Civility in the Digital Age! Can’t We Learn to Be Nice to Each Other?

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We hear about bullets that kill people. Gun control is a topic that is not going away. However there is another type of bullet that can ruin lives in a different form–and can be just as deadly. Cyber-bullets.

Sadly, hearing about online attacks by and between kids has become almost commonplace these days. But attacks against adults are an epidemic onto themselves. As someone who was a target, I know this first-hand, but it’s amazing that far too few people understand the extent to which online hostility and attacks impacts adults as well.

Andrea Weckerle, both through CiviliNation, the non-profit she founded, and her new book Civility in the Digital Age: How Companies and People can Triumph Over Haters, Trolls, Bullies, and Other Jerks is trying to change that. (Disclosure: I serve as an Advisor to CiviliNation.)

Her book outlines the problems we see online (the real-life examples she provides are often raw and hard-hitting), and also offers solutions in the form of best practices and techniques.

She starts by explaining why measuring and monitoring one’s online reputation is important, and breaks down how to do that. She also goes into considerable detail about what types of conflict we’re likely to encounter online (these can range from one-on-one interpersonal conflict to conflict with people who are pseudonymous or anonymous, to online lynch mobs), as well as who the most common troublemakers are (cyberbullies, online harassers and defamers, trolls, sockpuppets, and a host of difficult people). Of particular interest is the information about anger management, which includes insights into how to manage one’s own anger online and how to deal with those who are aggressively spouting off, both which are super important in the hyper-intense online environment. The chapter on conflict resolution skills and strategies get into nitty-gritty how-tos.

But it’s the chapter “30-Day Pan for better Conflict Management Online” that provides detailed information on how to put knowledge into action. Day 1, for example, explains how to start your conflict inventory and assessment, while Day 11 and Day 12 discuss choosing an online monitoring tool and setting up an online conflict tracking system, Meanwhile, Day 17, covers how to determine whether you need to bury or remove negative information about you online, and Day 29 talks about how to simulate an online conflict crisis.

“Civility in the Digital Age” is a serious book, but it’s also very hopeful. In the last chapter, Weckerle quotes serial entrepreneur and environmentalist Paul Hawken who says “If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.” Weckerle writes, “Hawken’s words are relevant to the online world, where you see both the best and the worst of humanity expressed. But if you’ve read this book, it’s clear you’re not willing to turn a blind eye to the egregious behavior found online—you want to make things better!”

And don’t we all want to do that?

In my opinion, if you are online today, you need to read this book.

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Bullying, Cyberbullying, Cyberstalking: Don’t be a victim – Rise above it (Easier said than done)

Whether you are a teen or an adult, the effects of a cyber stalker or cyberbully can be emotionally devastating. For adults, especially professionals and business owners, it can be financially destructive.

As a victim and survivor of a cyber stalker, as well as the target of cyberbullies, I know firsthand how difficult and stressful it can be.

Initially you are shocked – wondering who these people are? Why are they doing this? In many situations, you don’t even know the perpetrator, but they certainly believe they know you!

In 2006 in Broward County Florida, a landmark case for Internet Defamation and Invasion of Privacy. It was a jury verdict of over $11M for damages done to my organization, Parents’ Universal Resource Experts and myself. (

I was literally bombarded with what are called “Google bombs” – and worse than that, they would attack my friends. My friends would try to fight back and the more you debate these people (stalkers/bullies) the more they engage and it can go from bad to worse within a matter of a few minutes of keystrokes.

With stalkers/bullies, you will never win – Yes, I was vindicated in a court of law, but did that remove all the slime that was online? It didn’t – and I continually have to spend time explaining these unfortunate people that have nothing better to do with their lives but to hurt others. They no longer hurt me – I only feel terrible for others that have to listen to their ranting.

When you can’t beat someone legally, the next best step today is taking it to the wild west of the Internet! Yes, the next thing I realized I was being slammed online. Called a child abuser, kidnapper, Ed-con, exploited families, a crook, and worse. Some comments even got sexual and disgusting. As my family and friends were reading this – I was mortified. I had to take legal action. The rest is history – as I won again in a jury trial for damages of over $11M.

Here we are in 2010 and cyber stalkers are still working hard at hurting people – but what I have learned from my experience is what others need to know when they are stalked.

• Never fuel it or engage in it – you will only fire it up. The stalker/bully wants to get a reaction, as hard as it is, don’t do it.
• If you can, block him/her and report them to the moderator of the forum (ie: Twitter, Facebook, Blogspot, Google etc.)
• If you attempt to tell your side of the story, even when it is the truth, you will never win. These people are determined to destroy you – no matter how blue the sky is, they will always be more determined it is green.
• Remember, when reading their crap, it is 99.9% twisted truths or outright lies. They may tell you to go and read X, Y, and Z – but neglect to tell you to read A, B and C – which completes the story. (For example, my stalker likes to tell people to read my trial transcripts – almost 1000 pages – and they direct you to certain page numbers, but unless you read the whole trial – you won’t understand those few pages, and I may look very bad – afterall, isn’t that the job of opposing counsel?) What would happen if you only heard one side of a case in trial? No one would hear the entire story.
• What motivates these stalkers and bullies? That is a million dollar question. Depending on who they are, in many cases they simply enjoy hurting others. In my case I believe these are seriously deranged people that want all residential programs closed. They don’t understand that many parents are only doing what is best for their teen. Yes, I chose a bad program -but I have taken my mistakes and turned them around to help others.
• Ignoring them is the best form of defense you have. Again, it can be extremely difficult, but remember, the more you try to tell your story, the more they will distort it. You will never win. It is just a matter of time and unfortunately for someone else, they will move on to another target.

There are lots of great online resources with more information on bullying:

Learn more about my story and how to protect your teens and yourself in and watch my appearance on Rachael Ray Show and ABC News 20/20 at and

Read more.

Sue Scheff: CyberTipline – Keeping Your Teens and Kids Safe On and Offline

Just about everyone is aware of the dangers that can lurk online, but does everyone know there is help if you determine there has been a crime committed online or your child is being harassed?

Broward County Sheriff’s department has an Internet Safety page on their website which can help you learn more about online safety. Within this page you will learn about the CyberTipline which is available to everyone.

What is the CyberTipline?

The Congressionally-mandated CyberTipline is a means for reporting crimes against children including:

  • Possession, manufacture, and distribution of child pornography
  • Online enticement of children for sexual acts
  • Child prostitution
  • Sex Tourism Involving Children
  • Extrafamilial Child Sexual Molestation
  • Unsolicited Obscene Material Sent to a Child
  • Misleading Domain Names
  • Misleading Words or Digital Images on the Internet

Part of the campaign to help keep your teens and kids safe virtually is THINK! Before You Post.

Did you know:

Webcam sessions and photos can be easily captured, and users can continue to circulate those images online. In some cases people believed they were interacting with trusted friends but later found their images were distributed to others or posted on web sites.

Be an educated parent, you will have safer teens and children.

Must watch video and read more.

Sue Scheff: Consequences of SEXTING

Sexting is a word that years ago we would have not heard about.  Today teens and tweens are not only familiar with this word, many have suffered the consequences from it.

A Thin Line debuted on MTV this month that educates and informs parents, teachers, kids and everyone about the dangers of the digital world.

What is Sexting?

Sending or forwarding nude, sexually suggestive, or explicit pics on your cell or online. For some people, it’s no big deal. But real problems can emerge when the parties involved are under 18, when people get pressured into sexting, and when sexts go viral. – A Thin Line

What are the consequences of sending or receiving one?  There are many, however the most common are the feelings of humiliation, embarrassment and much worse.  The person that is in the photo can potentially suffer from extreme depression and even feelings of suicide. 

For the person sending them to go viral, there could be potential criminal charges.  You could get arrested. Taking, sending, and possessing naked images of a minor is a federal crime. Sex offenders’ registry? Not the honor roll you were hoping for.

Parents need to take the time to sit down and talk to their kids about sexting and how it can potentially ruin lives for a long time.  Review their phones or computers if you suspect that your child is participating in this activity.  Remember, there comes a time when safety trumps privacy and this could be one of those times.

Be an educated parent, you will have safer teens.

Watch A Thin Line on Sexting in America.  Watch the four-part series with your children.

Read more on Examiner.

Sue Scheff: Cyber Tragedy – Teen Suicide

Another teen tragedy that involves sexting, bullying and the horrific end to a young beautiful life. (Photo of Hope Witsell by Edmund D. Fountain of St. Petersburg Times).

According to the St. Petersburg Times, 13 year old Hope Witsell was a typical teen however suffering from inner turmoil that lead to the end of her life.  Hope was taunted by ugly and harassing insults which resulted from a nude photo of herself that was spread via text also known as ‘sexting’.  Although meant for her boyfriend only, this photo soon went viral and school officials suspended her.  She was convinced that tons of people secretly hated her according to her journal.

The St. Petersburg Times also noted: A 2009 Harris online poll shows that one in five teens admits to having sent naked pictures of themselves or others over a cell phone. But even that number may be low.

This is another horrific story that we can learn from.  The question is, why is it taking these tragedies to wake us up?  Here are some tips to help you help your child/teen with online and cell phone safety.  Please know that Love Our Children USA and STOMP Out Bullying is also available for more critical information to keep your children safe.

Parenting 101: Keeping Kids Safe Online

Learn about Internet Predators – in loving memory of Kristin Helms

Teens Taking the Pledge to Fight Bullying and  Cyberbullying

Internet Safety and Guidance Counselors

Internet Things Your Children Should NEVER Know

Parents, TALK to your kids!  There has never been a more urgent time to open up those lines of communications with your kids and teens. 

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Sue Scheff: Online Resume – Online Makeover

onlineresumeWe watch personal makeovers on television frequently. There is a housewife that has spent all her time and energy raising her children and has let her appearance go. Or someone that had a bad hair experience and need a makeover (or correction). There are grandmothers that have devoted their lives to raising their kids and their kid’s children and yet never took the time to have a simple manicure.

Yes, makeovers are astonishing to watch on television and on some cable channels we can now watch business makeovers as the reality show world grows. A once dying business can be completely regenerated with the expertise of someone with today’s visionary trends and update that failing company into a booming business.

This is also true virtually! If you don’t have a positive, energizing, engaging and inviting presence online, who will be calling you? Who will be using your services? Who will be dating you?

Have you taken the time to consider a virtual makeover? Are you out of job, applying to college or even looking for a soul mate? Today there is more to your physical appearance and your paper resume; it can be about what Search Engines are saying about you.

Recently CareerBuilder shared these numbers:

•11% of employers plan to start using social networking sites for employment screening.
•Of the 45% of employers who conduct online searches of job candidates, 29% use Facebook, 26% use LinkedIn, 21% use MySpace, 11% search blogs, and 7% use Twitter.
•18% of employers said they found content on social networking sites that encouraged them to hire the candidate, while 35% of employers found content that caused them not to hire the candidate.

Take the time to read my previous article on improving your Internet Image. Let it be your own keystrokes that tell the World Wide Web who you are.

Have you discovered you need an online makeover or even need a boost to your virtual image? Are you unsure about using the Internet? Not computer savvy? You may want to consider an online reputation service. Although there are many to choose from now, my experiences are with ReputationDefender who is one of the pioneers of these types of services. They offer different packages to meet your individual needs.

The last thing you want to do is ignore your online presence in today’s ever expanding Internet world.

 For more information: October is National Cyber Safety Awareness Month . I also recommend my recent book, Google Bomb which shares my story of Internet Defamation and how I almost lost my organization from a ruined online reputation.  My experiences can help you learn from my mistakes.

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Sue Scheff: Teens caring: Take the pledge not to cyberbully

CatiStompOutDayAs part of Teens that Inspire, Cati Grant continues to bring awareness to bullying and cyberbullying. She is helping other teens learn more about cyber safety and the effects of bullying.

During this month of National Cyber Safety Awareness, it is a perfect time to get to know Cati Grant and what inspires her.

At only 16 years old, Cati is already making a difference in many lives and was recently named Teen Ambassador for Love Our Children USA. Read more about this amazing young teen.
Q. Tell us about Cati Cares? When did you create it and why?

A. I created Cati Cares in June of 2008 as a birthday gift from my parents. I created it because I wanted to help other people, prevent cyber-bullying, and promote Internet safety to anyone with access to the Internet. I really wanted to start a movement of caring among teens.

Q. What tips do you have for kids that are being cyber bullied online?

A. Try not to encourage the bully and just try to ignore it…. do not respond, keep records of all contact and talk with a trusted adult. I cannot stress enough for anyone who is being bullied to speak with a trusted adult. There is so much more awareness about this issue than when I went through it several years ago, there are a lot more resources available for everyone to use. Don’t suffer in silence!

Q. Who inspires you and what motivates you?

A. I find inspiration from simple everyday things and I am constantly motivated by people who encourage me to keep up the work of Cati Cares.
Q. What are your long term goals for Cati Cares?

A. To keep the website up for anyone who might need guidance or help to deal with a bully. I have the domain registered for the next 10 years. I am excited that Cati Cares has given me the opportunity to meet so many wonderful new people. I plan to always be a community advocate.

Q. How do your family, friends and teachers feel about your crusade?

A. They all feel that I am doing a great job and that I am making a difference in the world today.

Q. Do you have other hobbies or activities you enjoy?

A. Yes, I love horses, science and cheerleading. I love walking my dog, Bella. I also enjoy reading and writing.

Q. What do you want to be when you grow up?

A. I want to be a veterinarian specifically for race horses. I love all animals and have been riding horses since I was 5 years old.

Q. I understand you are part of Love our Children USA, it is such an honor. Please tell us about it?

A. It is a great honor to be named the Teen Ambassador by Ross Ellis, she is such a wonderful person. I am excited for the future and happy to have another venue to raise awareness. If we all join together, we can eradicate bullying forever.

Q. You were also invited to participate in Kids Are Heroes Day 2009, another honor. Please tell us more about this special day?

A. Another amazing honor, I am so excited to attend Kids Are Heroes Day in Frederick, Maryland October 24, 2009. I hope to motivate other teens and kids to volunteer in their communities. I am also looking forward to meeting other Heroes. Everyone is invited to come out and meet us. It should be a pretty amazing weekend!

Q. Is there anything more you would like to share with us?

A. I would like to encourage anyone who is being bullied to speak with a trusted adult, they will listen. Middle school and High school will be the toughest years of your life! Be yourself and don’t let anyone else try to make you feel bad for that! I would also like to encourage anyone who is a witness to someone being bullied, speak up! You just might save someone’s life and become a hero. I have some advice for bullies; ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing? Stop before you are branded a bully for life.

CatiCaresYou can follow Cati Grant on Twitter and visit her website at

Join the movement of TEENS caring.  Take the PLEDGE not to cyberbully.” – Cati Grant


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