Cyberbullying is a subject that’s captured plenty of headlines though it’s just a modern version of an old problem. Sadly, bullying has been part of the human existence for longer than anyone can remember. So it’s hardly a surprise that this behaviour has taken on a new lease of life on different social media platforms.
But what has made bullying evolve into a crueller version of its offline predecessor?
Cyberbullying uses technology like mobile phones and the internet to bully or harass a victim. This can lead to anxiety, depression or self harm in their victims. For younger people in a digital age, it can be hard to escape the abuse when their life is continuously plugged in.
Before the internet age, bullying ended once you were out of a particular setting or situation however, cyberbullying is a constant form of harassment. With over 25% of adolescents and teens exposed to repeat bullying through their phones or the internet, bullying can continue around the clock.
It’s not just young people who suffer. Adults can also be exposed to ongoing abuse on social media or other online platforms. The problem is commonly highlighted when a celebrity is forced to close social media accounts due to persistent abuse but everyday people can find the internet a hostile place at times.
So what is it about online bullying that’s made it such a problem?
Anonymity behind the screens
One of the appeals of online bullying is
that cyberbullies can do it without sacrificing their anonymity. The use of fake profiles or a private number means that they can pick on someone without revealing their identity.
Bullies think that they’re protected if they use a fake name or account to attack others. This lack of accountability fosters an online culture allowing cyberbullying to flourish. However, activity on the internet can still be tracked even if their account doesn’t have their real name. It’s sometimes possible to trace bullies through email addresses or by IP address.
The consequences are less obvious
Online bullies don’t get to see their victims’ reactions in real life so this can insulate them from the very real damage that they are doing. Research has also shown that young people who engage in cyberbullying have less empathy than people who don’t indulge in cyberbullying.
Young people can fail to appreciate the long-term effects of their actions on the victim for years to come, especially if they are bullying someone they’ve never met.
Cyberbullying can have a greater impact on victims as the bullying is often viewed by a wider audience. Bullies can post things online that could haunt the victim for years but the people who post it can forget about it almost instantly. This lack of consequences can make it easy to cyberbully someone with little regard for the subsequent fallout.
It’s harder to spot
One of the difficult things about cyberbullying is that it can be hard to trace or to measure, especially in relation to young people. Traditional bullying can often be spotted by parents, teachers or people in a position of authority. The scars of cyberbullying may run deep but the problem can be very difficult to see, especially if the victim is unwilling to report it.
This can make it a difficult problem for parents to tackle, especially if they don’t know if there is a problem. One of the best ways to for parents to monitor their children’s digital life is through communication. Be proactive in discussing their online activities and watch out for worrying behaviours that may signify that there’s an issue.
Following their social media accounts is one way to keep an eye out for signs that they’re being bullied and to make sure that they’re not indulging in any bullying behaviour themselves.
Bullying is a vicious circle
The concept of bully-victims is not a new one. It describes people who are the victims of bullying in one situation but who are also the ones who carry out the bullying in another situation.
It’s not uncommon for victims of bullying to try to reclaim some psychological power by bullying other people in turn. This can include both online and real life victims. They turn to bullying as a response to their own experience and the internet offers plenty of potential victims to take their frustration out on.
If one in three young people have been exposed to online threats, that’s a lot of people who’ve been bullied or abused on the internet. The chances that a percentage of these victims will go on to perpetuate this behaviour is pretty high.
Bully-victims can get caught in a vicious circle of cyberbullying that is detrimental to their psychological and physical health. Research
shows that young people who are both victims and perpetrator of cyberbullying have increased levels of depression, substance abuse or behavioural problems compared to people who are either victims or bullies.
The internet mob mentality
Many cyberbullies think that bullying others is funny, with friends or strangers encouraging them to keep going – especially if they’re being egged on by their peers. Some students admitted that indulging in online bullying made them feel “funny, popular and powerful.”
Bullying is always about power dynamics – with the ‘stronger’ person bullying the ‘weaker’ person through physical, verbal or social intimidation. The old saying about strength in numbers can come into its own when it comes to online abuse. It’s easy for mob rule to take over and for lots of people to think it’s okay to abuse a random target that they’ve never met.
Jon Ronson explored the concept of internet mobs in his book ‘So
You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’. It looks at the way people can become the victim of the internet mob, being attacked with online abuse or threats for their “crimes.”
This form of bullying can see a cybermob publicly shame and attack people whose actions seem to justify their harassment. It’s the modern day equivalent of the stocks – but with more hashtags.
It’s easy to get caught up in a mob mentality when so much of our digital interactions revolve around who can win an online argument or who can come up with the snarkiest putdown. Cyberbullying is no better or worse than its real life equivalent but it will continue to be propagated until people accept that there’s a person behind every profile picture or username.
If you or your child is being cyberbullied, please contact the relevant authorities – whether that’s a principal, boss, or otherwise. For general advice on dealing with cyberbullying, visit bullying.co.uk.