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Internet bullying

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It was the sort of private geeky moment many kids have, but in Ghyslain's case, it went further.

Some peers got hold of the video, uploaded it to the Internet, and started passing it around. Doctored videos, splicing him into "The Matrix," "The Terminator," or the musical "Chicago," with added special effects and sounds, soon followed. He's now the most downloaded male of the year. According to news reports, he was forced to drop out of school and seek psychiatric help.

"It's one of the saddest examples," says Mr. Stutzky. "He did one goofy little thing, and now it will always be a part of that young man's life."

Cruel messages - in an instant

Most cyberbullying doesn't reach such extremes, but it's still damaging. One in 17 kids ages 10 to 17 had been threatened or harassed online, and about one-third of those found the incidents extremely distressing, according to a 2000 study by the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center. A study in Britain last year by NCH, a British children's charity, found that 1 in 4 students had been bullied online.

The most common instances often involve instant messaging, or IM - the instantaneous chats that have spawned a lingo of their own and are a constant presence on most kids' computers. Bullies can send a mean or threatening IM with no identification beyond a selected screen-name. If that name gets blocked, they choose another.

More recently, it's cellphones. For several years now, bullying via text messaging and cellphone photos has been a concern in countries such as Britain and Japan, where such technologies are common. Stutzky says he's just beginning to see it in the US. He heard from a high-school boy who got text messages questioning his sexual orientation, and from a middle-school girl who got messages like: "Where did your mom get you those shoes? K-Mart?"

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