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Are cyber-bullies worse for victims than 'real' bullies?

Bullies suck.



But cyber-bullies suck even more, a researcher reveals at this year's American Psychological Association annual convention.



Elizabeth Carll's research says that victims of cyber-bullying, including harassment and online stalking, are more likely to experience heightened feelings of anxiety, fear, shock and helplessness, as well as changes in their eating and sleeping patterns.

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Numbers from the U.S. Department of Justice show that some 850,000 adults, most of whom are women, have been the targets of different kinds of online harassment. And cyber-bullying is as pervasive as it is upsetting to its victims. Things such as hacking into your e-mail for stalking purposes and sending harassing text messages count as online bullying. But, according to Dr. Carll, they all have very serious, negative emotional health consequences.



"It is my observation that the symptoms related to cyber-stalking and e-harassment may be more intense than in-person harassment, as the impact is more devastating due to the 24/7 nature of online communication, inability to escape to a safe place, and global access of the information," she said.

No safe place is right. Once that smear/threat/humiliating photo is out in the ether of the Internet, it's often there forever. And with public websites such as TheDirty.com, which allows anonymous users to upload pictures of people, name them and then run that name through mud, the embarrassment can be endless. You might think that something as despicable as a virtual bathroom wall would be booed off the Internet by now, but thanks to the vast population of bullies scribbling new muck on it, and the master-bullies who run it, sites like TheDirty.com are alive and well and as libellous as ever. It's also a lot harder to stop a bully when you don't even know who that person is.



But Dr. Carll sees a solution to cyber-bullying and it's more technology. "Imagine a cell phone application that can tell you if someone threatening you is nearby," she said, adding that the way this would work is by having reoffending meanies wear a GPS unit.



The logistics for this blue-sky idea aren't entirely clear yet. Would bullies get registered like sex offenders? Would it be paired with some sort of bully rehabilitation? Ultimately, will cyber-bullying come with stiffer legal penalties?



This half-cooked "solution" shows just how hard it must be for the victims of online bullying. Not even an expert can find a way out.



How do you think we should deal with cyber-bullying?

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About the Author

Madeleine White is the Assistant National Editor for The Globe and Mail. She has been with the Globe since 2011 and previously worked in the Globe's Video and Features departments, covering topics ranging from fitness and health to real estate to indigenous education. More

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