This is a subject that I feel very passionate about. Having worked with young people for the best part of 30 years, initially as a youth worker who was no older than the young people I was working with through to today where, as part of my business, I offer learning solutions to teens among other clients. It is therefore of paramount importance to me that online interactions need to be safe and comfortable for all users.
Being online affords users a level of at least perceived anonymity and with it a sense for some that they can get away with anything. This has led to some absolutely abhorrent behaviour by some individuals. We all have the right to feel safe online and nobody should be vulnerable
Most people in the developed world now have access to the internet and mobile devices such as smartphones and with these technological advances bullying has been taken to a higher level of sophistication.
Bullies have always existed, insecure people shaped by poor values who seek to assert themselves above others, particularly those who they consider to be weaker. Whilst bullying in the traditional sense was extremely traumatic for the victims there was at least some respite to be found in the home. The bully’s reach was usually if not always limited by the victim’s front door. With cyber-bullying this has completely changed, the victim is not even safe in their own space, including their own bedroom. It could be argued that contrary to past forms of bullying the victim might even be more vulnerable when alone in their own space.
So What is Cyber-bullying?
Cyber-bullying is intimidating, threatening and coercing others through the use of electronic media, particularly the Internet but not restricted to it, as text messaging and other means can also be used. Victims can often feel trapped and unable to turn to another for support and guidance and in some cases can feel guilt – in that they blame themselves.
Let’s consider a simple example of how cyber-bullying has changed the dynamics of bullying.
Imagine a 15 year old girl at school, who for no apparent reason suddenly becomes the target of some bullies. In the traditional sense of the word this could mean being blanked by others in her class, some name calling and possibly even some violence of differing degrees. Now introduce the bully – or often bullies to technology and it would be easy to see a situation develop like that shown below.
We can see in this fictional situation Sally M. is unable to escape from the bullying even in the privacy of her home and it is intense – notice it is more than just one person – and it is malicious. This kind of bullying has even been known to drive individuals to suicide. When I have held classes with students they have said that this is very mild compared to reality (of course I toned it down anyway to only provide an example). The reality is often much worse.
According to Wikipedia a troll is a person who sows discord online by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, including all forms of social media and blogs with the deliberate intent of provoking readers, often for their own motives. A particular example of this was when the media discovered a particular individual was trolling the parents of Madeleine McCann, a young girl who disappeared while on holiday in Portugal in 2007. This individual made suggestions about at the very least poor parenting which was hurtful and malicious. Ironically when outed by Sky News this troll committed suicide the next day.
Pressure on Teens
Cyber-bullying is having an extremely negative effect on teens who naturally are more plugged in to the digital world and often defined by the ‘millennial’ values of their generation which can leave them trapped between their desire for (especially digital) connectivity and a need to fit in.
This need to fit in and remain socially connected can lead to extreme cases of bullying where teens are asked by the cyberbully to do things online which can then be used against them as blackmail which can lead to further or greater exploitation. Unlike traditional bullying, which is restricted to the schoolyard and maybe the streets, victims cannot even escape in their own homes – as already mentioned it is often when alone in front of their computers when victims can be the most at risk.
What should I do if I am a victim of cyber-bullying?
In a recent conversation with a friend he argued that cyber-bullying targets turn themselves into victims and the simple solution is to ignore such cyberbullies. On one hand this is a possible solution because as with other forms of bullying the bully only has the power that he or she is given, so by removing the bully’s power it eliminates any possibility for the bully to exploit the victim.
However, it is not that simple as many complex and overlapping factors are involved. First and foremost, a potential victim needs to understand where their value comes from. Why is it so important to be so socially connected and fit in? If these people show so much disrespect to you why does their opinion matter? Why give so much value to their opinion and give them power over you? They do not respect and do not deserve your respect! Find friends who show and expect respect, in the end they are the ones who will show loyalty and treat you decently.
As you saw in the example, cyber-bullying is often not carried out by just one person, it can be several people and it can feel like the whole world is against you. The point is still the same though if they behave like this. Ignore them and block them do not let them get to you.
Bullying, as complex as it is can often be described as an enabled-enabler relationship.
Finally watch how you behave with your media devices and on the internet. Do not do anything that disrespects yourself, do not do anything that you would be ashamed to tell your parents or even more to the point do in front of them.
So while I agree with my friend to some extent, the answer goes much deeper and it is all about a person having respect for themselves. A support network can also be of benefit, trusted friends – real friends who care about what is best for you – and never underestimate the value of supporting and loving parents!
This article first appeared on my website in 2016 and can be found at http://learn.omegasupportservices.com/resources/genengindx/cybully/