slaveykov”, Pleven
Aneliya Ilieva, pedagogic advisor, Professional school of tourism “Aleko Konstantinov”, Pleven
Students from both schools took part in the activity.


The headmaster organized a meeting with the girls who made up the eloquent presentations of their fellow students and conducted a discussion with them, with their parents and representatives of the school team. In a long conversation the two girls explain the reasons for their deeds to the headmaster and everybody else. The next step is the organizing of a meeting for the victims and the bullies. Each girl had to make her point without being interrupted by someone and to present her motivation and complaint. The school psychologist is assigned with the task to continue the discussions with the girls – individually or together, as well as to inform their parents about the behavior, which their children should stick to in order to clean their reputation and to protect themselves from “readers” and “users” of MySpace with bad intentions. The parents of the two authors are advised to monitor and limit the activities of their daughters on the Internet and the social networks, considering their inclination and experience with defamation. The authors and their parents are warned that in case of a second similar act towards their fellow students, A and B will be expelled. The headmaster informs the police on the case, because the publication on MySpace puts some of the victims in a very dangerous situation and turns them into potential targets for sexual criminals and other bullies. The authors of the defamatory publication are punished with labor in favor of the society and regular consultations with the school psychologist and a social worker.


Effect of the bullying upon:
1. Educational process: presence of tension; there is no concentration, the thoughts are directed solely towards what is happening and the consequences form it, lack of motivation and desire for studying; a great obstacle for the educational process; the students are missing lessons; lower interest and will for participation and work in class.
2. Students’ motivation: lack or lowered desire for good achievements – no sense is seen in these; violence does not motivate, on the contrary – it unmotivates students from studying; the anxiety of the students is dominating.
3. Students’ achievements: are worse, because the desire for work is lowered; violence is an obstacle to realizing good achievements in school; the expression of talent is curbed; achievements are unsatisfactory, because the students are afraid to present a personal opinion.
4. Feeling of security: a feeling of insecurity, fear from future similar situations; violence has negative effects on the feeling of safety of the student and obstructs him from developing his qualities; a feeling of fear about what could happen after school is also present.
5. Integration in the school environment: there is fear and rejection from the others and putting a distance between the victim/bully and the rest of the world, there is fear from closeness; becoming a part of the students’ group and the school environment is really hard; Fear from the surrounding people or events; harder integration due to curbed communication with peers; appearing of conflicts among the students and difficult integration at school.


According to the girl that suffered the hardest attack and defamatory remarks in the published material, the reasons for this act probably lie in envy, which obviously A and B feel towards her, also hate, scheming, because according to C she has never tried to steal A’s boyfriend. C thinks that the bullying may have something to do with past conflicts she may have had with A and/or B.
„A possible reason could be the envy. Quite often girls envy each other because of their looks, because of a boyfriend or for some material things. But what are these two envious for? We are all envious at school for something, but I really have no idea what they grudge against me so much in order to write such things. I feel really angry, because they have no right to lie about me like this and to discuss my personal life because of their envy and bad feelings.
They probably hate me. I may have induced this somehow upon myself – willingly or unwillingly. Their words were really hurtful, because it is not once or twice that unknown boys and men address me with obscene proposals. They have hurt my dignity like this.
Sometimes girls create intrigues. Most often they do this to deal with their shortcomings and to enjoy the misery of some other girls. In my case it is quite possible that their aim was the intrigue, to have something fun to do and someone to pick upon. I don’t remember really well, but may be we have had some conflict or argument in the past. Whatever the reason, I was really disappointed. This event influenced my life.”
C shared for her problem with her parents, with her friends, most of whom are in the group of defamed girls, with the psychologist at school, as well as the form tutor. Thanks to the quick complaint on the side of the bullied girls the publication has been removed and the authors – reprimanded.
„I shared with the closest people for the publication – my parents and my friends.
I told my friends how I felt first and what the situation really is and they supported me.
A bit later I informed my parents, because at first I could not imagine that the situation could become so serious.
I also informed the form tutor and the pedagogic advisor at school. I asked them to take measures and propose the two authors for punishment. I shared with the pedagogic advisor, from whom I expected advice and support, and asked how I should react.”
C needs urgent help and consultations with the social worker. She needs the help of her parents and friends, who should be with her and help her clean her name. She needs the administrative protection of the headmaster, the form tutor, as well as the police in case the attacks and the indecent proposals to her, due to the MySpace publication, become more serious and uncontrollable.
„I mainly needed help from my parents, my friends, the pedagogic advisor, the form tutor, the headmaster and actually the “child protection” office. I needed support and care on behalf of my relatives and friends and I needed actions and measures on behalf of the institutions. The headmaster should reprimand and punish the two girls one way or another. “Child protection” should monitor them for other similar acts in the future, so that they never bother me again. The pedagogic advisor should speak with them, understand their reasons and influence them somehow so that they stop. From my friends and parents I ask for support and understanding.”


Together with a friend from class 10C – girl B, a girl from 10D – A, decides to publish on the social network MySpace a topic discussing other girls from the same school, because the two wanted to tell everybody what the other girls really are. According to the two friends, the others girls are undeservedly considered as good. A and B want to turn the life of one particular girl – C – into hell, because C tried to steal A’s boyfriend. This is the reason that everybody else suffered. C had to have “company” in this defamation so that the reason would not be too obvious. A and B feel no remorse, because C – their main target – was asking for it and deserved what they wrote for her. A wanted C to feel the way she felt when she discovered C was attempting to steal her boyfriend.


In this particular case the bullied form a much bigger group. The “other students” are mainly other children from the same school, who became witnesses of the publication in MySpace. Their initial reaction was shock and interest. After some thinking however they understood that this was something really serious. Luckily the publication was removed relatively quickly. Still, the text had been read and saved on many computers – both students’ computers as well “third parties’” computers. Most external witnessing students were not aware of the reasons behind these events. They had some hunches, but the fact that the attack was so massive – directed towards many persons simultaneously – made it impossible for one or several reasons to be isolated, different from „spite, envy, groundless hate” on behalf of the authors of the publication.
Most of the students shared with their parents first, because they saw the publication on their computers at home and they discussed it on the social network and skype. The reaction for removing the publication from the Internet was relatively quick – the direct victims complained as soon as they read the defamation and lies on MySpace. The other students had no other reaction to undertake except to witness the quick development and solution of the problematic situation.


The form tutors of the classes of the girls who suffered the most from the defamation, including C, is quite aware of what has happened. He was informed by students who use this social network and have profiles there. They told him about the publications, which hold different details about girls from the school. The material appears to be full of lies and defamatory comments on all kinds of subjects: alcohol and drugs abuse, sexual inclinations, promiscuity and others.
The teacher immediately informs the headmaster and the other teachers in school, because the problem concerns the entire school. He also informs the pedagogic advisor, because his help is very much needed. The school team agrees upon an action strategy and calls the parents of the two bully girls and the authors themselves and holds a meeting with them and the school management, in order for the reasons for this act to be discovered. The guilty ones are made aware that their folly actually hurt many people – how would they feel and in what danger would they find themselves if someone wrote something similar about them. The teachers’ council decided to reprimand the two girls A and B and warn them that in case of a new offence they will be moved to another school.


The headmaster clearly understands the graveness of what happened. He received information about the defamatory publication from one of the form tutors in his school, as well as from the complaints from the parents of some of the girls “depicted” in the MySpace publication. The headmaster organizes a meeting with the girls, who made up the eloquent presentations of their fellow students and conducts a discussion with them, with their parents and representatives of the school team. In a long conversation the two girls explain the reasons to the headmaster and all other present at the meeting. The next step is a meeting between victims and bullies. Each had to make her point, without any interruptions and to present her motivation and complaint. The school psychologist had been assigned the task of continuing the conversations with the girls separately and jointly, as well as to inform their parents about the behavior, which their daughters should stick to in order to clean their names and protect themselves from “readers” and “users” of MySpace who don’t mean them any well. The parents of the two authors are advised to monitor and limit the activities of their children on the Internet and the social networks, considering their experiences with defamation. They have been warned that in case of a second offence towards their fellow students, A and B will be expelled. The headmaster informed the police about the case, because the publication in MySpace puts some of the addressed girls into a very dangerous situation and makes them potential targets for sexual offenders and other bullies. The authors have been published to do some labor in social favor and to attend regular consultations with the school psychologist and with a social worker.


The parents discover soon after the material appears online. Their children – the victims – complaint right away after they saw the defamatory publication. They complain to the school. Unfortunately the parents of the victims had no power over the actions of the two authors and were unable to influence them in any way or to prevent the appearance of the material. The parents of the bullies could have imposed a much stricter control on the actions of their daughters online, to explain to them how easily the virtual can transform into real and physical and how dangerous it is to unveil information about oneself or about other people online and to tell lies about them. Unfortunately all of these actins will be undertaken not as prevention, but as corrective follow up measures, so that no such cases are allowed in the future. The parents of the victims are extremely worried from the events, because they understand how serious the consequences for their children could be, in a society, where it is very easy to present yourself as somebody else on the Internet. They are afraid that their daughters need the protection from the “Child protection” office and the police, which are ready to protect them in case of direct physical attacks on behalf of “admirers”. According to them the psychologist in the school will have to do a lot of work with both sides, in order to help the victims overcome the sense of vulnerability and the bullies to find the right path for proper behavior and Internet discipline.


The interviewed pedagogic advisor shares that she will conduct regular discussions with the girls who created and published the defamatory material in order to understand their motivation and to convince them about the dangers, which such behavior on their part holds. The advisor shares that the reaction to this publication had been very quick – the victims are so many that none of them thought twice to speak up about the problem. The first to know were the parents, after them came the teachers and the school management. The advisor also shares that she will consult with her colleagues and the parents of the girls, in order to gather as much information on the case as possible – this would be extremely important for the right approach towards the girls – bullies and bullied – to be implemented.
In addition to the psychologist, a social worker has also been consulted on this case. She is informed by the headmaster on the publication on the Internet. She speaks with the two authors about cyber bullying and the dangers from it. She understands their personal motives, which are quite common for teenage girls their age. She conducts a discussion with the parents of the two girls and explains to them the dangers, which improper use of the communication tools on the Internet, cause create for the potential victims. She conducts a discussion also with the other girls – the victims – in order to prepare and instruct them on the proper behavior from this moment on, by advising them to turn in all cases or threats of attack, to her, to the advisor, to the school management and their parents, and in more serious cases – to the police. The social worker creates a plan for joint work together with the form tutor of class 10D, where obviously there is a lack of understanding.


The joint work under the hypothetic case “Cyber defamation” of participants from the School for students with special needs “P.R. Slaveykov” and Professional high school of tourism “Aleko Konstantinov”, Pleven demonstrated to all of us – teachers, parents, community, that we should speak bravely and openly about violence as a social phenomenon. The Bulgarian students undertake the analysis of the violence issue with readiness and open mind. The team work on the case presented by ZAT, showed the necessity of future joint activities and initiatives between students with and without special education needs.
Such role plays and analysis of cases, which put the participants in different roles, represent an efficient method for building a correct understanding on behalf of the student and adoption of a proper and adequate behavior in cases of violence.


The reasons for the appearance of the event are connected with storming and uncontrollable feeling and emotions experienced by the girls – love, hate, envy, what not – combined with a lack of knowledge for and understanding of the dangers, which revealing personal information, regardless whether it is true or a lie, would generate for the objects of this depiction. We should not forget that the age of these girls, participating in the situation, presuppose extremes. The feelings are always too strong, there is no balance, clear thinking and cool acting is a rarity. The emotions, just like the processes of development, literally rage, they do not evolve gradually. That is why the reaction of the two authors of the defamatory publication is so rude. The participants act instinctively, primary, they yield to anger and reason is left behind. One of them feels threatened by the main target of the publication and is unable to withhold the desire to have revenge as effectively as possible. On the other side, the defamed and dishonored girls are unable to cope with what has been written about them in any other way than violently – they are greatly outraged. Moreover, for some of them the article provokes quite obscene and vulgar proposals coming from the other gender.
The mechanism, which allowed this phenomenon, is the free access to the Internet and the social networks and the lack of adequate training courses or limitations for the children, which spend most of their time on their computers on a daily basis. The idea that the Internet environment is a virtual one, i.e. different from the physical real world. When we think how much time we spend in online activities and in use of the new communication channels, we cannot deny that they ARE a part of our real physical life, which is projected in them via a certain prism. Whether the prism projects an exact image of the facts or not is a totally different story. Still the object, which generates content for the Internet and the social networks is quite physical and ream, as could be the effects/consequences of the publication of this content.
This awareness brings about an important issue for all adults involved in this case – headmaster, pedagogic advisor, psychologists, teachers, form tutors and parents – all of them, regardless whether at school or at home, will have to change the attitude and comprehension of the children about the online activities in general. Activities in the virtual environment, even when completely innocent, have a reflection on the real life, which is why we have to be extremely careful and “aware” when we use the goods of the Internet.

Comments about this Case Study

Date: 25.05.2012

Posted by: Youssef Kaissoun
Type of school: Member of Mobile team - Ministry of Education
Country: Belgium

Comments :

The reaction of the institution is quick and the action appropriate: the response of the different levels of the institution is appropriate: the teacher informs the direction given the seriousness of the facts and measures are taken to hear the authors and the victims. All internal staff (psychologist, pedagogical counsellor, social assistant) in school plays their role. Disciplinary action (works of general interest) taken against both authors is adequate as well, even if a reparatory measure for victims would have been better.
The monitoring over time of both the authors and victims is also important.
The involvement of the parents of the authors is important to the extent that they are liable by the fact that their children are minors and they must monitor more efficiently the actions of their daughters, especially since these acts have taken place largely outside the school.

Generally we would have adopted the same pattern of intervention: taking quick actions, accompanying the victims and the authors, imposing sanctions towards the authors, involving parents given the seriousness of the facts.
However, once the case is resolved, maybe we would have extended the reflection by providing animations in all classes on the concept of emotions, acting out, citizenship, democracy. I found quite striking that one of the young girls found quite normal to pass to action against her victim because she did not like her and that also one of the victims is animated by feelings of revenge.

Date: 30.03.2012

Posted by: Isabelle GRIMEE, Chantal BROSTEAU, Christophe BOURGOIS, Stéphane VOGELEER
Type of school: SMSW - School mediation service in Wallonia
Country: Belgium

According to our perception, the situations described do not correspond to the definition of « bullying » that has been made clear during one of the meetings. The acts are not recurrent, they occur during a short period and in some situations, they do not targer a single person.
Anyway, this situation shows main violent events which require interventions.

Common elements:
We regularly meet similar situations (settling of scores through ICT) and, most of the time, between girls. Situations in which anger and jaleousy induce rumors, violences…
The cases whe have faced so far target a single victim and never a group of teenagers as described in one of the analyzed situations.
We notice that the adults play their role. It seems that the whole educative team was willing to collaborate. That way, the problem seems easier to solve.
As far as our service is concerned, we are called when some other solutions have already been tried without success, either by the parents who had already contacted the school, or by the headmaster’s office that had already tried an approach.

Brief description of the Bulgarian device as shown through the situations :
Meeting with all the parties (heamster’s office, teachers, psycho-medico-social centres, victims and bullies, parents). A great attention is paid to the listening to each protagonist’s point of view, then individualized follow-up, and finally proposals for reparation, for reflexion, for solutions profitalbe for all parties and sanctions if recurrence. Sometimes
It seems that the culture of conflict management is well established. It seems that the open discussion between the parties already calms people down.
Maybe the conclusions focus too much the fault on just a part of the problematic. Example : ICT, the parents who don’t supervise, the parents who work abroad, the political and economical conditions, the teenagers’ non-participation to extra-school activities. Hence the importance of the work to be done upstream, on the theme of « living well together ».

Date: 27.03.2012

Posted by: Philippe Lehette
Type of school: Secondary School
Country: Belgium

Comparisons :

In my experience, the bullying usually comes either from jealousy or from the desire to dominate the other, often through humiliation. In both cases, it’s the response to an injury, or an event experienced as such.

In this case of cyber defamation, we are aware of the fact that it’s the jealousy that seems to have aroused the reaction of the college girl.

In my opinion, jealousy comes from a lack of self-confidence, and an unreasonable attachment to someone or something. One of those girls had the feeling of having been "assaulted": a girl wanted to steal her something (her boyfriend), so she wanted revenge, finding a fair (to her) repair of the damage she suffered, e.g. by smearing the other in the same way she felt smeared, after hearing that the other had tried to steal her boyfriend.
You don’t do that to someone you meant to respect. That’s why she thought she was not treated with respect.

Moreover, this harassment case is serious. You could legally charge for this. There is enough paper trail to sue the harasser. In other cases, it is much more difficult to establish evidence of harassment: discreet gestures, hurtful words, attitudes of rejection from others, etc. are not easy to detect.
We perceive a deep wound in self-confidence. Self-image is very rough ride during teenage. Teenagers are fragile, the slightest flaw is exploited. Students, even to the teachers, take advantage of any defect in your shield. They test every side of you.

Elements not in common :
I see no divergent elements in cultural or educational aspect. That situation could occur in any school in any country. It becomes clear that this happened because children were not aware of the dangers and risks for the harassers and their victims. Because it happens on the cyber space does not mean that it cannot have real consequences.

Where I would have found the main support :
I would have turned to Youth Services and to the police to inform children of the risks and dangers. Inform and "scare" if needed.
If children feel they can do this with more or less impunity, they will have no scruples about doing it.

What I can learn from this case study :
Harassment that occurs "outside" the school can also have consequences inside. This can happen very fast. That’s why information and preventive measures are so important, including a training on the mechanisms and on the penalties incurred.

Relevance of teachers’ training to cope with bullying/cyberbullying events :
Under those circumstances, the "curative" measures appear to me appropriate. It would have been Preventive measures would have been useful so that this does not happen again.
Teachers, do not learn that while studying in normal schools. They learn managing / defusing situations that happen to them, but not to others. It should therefore be done towards teachers AND students at least at the beginning of the school year.

Date: 20.03.2012

Posted by: Petia Marcheva
Type of school: specialized school
Country: Bulgaria

I thank for the comments. I am grateful to Mr A Lyne, United Kingdom for his suggestion. I am sure that by means of the common efforts of the school, the parents, the entire society, the responsible decision and policy making institutions and the media the bullying phenomenon in Europe will be curbed.
The ban for using mobile telephones on the school territory is a very reasonable idea, but at this particular moment in Bulgaria it should be coordinated and approved by higher institutions in order not to be in disconcert with the children rights and not to offend child dignity.

Date: 07.03.2012

Posted by: Carlos José Pérez Fernández
Type of school: Concertado
Country: Spain

In this case, two students publish false information on a number of companions (almost thirty) for "revenge" of a particular partner, through Myspace. I think such actions as important is the rapid reaction to first of all, keep the information in the network stay longer. This requires that those affected quickly discuss the case to contact (the guardian, parents, school, or themselves ...) with the content server (in this case MySpace) to remove them as soon as possible.
Then, as has been done in this case, we must bring together students (harassing and harassed) to clarify the reasons and facts. Should also determine whether there was from their homes, from school or from both places, for, in these latter cases, see whether to apply any restrictions on use of internet or filter to prevent other similar situations, or if need to spend several tutorials on the correct use of the Internet and the dangers involved (in this case, the victim suffered harassment from strangers who had read the information on Myspace, which can be very dangerous).
I think it's important, especially given the rise of social networks in today's society, education (teachers, students and parents) about the importance of confidentiality in the network and how rumors spread even faster than in real life (in real life you have to tell the rumor "physically" to your "listeners", while in the network, hang up and after one hour you can have thousands of readers). Therefore, the responsible use of social networking is very important today. The school is easy to monitor (computers with filters or supervision from the teacher's computer, tutorials on using internet ...), but at home it is up to parents who need to monitor internet use performing their children, not just which pages they frequent, if not what they do in them.

Date: 28.02.2012

Posted by: Mr A Lyne
Type of school: Secondary School
Country: United Kingdom

The issue of cyber bullying is all to familiar in my school and it is interesting to note the initial similariites between this and the incidences which I have experience of. They always mainly involve girls of around 13/14 and there are very few examples of cyber bullying involving boys. The bullying is mainly done on social networking sites and usually involves comments surrounding relationships and/or physical appearance.

The problem with cyber bullying is that it mainly occurs out of school hours and it is important to differentiate between what is a 'school' and a 'home' issue. My school have banned all mobile phones in school as students use these to access social networking sites. This takes away some of the schools responsibility for such incidents. My school has also worked cooperatively with the parents of both victims and aggressors to close down their social networking sites if they are causing too many issues for the student in question. These are short term measures and work if the issue boils over but it is quite common for these issues to make their way into school as the bully combines more traditional methods of bullying (name calling, physical assault etc.) alongside the cyber bullying. Once this happens it becomes a school issue and is dealt with in exactly the same way as any other bullying incident.

Print outs of messages sent on line are often used as evidence and is one of the small 'benefits' of this type of bullying to deal with as opposed to name calling. Clear evidence of what was saod can be used and this is demonstrated in this case study which helped establish an appropriate punishment for the aggressors.

it is clear that the issue of cyber bullying does not lend itself to a particular educational establishment, country or culture. This is a relatively new phenomenon but one which countless schools across Europe will no doubt encounter.

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