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Cyberbullying pervades every manner of online interaction, and a tragic series of recent events is forcing communities, schools and law enforcement agencies to vigorously address the issue. Anti-bullying organizations abound on the Web, but most offer relatively generic and ambiguous tips for dealing with tormentors. Sure, “report the abuse” seems like a simple step, but when exactly should the behavior be reported, who needs to be contacted and how do concerned parties alert the proper entities?

First, parents and victims need to save all instances of antagonistic behavior, including e-mails, instant messages and texts. Documenting the harassment proves more difficult — and confusing — when dealing with social networking sites, message boards and chatrooms, though. For PC users, victims and parentsshould capture screenshots by using the “Print Screen” button (the key typically appears as “PrtScn/SysRq”), while Apple users can employ the ‘Grab’ application, or free services like Skitch.

Most websites now provide internal methods for subsequently reporting and sharing that documented intimidation. Facebook’s ‘Help Center’ demonstrates how to report abuse and block bullies, YouTube’s ‘Contact Us’ page allows users to report various issues, and MySpace’s ‘Support’ desk offers an abuse submission form, as well as helpful tips for parents. If video game bullying or harassment occurs, PlayStation users can register complaints through a Web form, while Xbox owners can submit possible violations directly via the 360 console, or through the official Xbox site.

Security organizations also suggest contacting the Internet Service Provider (ISP) of both the victim and the attacker, but discerning someone else’s ISP can be particularly difficult for casual Internet users. If the attack occurs at a specific website, victims and parents can utilize a variety of services to learn exactly whom to contact. The Network Abuse Clearinghouse allows visitors to simply type in a domain name in order to discover the specific contact information. The American Registry for Internet Numbers (at the top of the screen) and Plot IP (at the very bottom of the screen) both immediately display a visitor’s IP address in an embedded link (with ISP contact information), and both also provide a wealth of ISP location and hosting information.

In terms of contacting outside entities, law enforcement officials suggest that parents avoid initiating an instinctual response. While parents need to save the messages, they also must avoid responding or engaging in an active argument. If the bully is known to the victim, parents should resist the urge to confront the attacker’s parents, but should instead contact their child’s school or — if the bullying occurs over an extended period of time or involves threatening language — notify the police.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center (which is a collaborative effort of the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance) serves “as a means to receive Internet related criminal complaints and to further research, develop, and refer the criminal complaints to federal, state, local, or international law enforcement” agencies. Victims can submit complaints about threats directly at the official site.

Thankfully, for concerned parents, determining the line between free speech and illegal activity lies with law enforcement agencies, so — when in doubt — reach out to authority figures who can legally stop and punish the guilty party, swiftly and most effectively.

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