One of the key topics of the internet safety program we are working on in our overly-large school district revolves around cyberbulling. The focus, of course, deals with kids as both the targets and instigators.

However, what happens when the target and bully are both adults?

That’s the interesting, and somewhat bizarre situation, being discussed on many education-related blogs, all triggered by online death threats, and more, directed at tech writer and blogger Kathy Sierra.

Andy Carvin has been a leader in the discussion, going so far as to unilaterally declare Friday as Stop Cyberbullying Day.

If you’re not aware of what’s going on, he offers a short summary of the situation and how it’s spun out of control.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Kathy, she’s a well-respected programmer, blogger and educator who’s been involved in computer education and gaming software for over a decade. Just a couple of weeks ago, she presented one of the lead keynotes of the South By Southwest Interactive festival, along with Dan Rather. I don’t follow her blog on a daily basis, but pop by every now and then, particularly when other bloggers I respect mention her latest writings. And yesterday, several of them drew attention to a post ominously titled “Death threats against bloggers are NOT “protected speech” (why I cancelled my ETech presentations).”

Over the last few days, it turns out, there’s been an escalating cycle of cyberbullying directed against Kathy, some of it anonymous, some of it not, that suddenly cascaded into all-out threats against her. It’s certainly not uncommon for bloggers to get angry emails or be vilified on other bloggers – sadly, it happens to many of us from time to time – but Kathy’s attackers went beyond the pale of harsh criticism or ad hominem attacks. For example, someone took the time to adulterate a photo of Kathy, digitally adding a piece of red lingerie that’s being used to gag her. And that example, perhaps, is the only one I can describe in any detail without crossing a line of what should appear on this blog. Suffice it to say, the personal attacks can only be described as vicious and violent.

Rather than taking a blogging fast as some have suggested, Andy wants to go the other direction, to generate a large online discussion of the overall problem and how to address it.

Perhaps the most constructive response is to talk about it. To get everyone talking about it. We only seem to talk about cyberbullying in education circles or in the aftermath of a school shooting. But between the headlines, it happens every day, probably thousands of times a day. And it has to stop.

For starters, we need this to be a bigger conversation. That’s why I decided to unilaterally declare this Friday as Stop Cyberbullying Day. What does it mean? I leave that up to you. Generally, though, I think we should all set aside some time that day to address cyberbullying.

For those of us in education, this sad situation also becomes a great opportunity to lead our students by example. After all, adults who do stupid things influence kids to do stupid things.

We can come up with all kinds of fancy lessons about how kids should act when communicating with others, but unless we as teachers are modeling that behavior, all of it is worthless.

I’ll have to think a little bit about what I can contribute to the discussion but it will be interesting to see what comes on Friday as a result of Andy’s call.

stopcyberbullying, andy carvin, kathy sierra