Google Docs: A New Way to be Cyberbullied

Every day, millions of students engage with computers and tablets for learning purposes. Teachers spend hours monitoring the progress of these students, ensuring that they stay on task by using either proximity monitoring or an MDM. To accomplish this, Google products are often favored by schools as they allow easy collaboration and seamless incorporation with most e-learning systems or learning management systems, including its own Google Classroom.

Surprising Forms of Cyberbullying

During this progress monitoring, teachers can often see students working on a paper or research project on Google Docs, confirming that they’re hard at work and on task. However, a whole other world exists within Google Docs that most teachers are completely unaware of.

Google Docs, it turns out, is one of the most popular destinations for online bullying. Yes, Google Docs. Not Snapchat, WhatsApp, or Kik. Google Docs. While schools usually block specific or all social media sites for teens, Google Docs is never blocked because it’s used as an instructional tool by both teachers and students. Google Docs is also the preferred method of paper submission for Google Classroom and other LMS platforms.

The Latest Online Burn Book

Online bullies are crafty. They don’t post hurtful messages straight into the document because that would be too easy for a teacher or parent to spot. Instead, they hide messages within the comments of Google Docs, which are far more difficult to spot and monitor. In some cases, hurtful messages can be embedded into documents and shared with victims.

In other cases, Google Docs can be used as a digital “burn book” or “slam book” that can be shared with dozens of students without the knowledge of an adult. To the teacher or parent, it simply looks like a child is working on a writing project. This is what bullying looks like in 2019.

Back before the digital revolution, “burn books” or “slam books,” as they were sometimes called, were spiral notebooks passed from student to student. Burn books were featured in the 2004 movie Mean Girls.

Cyberbullying Data

According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, the percentage of individuals who have experienced cyberbullying at some point in their lifetime has nearly doubled from 18% to 34%. The Center for Disease Control reported that 14.9% of high school students were cyberbullied in 2018 (Center for Disease Control, 2018).

Teaching Digital Citizenship

Teachers and parents must continuously work on new ways to combat this hurtful and destructive behavior. The best solution is to have honest conversations with children about digital citizenship and bullying. Kids must learn to understand that everything they post online becomes part of their digital tattoos, something that can never be completely removed. Years later, online posts of any kind can come back to haunt them. For example, a recent survey indicated that more than half of college admissions officers research a prospective student’s online profile and history. That means that a comment or a post from years earlier can harm or completely block a student from being admitted into their university of choice.

About the Author

Dr. David Franklin, Ed.D. is a nationally and internationally recognized speaker and an experienced school administrator, consultant, curriculum designer, and professor of education. Dr. Franklin has presented at education conferences around the world delivering keynotes and breakout sessions, and is currently serving as National Education Consultant for Securly.


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