The internet has been a boon to all. It has changed the world in so many ways, ranging from communication to business to travel.
Unfortunately, despite all the good that the internet has brought to the world, there are people who use it with malicious intent. Just as bullying has existed since the dawn of time, virtual bullying has existed since the beginning of the internet.
Cyberbullying or virtual bullying takes place over digital media like cell phones, computers, or tablets. It can occur through SMS, Text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where individuals can view, participate in, or share content.
Cyberbullying could include sending, posting, or sharing personal or private information about someone else to threaten, target, or embarrass them. It could also include Intimidation or mean comments that focus on things like a person’s gender, religion, sexual orientation etc.
In some cases, cyberbullying could easily cross the line into unlawful or criminal activity. That’s why it’s crucial that parents and young people alike are familiar with the signs and consequences of this behavior.
If you or your loved ones are facing cyberbullying, know that you are not alone. BetterHelp can provide access to trained mental health professionals who can provide you with the guidance and support to deal with the challenges in your life.
Who Is At Risk for Cyberbullying?
Just about anyone who uses the internet regularly can come into contact with a cyberbully. The most common places where cyberbullying occurs are:
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tik Tok
Text messaging and messaging apps like iMessage on mobile or tablet devices
Instant messaging, direct messaging, and online chatting over the internet such as Whatsapp
Online forums, message boards, and chat boards, like Reddit
Online gaming communities
Is There a Difference Between Bullying and Cyberbullying?
There are a few aspects of cyberbullying that differentiate it from traditional bullying, including:
Anonymity: While survivors of bullying usually know who their bully is, it is easy for online bullies to hide their identities. The anonymity of the internet provides freedom to the bully to be harsher and more cruel.
Relentless: Previously, bullying was limited to one particular social situation, like the playground or school. However, with the advent of technology like smartphones and laptops, it is possible for people to communicate with each other 24/7 and from nearly any location. As a result, cyberbullies may be able to torment their target all the time, making it difficult for them to escape.
Public: Personal information can be easily shared to the public through various public and online platforms. This exposes the person being targeted to ridicule, embarrassment, and shame, even from strangers.
Permanent: Online content is impossible to delete entirely; cyberbullying may permanently damage the survivor’s or possibly the bully’s reputation. The internet usually has access to the traces of the content through screen captures, phone recordings, etc. This may negatively impact future employment, college admissions, or relations.
Harder to Notice: Since cyberbullying usually happens through personal devices like phones and laptops, it may be more challenging for the parents or teachers to know or recognize the cyberbullying. Children may find it difficult to overcome and fight against a cyberbully without support from elders or guardians.
Forms of Cyberbullying
The immense popularity of digital devices and the rise of social media have opened up an ever-growing number of ways for cyberbullies to hurt their targets.
The bully may choose to employ a single or a combination of tactics to demean the target.
In addition, different kinds of cyberbullying may take place on various platforms and even simultaneously.
Forms of cyberbullying to be aware of include:
Harassment: Online harassment involves sending abusive or offensive messages to an individual or group. It is intentional, repeated, and constant. This could create a negative impact on the target’s self-esteem or confidence.
Cyberstalking: Cyberstalking is a form of harassment where the messages may escalate to threaten the survivor’s physical safety.
It could even lead to in-person harassment or stalking.
Exclusion: Exclusion is the act of deliberately ostracizing another person. It involves purposefully leaving them out from social media groups or having conversations on social media platforms or apps that the target does not have access to.
The group may then go on to say cruel or rude things about the excluded person behind their back.
Outing: In this case, the bully may publicly share private messages, pictures, or other information about the target on the internet.
This is done without the other person’s knowledge or consent and is meant to embarrass, shame, or humiliate them.
Masquerading: Masquerading occurs when the bully assumes another identity to harass the target anonymously. They may either impersonate someone else, use a real person’s account or phone number, or create an entirely fake identity.
Framing: It is the act of logging in to someone’s social media profile and posting inappropriate content under their name.
It could hurt someone’s reputation, get them in trouble with family or the organization they work at, or otherwise embarrass or harm them.
Why Do People Cyberbully?
The reasons why one person chooses to bully another are difficult to understand and varied. However, while each person’s motives are different, some of the common reasons are:
Boredom: Some people are simply bored or craving attention. Bullying, then, is a way to add excitement or drama to their lives with minimal effort. They may feel like they will not get caught.
Peer Pressure: To become more popular or maintain their social status, people often act as bullies. Being part of a group gives them a false sense of security that their actions are acceptable or normal.
Revenge: The bully may feel that their behavior is justified due to the target’s pain previously inflicted upon them. This form of bullying can be used to exact revenge.
Ignorance: Some cyberbullies may simply not realize that they are indulging in unlawful and criminal behavior. They may think it is just a joke and not take the situation seriously.
What Are the Signs of Cyberbullying?
Some of the warning signs of cyberbullying are similar to those of traditional bullying.
Oftentimes, kids who are being cyberbullied do not want to tell their families or teachers because they feel embarrassed or fear that their electronic devices will be taken away, so it’s imperative to be watchful.
Here are a few common signs of cyberbullying to look out for:
The child facing bullying may feel anxious, nervous, or upset while spending time on the internet. They may also be prone to frequent bursts of anger while using any social media platform.
Suppose one’s child suddenly becomes extremely secretive or defensive about their online activities, refuses to discuss it with the parent, or even switches off devices around others. In that case, it could be a sign of cyberbullying.
Avoiding Social Media
If the child has suddenly stopped using their devices as frequently (or possibly altogether), they may be attempting to avoid a bully.
Survivors of bullying often become more quiet and introverted than usual. They try to avoid friends or peers and increasingly want to spend more time alone.
Frequency of Cyberbullying
The assumption that cyberbullying is rare or that it only happens to a select few individuals couldn’t be further from the truth.
As per the 2017 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey (National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice), among students ages 12-18 who reported being bulled, 15% were bullied online or by text.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 20.2% percent of all students have reported experience with some form of bullying.
In addition, youth who are part of the LGBTQ community are more likely to experience cyberbullying. A study by the Cyberbullying Research Center found that 56% of the LGBTQ students had experienced cyberbullying compared to just about a third of non-LGBTQ students.
This team also found that 16% of students had cyberbullied others at some point in their lifetime.
What to Do When Experiencing Cyberbullying
If you or your loved ones are being bullied, harassed, or teased in a hurtful way, know that nobody has to suffer in silence. Here are some things you should do:
Tell someone: The first thing to do is tell an adult you trust. People who are cyberbullied may feel embarrassed or reluctant to report a bully. However, you should speak up until you find someone to help.
You could talk to your parents, trusted teacher or family member. If the bullying affects your emotions, sleeping, or eating patterns, therapy can help. The guidance and support will enable you to feel better and move on from a challenging situation.
Walk away: Ignoring bullies can be one of the best ways to take away their power. If you see something hurtful or upsetting, try to step away from the computer or turn off your phone for a while. Don’t respond and find something to distract yourself.
Resist the urge to retaliate or respond: Walking away gives you some space so you won’t be tempted to retaliate with a response or engage with the bully or bullies. However, this does not mean that you do not stand up to the bully in necessary situations.
Although responding to a bully only escalates the situation, it is good to save evidence of the bullying like emails, texts, or other communications to report them and get them punished.
Report bullying: Social media sites take it seriously when people post cruel or mean stuff or set up fake accounts. If users report abuse, the site administrators can block the bully from using the site in the future. Of course, you could also block the bully on your social media.
Be safe online: Protect your smartphone and your online sites with a strong password and never share it with anyone. Also, think twice before sharing personal information or photos/videos that you do not want the world to see.
Effects of Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying can lead to serious, long-lasting problems for all parties involved.
The stress of being in a constant state of anxiety or fear can lead to mood, energy level, sleep, and appetite problems. In addition, it could lead to anxiety or depression.
The punishment for cyberbullies can be severe. For example, schools may dismiss bullies from sports teams or suspend them from school.
Some types of cyberbullying may violate school codes or even break anti-discrimination or sexual harassment laws. This could even lead to legal trouble.
All 50 states have anti-bullying laws in place. In addition, some states have policies to help guide schools and their district’s responses to bullying.
However, there are no federal laws that specifically address bullying. Cyberstalking is a notable exception to this rule.
Though there are no federal laws regarding cyberstalking specifically, it is a criminal action under other anti-stalking and harassment laws.
How Can Parents Help?
If your child is being cyberbullied, then you can take the following steps to try and make things easier:
Patiently listen to the child and understand the problem. Try to offer warmth and support as they go through these tough times. Let your child know that it is not their fault. Additionally, you could praise your child for doing the right thing by talking to you about it and remind your child that you are in this together. Finally, reassure them that you will figure out what to do next.
Encourage your child not to respond to cyberbullying. Doing so just makes the situation worse. Instead, keep records like screenshots, pictures, or recordings of the threatening messages, pictures, and texts.
These can be used as evidence with the bully’s parents, school, employer, or police.
If your son or daughter agrees, meeting with a therapist may help work through the negative emotions and feelings.
Make sure that you report the bully so that nobody else experiences the same fate. This could include involving a school or work organization, parents or family members of the bully, or even the local police.
Cyberbullying can be extremely challenging for the people dealing with it.
Remember to be aware and conscious if somebody is taking undue advantage of you, and make sure to report them or call them out on their behavior. Take help from trusted people to ensure resolution.
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.