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Canadian researchers studying online bullying have found that teenagers are happily exploiting emerging technologies, such as texting, emails, and social networking sites in their playground power struggles. The ease with which a bully can hide his or her identity is also changing the game.

According to Professor Faye Mishna, cyber bullies are "forcing" friends to strip for their webcams, and are then sending the images to all and sundry. This, she says, is particularly true between girls and their boyfriends, and even more so when a couple breaks up.

She told Reuters: "Girls might send [a topless picture] to their boyfriend and she is pressured to do it thinking he's just going to see it. So she gives in and the next thing you know it's all over [the place]."

Mishna is basing her research - which will be completed this summer and published in autumn - on focus group interviews with 47 students in grades five to 12 (roughly between the ages of 10 and 18).

She said the bullying was often going unreported because the students were scared their parents would restrict their access to the computer to keep them safe. The ability of bullies to remain anonymous was another factor, with some saying reporting the bullying was pointless if the culprits could not be tracked down.

Mishna says she sees a trend for the traditional victims of bullying - the computer geeks - to turn the tables in the online world.

"Traditional bullying is a power differential," she told the news agency. "The power before could have been age, size, smartness, popularity, ability. Now it's the perceived anonymous nature." ®

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