Taking Perspectives on Cyberbullying

How does online cruelty affect the people involved?

Students learn about the dynamics of online cruelty and how it affects all of the people involved.

Students begin by exploring a scenario from the TV show Friday Night Lights, in which a teen girl creates a hate website about another girl. Students take the perspective of different characters and brainstorm alternative decisions each character could have made. Finally, students discuss what actions they can take when they encounter online cruelty in their own lives, including how to be an upstander. (Note: The term “online cruelty” encompasses what is often referred to as “cyberbullying,” but it covers a broader range of behaviors and may speak more effectively to teens than the term cyberbullying. We use the term “online cruelty” throughout this lesson.)

Students will be able to ...

  • articulate why it’s important to consider the perspectives of others in online (and offline) communities.
  • consider the motivations and feelings of all the parties involved in an incident of online cruelty.
  • draw conclusions about how they should respond when someone is the target of online cruelty.

Materials and Preparation

  • Copy the Taking Perspectives Student Handout, one for each student.
  • Review the Taking Perspectives Student Handout — Teacher Version.
  • Preview the “Friday Night Lights Video Clips,” and prepare to show it to students. 
    Note: This video portrays a cyberbullying situation. They include some sexual references, including “whore” and “slut,” and the term “jackass” is used once. If you do not feel comfortable showing this material, describe the scenario and have your class complete the handout based on your description. The use of these clips does not constitute an endorsement of the show.

Teaching Plans


Warm-up (5 minutes)

DEFINE the Key Vocabulary term perspective. Explain to students that in any situation, the people involved generally hold different perspectives, which influence the way they feel about the situation and how they react to it. Students may be familiar with the alternate term point of view, which is often used in relation to literature.

ASK: Have you ever had a conversation with someone when you had a different point of view? What happened? How did you feel?
Students might note that they may not have realized someone had a different point of view or felt differently about something. Or that hearing a different point of view from another person might be uncomfortable, as we like people to have the same opinions as us. But it could help them understand the other person’s perspective better than before, which can strengthen the relationship or their understanding of the situation.

ASK: Why is it important to understand someone else’s perspective?
Understanding someone else’s perspective can help us understand how others feel, help us have empathy for them, and help clear up misunderstandings.

EXPLAIN to students that they will be viewing some video clips that show how different characters react or think about an incident of online cruelty (cyberbullying).

teach 1

Introduce Characters (10 minutes)

INTRODUCE the class to the TV show Friday Night Lights. Explain to the class that the show takes place at Dillon High School, in a fictional small town in Texas, where much of the activity revolves around the school’s football team, the Panthers. Introduce the class to each of the characters in this story. Write their names on the board.

  • Lyla: Lyla is head of the cheerleading team at Dillon High School. Her boyfriend was the football team’s quarterback. Recently, she cheated on her boyfriend with another football player named Tim. Her classmates participated in a website that slams Lyla for her behavior.
  • Brittany: Brittany is Lyla’s alternate on the cheerleading team. She set up a website where she and others at school slam Lyla.
  • Tim: Tim is a player on the football team. He secretly dated Lyla while she was still seeing the team’s quarterback, who was his friend.
  • Tami: Tami is the school’s guidance counselor. She often has to intervene in interpersonal conflicts at the school.
  • Ben: Ben is Brittany’s father.
  • Buddy: Buddy is Lyla’s father, and he is a successful car dealer in the town of Dillon.

DEFINE the Key Vocabulary terms target, offender, bystander, and upstander, and write them on the board. Tell students that they will be figuring out who is playing these roles in the clip they’ll view from Friday Night Lights.

teach 2

Taking Perspectives (25 minutes)

ARRANGE students into six groups, and assign each group one of the six characters.

DISTRIBUTE the Taking Perspectives Student Handout, one per group (or student).

SHOW the “Friday Night Lights Video Clips" video.

INVITE each group to complete their student handout, writing their answers on the back of the handout or on blank paper (each group answers a different set of questions about their assigned character). Have them note any differences in perspectives among members of their group.

ENCOURAGE volunteers from each group to share their responses on the handout with the class. Use the Taking Perspectives Student Handout – Teacher Version for guidance with answers.

DISCUSS some or all of the following questions with the class, using them to spark a larger conversation about online cruelty and its consequences. You also can have students discuss in groups.

ASK: Are actions in an online community (like the slurs on the website) different than actions taken offline (like the notes left on Lyla’s locker at the school)? Why, or why not?
Help students discuss the differences between online and offline cruelty. Online actions can spread easily, can be seen by large audiences, are persistent, and hard to control. The target can feel more powerless than if the situation is a face-to-face encounter or confined to school.

ASK: How are anonymous actions – like posting on a website or leaving a note – different from things done face-to-face?
You may have to define the word "anonymous" as “without any name or identifying information.” Students should discuss how anonymity makes people act in ways they wouldn’t in person. People can hide behind anonymity. Participants in an a situation of online cruelty may act differently if they put themselves in the shoes of the target and take the target’s perspective about how they would be affected.

ASK: Imagine you were a bystander at this school, watching this situation unfold. What do you think you would have done? Do bystanders have a responsibility to do anything?
Discuss with students their responsibilities as digital citizens. Students should be aware that even when they are not directly involved in incidents of online cruelty, they play a role and are accountable for their actions. Most often, they will face a choice between becoming upstanders or remaining bystanders. Encourage students to explain how the choice they make can affect the situation as a whole.

BRAINSTORM with the class ways they can be upstanders when it comes to online cruelty. Write answers on the board.

ASK: How can upstanders help those who face online cruelty? How can they help defuse online cruelty before it escalates?
Students should be aware of the following tips:

  • De-escalate when possible. If you have good standing with the offender and are comfortable, politely tell the offender to back off.
  • Point out the offender’s motivation to the target. Comfort the target by explaining that many offenders act this way in order to gain control, power, or status.
  • Tell the target you’re there for them. Just by offering a helping hand, you let a target know he or she is not alone and that you’re not okay with what’s happening.
  • Help the target. Help the target find friends and school leaders who can help de-escalate the situation.

Note: If a student says that an upstander should retaliate, be violent or hateful, or use online cruelty towards the offender, explain why this is not a good solution. It can escalate the situation and make it worse.


Wrap-up (5 minutes)

You can use these questions to assess your students’ understanding of the lesson objectives. You may want to ask students to reflect in writing on one of the questions, using a journal or an online blog/wiki.

ASK: What should you think about before you post anything about another person online, in an instant message, text, or any other kind of digital message?
Students should recognize the importance of considering other people’s perspectives, respecting other people’s feelings, and possible outcomes of their actions.

ASK: Someone posts a picture of your friend with some nasty comments, and other kids make fun of him or her. What would a bystander do in this situation? What would an upstander do? What would you do?
Students should understand that they are responsible for their actions as members of an online community, and that they can make the important decision to be an upstander rather than a bystander.

ASK: Aside from a target, who else can be impacted by online cruelty? Who else could be involved, implicitly or explicitly?
Encourage students to think about the different characters in the “Friday Night Lights Video Clips.” Online cruelty can affect family, friends, significant others, teachers, as well as the dynamic of groups within and outside of schools, like sports teams, neighborhoods, etc.

Extension Activity
In groups, students can write a segment of a television script that includes at least two of the characters from Friday Night Lights to demonstrate how at least one of the characters could have made a different choice (for example, moving from bystander to upstander). They can write this by hand, on a class blog, or on a site where they can view each other’s scripts. (If your students are not familiar with the format of scriptwriting, explain that they need to write the characters’ names followed by the lines they speak. They can also describe the scene or other actions of the characters in brackets.) They can use the free online tool Xtranormal to make an animated movie with characters just by typing in their script.

At-Home Activity
Have students interview a parent, older sibling, or other adult relative about bullying, harassment, or cruelty that they or someone they know experienced when they were in high school. They can record this interview using a smartphone’s voice memo, a computer’s microphone, or an audio recorder.
Sample questions:
• What happened? How did you (or the person you knew) feel?
• What did you do in response? What do you wish you had done?
• What did others do in response? What do you wish they had done?

Alignment with Standards

Common Core & NETS•S
Common Core State Standards Initiative ©2012 & National Educational Technology Standards for Students ©2007, International Society for Technology in Education

Common Core:

  • grades 9-10: RL.1, RL.2, RL.4, RL.7, RL.8, RL.10, RI.1-2, RI.4, RI.10, W.2a, W.3a-e, W.4-6, W.8-10, SL.1a-d, SL.2-5, L.4a, L.6
  • grades 11-12: RL.1, RL.2, RL.4, RL.7, RL.8, RL.10, RI.1-2, RI.4, RI.10, W.2a, W.3a-e, W.4-6, W.8-10, SL.1a-d, SL.2-5, L.4a, L.6

NETS•S: 1b, 2a, 2d, 3b, 4a, 4b, 4d, 5a-c