Cyber-bullying: What it is, what to do, and how to prevent it
Any form of bullying can hurt a person’s self-esteem due to feeling not deserving of love and belonging (Brown, 2010). In the Bible, Joseph, a favored son, was bullied by his brothers out of jealousy because of the dreams God had given him. Goliath was a bully who taunted others and used power and stature to intimidate. Although these are examples of traditional bullying that occurred in the Bible, a different type of bullying has emerged in modern society called cyber-bullying.
What is cyber-bullying and why does it matter?
Cyber-bullying is when someone uses an electronic device to “threaten, harass, tease, or embarrass another person” (Greenfield, 2015, p. 144). With the development of the Internet and social media, we are now connected to others 24/7. Depending on the age group, 20-40% of young people have been cyber-bullied (Tokunaga as cited in Greenfield, p. 144). This is concerning because, unlike traditional bullying, the victim is unable to experience relief by not being around the bully. The online identity that is viewed as a “tethered self” (Turkle, 2012, p. 155) can be verbally abused by large amounts of people constantly. In 2012, a survey of US, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, showed 44% of suicides from the previous 15 months were due to cyber-bullying (LeBlanc, 2012 as found in Greenfield, p. 144).
What makes cyber-bullying so prevalent?
Anonymity seems to offer people permission to experiment with a new identity on the Internet (Suler as cited in Greenfield, p. 113). Moreover, for Digital Natives, time spent online is significant, creating more opportunities for impulsive, even harmful, choices in online interactions (Whitson, 2014). Research shows that starting at age 11, kids create a different online identity that is more rude, sexy, adventurous, or risky (Kidscape as cited in Greenfield, p. 121). Additionally, the Internet can lack typical social consequences that deter traditional bullying such as the victim’s facial expression and body language, social disapproval, and the fear of getting caught, which seem to make even those who have never bullied more likely to bully online (Greenfield; Whitson). This may contribute to ideas that cyber-bullying is not wrong since research shows cyberbullies have less remorse than traditional bullies (Greenfield, p. 146). It also speaks to the “diffusion and dilution of responsibility” of online activity (Robson & Witenberg as cited in Greenfield, p. 146). For example, who will catch the bully, how will they prove the online activity was done by that person, and what are the consequences? Thankfully, schools and the legal system are improving in navigating and litigating this difficult arena.
What makes it so dangerous?
As mentioned before, the permanency and continuity of cyber-hate appears to offer no solstice for the victim. Bullies attack something about a person that can confuse the victim, troubling the view that one is valued and effective in the world. This feeling of being wrong or not good enough can bring about anxiety and depressive symptoms. The victim may feel more insecure or ashamed, begin to isolate from others, and even believe the perspective that bullies have amplified and declared as truth about the victim (see Brown, 2010). The viral nature of cyber-bullying can lead victims to make poor conclusions about their worth and identity (Whitson, 2014, p. 68). When feeling down, a youth can believe they are not worthy of love and belonging, even doubting the love received from family and friends because of the perceived overwhelming online evidence of what others believe to be true about the victim. The hopeless feeling of being unable to stop it, change it, or challenge it can lead a person to thoughts or acts of suicide. If you have been cyber-bullied, seek additional support to work through difficult emotions, find belief in yourself as a person who is worthy of love and belonging, and develop a resilient identity that is valued and that you define.
What do we do about it?
- Tell an adult
- Disengage from it, don’t add to it
- Block harassers and log off
- Use privacy settings
- Take screen shots
- Do something to stop it with help of adults
- Empathize with victims
How do we prevent it?
- Keep person-to-person connections strong
- Educate kids about Netiquette
- Monitor kids online
- Write an online agreement for family
- Take breaks from tech and view it as a privilege
- Adults hold kids accountable for online behavior
The previous two step-by-step guides can be found in the chapter on cyber-bullying in the book 8 Keys to End Bullying referenced below. For more information on overcoming bullying and understanding the impact of digital technology on our world, view the references used for this article.
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden.
Greenfield, S. (2015). Mind change: How digital technologies are leaving their mark on our brains. New York: Random House.
Turkle, S. (2012). Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York: Basic Books.
Whitson, S. (2014). Key 4: Deal directly with cyberbullying. A chapter from 8 keys to end bullying: Strategies for parents and schools (pp. 66 -95). New York: Norton & Co.