The Internet can be a beautiful place to learn, grow, and connect.
But it also has its dark sides.
Since it is open to everyone and it offers relative anonymity, the online communities can host a whole lot of negativity.
From sending mean, vile messages online to sharing embarrassing pictures or videos with large groups, cyberbullying is rife — happening on a daily basis, everywhere and anywhere.
The thing that makes cyberbullying so dangerous and sinister is that it can be really hard to escape from. If someone is bullying you online, even if you disconnect, these days with social media, trails of your identity are left behind like breadcrumbs, and this opens you up to be an easy target for malicious people.
Cyberbullying happens everywhere and because there are so many different ways to be attacked online, from anywhere really, it can be tough to know what to do about it.
Cyberbullying in the digital age
With everyone relying on technology to communicate, socialize, and express their feelings, cyberbullying (as the name implies), has grown to be a real issue that is affecting many people — especially adolescents.
Beyond just calling someone a bad name, cyberbullying in the digital age can manifest in many forms. It is not just about verbally assaulting someone online, but can include:
- Doxing – Publicly revealing private personal information about an individual or organization.
- Catfishing – Pretending to be someone that you are not, perhaps going as far as identity impersonation.
- Harassing – Verbally abusing someone with malicious messages.
- Threatening — This is where people send death threats and other intimidating messages to people.
- Stalking — Disparaging and continuously harassing a specific user endlessly.
- Canceling — Trying to get someone fired, canceled, or banned from somewhere.
The rise of cyberbullying amidst the pandemic
There are plenty of reasons why cyberbullying might be increasing as we enter this digital age. Besides the fact that it’s a whole lot easier to bully someone online, than in person, the rise of cyberbullying can be a natural by-product of the times we live in — especially in a post-pandemic world.
Anonymity and lack of responsibility — People do not reveal their true names or email in many online communities. They hide behind a digital mask, anonymous to many. As such, this detaches them from the situation at hand, and the digital world they interface with feels less ‘real,’ thus giving people more mental wiggle room to be mean — and perhaps express their inner negative feelings.
Increased online time — People do not go out as much anymore. Instead, we do everything from the inside, often times online. The world has changed into a much more digital-centric one, especially after the pandemic. Due to this, there is an increase in spending time online, in front of a screen. Furthermore, ever since the smartphone, we’ve all become stuck to our screens. And there is plenty of evidence that shows that this single act itself can cause a myriad of mental and emotional issues.
Greater isolation — When people are stuck inside for too long, they experience what is known as cabin fever. The series of negative feelings that rush through are plenty, from demotivation to depression. This increased isolation can turn even the nicest people into grumpy, malicious monsters..
Increased stress and anxiety — When people are stressed out, they become anxious and as a result, this can put people on edge. This is especially the case when we’re surrounded by negative news all the time — from a never-ending pandemic to an ongoing war. Things can seem hopeless and as such, hostility towards others increases, as a means of self-preservation.
Decreased supervision — While grown adults are definitely guilty of sending malicious messages to others, a lot of cyberbullying is prominent amongst teens and young adults. Since life gets so busy, many parents leave their children unattended when using a tablet or smartphone (and frankly speaking, it’d be impossible to keep tabs on them every moment of the day). And as anyone who has fallen into a rabbit hole on YouTube or Netflix knows, the Internet can expose you to an array of content that might not be the best influence on young teens and children.
Increased boredom — Although this might seem hard to digest for some people, simply put, people may cyberbully just out of pure boredom. The act of trolling is not unknown online, and for many of us who have grown up online, this behavior can come so second-nature, that it may not even be seen or perceived as cyberbullying. Moreover, young people, these days go out far less than they used to. And this fuels a sense of greater boredom, so many may cyberbully because they have nothing else to do — as this is a way to seek attention.
Miscommunication — As much as we’d like to believe that everyone can understand my intention, the truth of the matter is most people can’t — even when we’re physically present. This issue of miscommunication and misconstruing messages becomes even more prevalent when its just reading a bunch of text from words.
Combat cyberbullying: what you can do
According to a study, one in five children from the ages of 10 to 18 has been the victim of cyberbullying.
These behaviors tend to happen on social media platforms, with a majority of the cyberbullying reported to be found on YouTube (79%), followed by Snapchat (69%), and TikTok (64%).
A lot of the reasons why children do not express or share the assault they receive online with friends or family is because they are scared of the consequences that might occur — whether that be taking away their devices or restricting online time.
Children are afraid of being victims of cyberbullying and how parents and teachers will react to knowing this fact. They’re afraid they’ll take the technology away from them.— Kathryn Seigfried-Spellar, Associate Professor in Computing & Information Technology at Purdue University
Linda Charmaraman, Director of the Youth, Media, and Wellbeing Research Lab at the Wellesley Centers for Women discovered that, as toxic as social media may seem, many teens use it as a way to send/receive emotional support. For a lot of us, it’s a way to feel connected and has a sense of belonging.
This is even more so for the youth of the digital age. If we take away these devices, they may feel even more alone.
While there is no sure-fire solution to completely stop cyberbullying, we can take a couple of steps to combat it.
- Identify and report the cyberbully — A lot of the social media platforms aim to help protect people from cyberbullying, although it can be tough to cater to billions of people around the world. Nevertheless, you should do what you can to collect evidence of your cyberbullied experience and report the user.
- Speak to your loved ones — Don’t be embarrassed to share your experiences and feelings of being cyberbullied. Sometimes, talking about an issue with someone else can shine a light on how to handle it.
- Realize and sympathize — While it can be tough to look at a cyberbullied experience as positive, just remember and realize that oftentimes, any ‘bully’ — online or offline — is lashing out because they themselves may be deeply unhappy or alone. In the end, people that are truly happy and fulfilled, have no reason to act out in malice, but instead, desire to spread the fire of love.
So, although it can be hard, learn to sympathize with the reality of your cyberbully’s situation and realize, it’s nothing personal.