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.