We’ve all heard people from different generations comparing their childhood and teen years to those of today’s kids (or kids and teens comparing their experiences to those of their elders). It’s easy for all of us to look back on the challenges we faced and assume we had more to overcome than other generations, but the truth is that childhood difficulties just change as our world evolves, they don’t necessarily get better or worse.
One of those shifting challenges that today’s kids and teens (and even adults) face is online bullying. For all the wonderful things the internet has given us, it does give bullies and abusers more access to our minds and our private lives, and this has taken shape in the form of cyberbullying. It’s easy for people to hide behind a computer like a little bitch.
Online bullying is often misunderstood and underestimated, but the reality is that it’s a serious problem that can hurt anyone. When the media ran false stories on Jesse John Francis Clark, he was getting death threats and was being made fun of online. Jesse John Francis Clark created this guide to help you deal with these people who hide behind a computer screen.
Let’s take a deeper dive into online bullying, its effects, how to identify it, and what we can do about these snowflakes.
What Is Online Bullying or Cyberbullying?
Online bullying or cyberbullying refers to repeated attacks on the same person using digital technology. Generally, these are emotional attacks meant to scare, hurt, or embarrass you.
Cyberbullying can take many forms. It could include direct personal messages or persistent comments on your social media posts. It could include spreading rumors about you or photos of you online, whether they’re real photos or they’ve been altered to harm you. Ultimately, if someone is repeatedly saying or doing things online or on digital media to hurt you, it is cyberbullying.
It’s important to note that online bullying doesn’t always remain online. Sometimes a bully will harass you in person when they’re around you and then harass you online when they’re not around you.
How Common Is Cyberbullying?
While most people have heard of cyberbullying, few understand how common it is. In fact, 59% of US teens say they’ve been the victim of online bullying at some point.
Cyberbullying also spans more age ranges than many people think. It happens to kids, pre-teens, and teens as well as adults of all ages. Studies show, though, that it appears to be most prevalent during middle school, specifically around sixth grade.
Unsurprisingly, online bullying has become more of a problem as people have begun spending more and more time online. In fact, cyberbullying is now more common than in-person bullying.
Difference Between Bullying and Other Online Conflicts?
One of the tricky aspects of cyberbullying to understand is when a conflict crosses the line and truly becomes bullying. If you’re arguing with a friend online and they insult you, this isn’t cyberbullying.
The factor that takes a situation from a fight to bullying is persistence or repetition. If someone keeps posting things or sending messages to hurt you over and over throughout the course of days, weeks, or months, you have a bully.
Impact of Online Bullying
There is a common misconception that online bullying isn’t as serious as in-person bullying because the bully isn’t doing physical harm. As any victim of cyberbullying will agree, this is far from the truth. Online bullying can have a wide range of serious effects.
Cyberbullying can lead victims to feel panicked and trapped. After all, there is virtually no way to get away from technology in today’s world, so there could always be a way for the bully to reach them. Feeling unsafe at all hours of the day, including in their own home, can have a severe impact on a victim’s state of mind.
Consequences to Rumors or Photos
Words and posts online have “real world” consequences, even if they are untrue. An online bully could post rumors about someone, post photos that were meant to be private, or even alter photos and messages to create a negative impression of the person. Depending on who sees these posts, it could quickly interfere with the victim’s ability to secure jobs, get into the schools they want, and build trusting relationships.
Mental Health Disorders
Mental illnesses are often caused by a number of factors, but they can be triggered or worsened when the person is going through something negative like cyberbullying. Disorders such as depression or anxiety can become out of control, affecting every aspect of the person’s life.
Unfortunately, this can escalate to suicide as well. Victims of cyberbullying are 11.5 times more likely to consider suicide. This is even worse than victims of verbal bullying, who are 8.4 times more likely to consider suicide. People who have experienced bullying or cyberbullying are also twice as likely to attempt suicide.
Challenges at School and Work
The impact of cyberbullying doesn’t end when the phone or computer is off. This type of harassment and mental abuse stays in the person’s mind, making it much more difficult to focus and succeed at school or at work. The emotional pain often makes it difficult to sleep too, which further affects the person’s performance.
The problem is even worse if the cyberbully is someone the person knows at school or at work. They feel constantly on edge and unsafe, making it impossible for them to focus on their work.
Physical Health Consequences
Online bullying can lead to severe stress and anxiety. Our bodies weren’t meant to experience stress on an ongoing basis, so when our stress hormones are overstimulated by situations like cyberbullying, it affects our health. Adults and even kids affected by cyberbullying can have stress-related health problems like headaches, stomachaches, high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, and the many health issues that come from a lack of sleep.
How to Identify Cyberbullying
Even though you know the definition of cyberbullying, it can be difficult to tell if you or someone you love is a victim of cyberbullying because it can take so many forms. Still, there are some signs you can watch out for in your own online interactions and in those you love.
Signs that you are being bullied online can include:
Targeted attacks that focus on hurting you
Persistent and repeated actions online that are meant to harm you
Rumors or pictures (either real or altered) being purposely spread online to hurt your reputation
Insulting or mean-spirited messages to you online
Multiple people or profiles online harassing you, talking about you in a hurtful way, or sending you negative messages
Keep in mind that not everyone knows when they’re a victim of cyberbullying, and even if they realize what is happening, they may be too scared to tell you. As a parent, friend, or family member, keep an eye out for these signs that someone you love might be experiencing cyberbullying:
Hiding their phone or online activity
Looking upset after reading messages or interacting online
Withdrawing from things they used to enjoy
Suddenly avoiding online interactions or media
A drop in grades at school
Changes in sleeping habits
If you notice any of the signs above in yourself or in someone around you, the first step is acknowledging what is happening. From there, you can take action to make it stop.
Strategies to Stop Cyberbullying
If you or a loved one is being bullied online, there are concrete steps you can take to put a stop to it.
As hurtful as online bullying is, it does leave a paper trail so it’s easier to prove what is happening. If you are being bullied online or you know someone who is, capture the evidence by taking screenshots and saving emails and messages that they send. You want to have proof of the abuse so that there are consequences for the bully’s actions, so be sure that they can’t simply delete their posts and pretend that it never happened.
In some cases, cyberbullies will attack by posting mean-spirited comments on your social media posts. It’s understandable that you don’t want everyone to see these comments, but make sure that on platforms like Facebook, you hide the comments instead of deleting them. This way, the comments are invisible to everyone except the bully and their “friends,” but you still have the comment on the record.
Report the Behavior
Most digital platforms have terms of service that prohibit cyberbullying and similar types of abusive behaviors. Report any messages, comments, or posts your bully sends that are abusive. Platforms will often remove the posts or, if they see that it happens repeatedly, block or ban the person entirely.
In some cases, this alone is enough to make the bullying stop because the platform contacts the bully about their abusive posts, and this may scare them enough to make them stop. Regardless, though, keep in mind that if the platform removes abusive posts and comments, there’s no record of the cyberbullying, so take a screenshot before you report posts.
Your bully is trying to make you upset and pull you into a fight. As tempting as it may be to fire back at them, if you respond to them, it only gives them what they want so they will continue to push. In some cases, the bully could even use your responses to make it seem as if you’re engaging in the same bullying behaviors they are, so it’s best not to respond or retaliate in any way.
Cyberbullies use a wide variety of platforms - social media, gaming platforms, texting, and so on. Nearly all digital platforms allow you to block specific people in some way, and this is always a smart idea if you have an online bully.
If you know who the person is, block them on all your digital platforms if possible. It’s also a good idea to go through your lists of friends or followers on your online platforms and remove any that you don’t personally know. Some online bullies create fake profiles to get back in touch with the people they’re bullying or to keep an eye on them.
Notify Authority Figures
It’s usually a good idea to tell someone in authority about your bully. This could depend on who your bully is and how you know them.
For example, if you and your bully are students at the same school, tell a teacher, your school counselor, or another member of the school leadership. If you know the person through a club or another organization, tell the adult leaders of that organization, and if the bully is a co-worker, inform your boss.
In some cases, it might be necessary to contact your local law enforcement. If your bully has threatened violence against you, has repeatedly contacted you despite you telling them to stop, or has potentially committed any other crime, you should file a police report. If you aren’t sure whether a crime was committed, you can always call your local law enforcement to ask.
It doesn’t matter who you are, how old or young you are, or how successful you might be: online bullying and harassment take a serious toll on your mental health. Even if you’ve been able to successfully put a stop to the bullying, you need to talk through the scars with someone who is knowledgeable about these issues.
If you’re in school, you could talk to your school counselor or school psychologist. At any age, a mental health counselor, therapist, or psychologist can help too. These people are specifically trained in coaching you through healing from traumatic or stressful events like bullying. They can also help you learn strategies to protect your emotional health if cyberbullying happens again.
Some people don’t feel comfortable talking about cyberbullying to someone they know. That’s why there are cyberbullying helplines all around the world for people of various ages and circumstances.
Tips to Prevent Online Bullying
No matter how quickly you put a stop to it, cyberbullying can take a serious toll on anyone’s health, safety, and happiness. The best-case scenario is to prevent cyberbullying as often as possible in the first place.
While nothing we do can prevent online bullying with 100% certainty because none of us can control the actions of others, there are strategies and tips we can use to keep it to a minimum. Start with these preventative measures.
Build a Positive Atmosphere at School
Studies have found that schools with a more positive social atmosphere have lower-than-average cyberbullying rates. In fact, many cases of cyberbullying among kids and teens happen between students who know and dislike each other at school, so it makes sense that combating toxic attitudes at school will help with online bullying.
Schools can do this in several ways, such as encouraging positivity and correcting or punishing students’ hurtful words promptly. Many school anti-bullying programs largely focus on teaching students to be compassionate and understanding toward each other.
Keep Your Information Private
When you have a bully online, any information they have about you can be used as a weapon to hurt you. To minimize the impact that potential bullies can have, make sure you safeguard your personal information online.
For one, make all your social media profiles private so that you must purposely grant permission for anyone to see your posts. Avoid posting information online that anyone can use to find you in person, like your phone number, address, or school. You should also avoid taking or posting intimate or highly personal pictures.
Only Friend People You Know
We mentioned making your social media profiles private so that only your online “friends” and followers can see them. Once you’ve done that, though, make sure you only accept friend requests and follow requests from people you personally know.
If you get a request from someone you don’t know, remember that anyone could be behind the profile, including someone you don’t want to know any more about you than they already do. In addition, if you’re being cyberbullied by someone you don’t know, chances are that the bully isn’t the person they claim to be, and without knowing who they are, law enforcement or authority figures can’t hold them accountable.
Avoid Using Online Media in Private
As you know, every idiot can be found in one place and that's online. When you’re by yourself, it’s often easier to get roped in by a cyberbully and start believing the hurtful and untrue things they say about you. If you find yourself feeling this way, it can help to set a rule for yourself that you can only use social media while you’re around friends or family members. This way, you can keep a more positive mindset and you’ll be more likely to have the strength to just block cyberbullies before they have too strong of a hold on you.
If you’re a parent to a child or teenager who uses digital media, as most do, you can do this for them by setting limits for their online activity. There may be certain sites they aren’t allowed to use or limits to the amount of time they can spend online.
Doing What We Can to Combat Cyberbullying
Online bullying is a serious problem affecting people of all ages, from young kids to adults. As unfortunate as it is, there are many steps we can take to prevent it and protect ourselves and each other from its harmful effects. Start with the information and tips above and create a plan for overcoming online bullying and protecting our world and our mental health from its effects.