July 02, 2008

Trendspotting: Online Bullying an Emerging Issue for Ombuds

Recent articles indicate that virtual bullying will an important issue for organizational Ombuds:

Researchers at UCLA have been startled by the "seemingly innumerable" ways that children bully and cheat each other in virtual worlds. UCLA doctoral student Deborah Fields, who wrote the paper with professor Yasmin Kafai, said players were much more willing to engage in behavior that they wouldn't in the real world. "I don't think they feel monitored," she said. "It's way less monitoring than they probably have in school from just the presence of a teacher." (LA Times.)

Other children are not the only victims. Teachers have faced online bullying through social networking sites Facebook and Bebo. A Childnet International Report has recommended that teachers should be taught how to use social networking sites effectively as part of their pupils' education. (ATL News.)

These young bullies eventually become part of the workforce with dire consequences. In March, University of Manitoba researchers reported that the emotional toll of workplace bullying is more severe than that of sexual harassment. (From the Playground to the Boardroom: Workplace Bullies.

Twelve years ago, University of Massachusetts professor and Director of the National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution Ethan Katsch predicted the need for Ombuds to be ready for conflict arising from virtual environments. (The Online Ombuds Office: Adapting Dispute Resolution to Cyberspace.) He suggested the need for online Ombuds offices staffed by people familiar with dispute resolution and technical expertise. He proposed specific ways to facilitate communications, while protecting the confidentiality of the process.

Yet so far there are no virtual Ombuds offices and few that offer any online services. Indeed, most Ombuds websites serve only to disseminate information and do not permit dialog. It seems clear that Ombuds eventually will be obligated to be more responsive to virtual bullying. The only questions are "How?" and "When?"

Related posts: Ombuds Not Exempt From Influence of Internet; Study Finds Workplace Bullying Widespread; ICANN Ombuds Explains On-Line Dispute Resolution; International Forum on Online Dispute Resolution.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Tom. I just wanted to point out the url for the Int'l Forum on ODR, which has materials posted from the conference under "Program", and that is: www.2008odrforum.org There was a session on Ombudsmanship and ODR, which, by the way, was co-chaired by Ethan Katsh. Ethan's discussion on encryption and anonymity is an important one for ombudsmen as virtual life becomes more and more of where reality takes place, including on university campuses. However, IOA's rule against record creation has to be clarified and reconciled to help ease the progression towards the practice of virtual ombudsmanship and dialogue. Encryption and anonymity are two methods discussed by Ethan, but it is unclear whether those ombudsman offices that practice under the IOA standards of practice would be able to utilize these methods because records would still be created – when can records be created and when not? Are there exceptions? Discoverability and jurisdiction are also issues that come into play if an online ombudsman uses “confidentiality” as a protection that the Online Ombudsman Office offers to the virtual visitor.
    Thanks for bringing attention to this important issue of virtual bullying. --Indu