Have you ever experienced cyberbullying? Would you say it is worse than physical or verbal bullying?
“Cyberbullying is willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.“ (Hinduja & Patchin, 2009)
Williams and Guerra (2007) report on a study done over two years with 3,339 Colorado youth in 2005 and 2,293 youth in 2006 completing a survey about their experience of bullying. Their resulting prevalence figures are below:
Of course, with the rapidly changing internet industry, the differences between countries, and the problems of self-reporting, these figures may not be an accurate representation of current prevalence. Hinduja and Patchin (2009) report on other research that suggests cyberbullying rates of up to 20%.
However, Williams and Guerra’s research does give us some indication of when children may be most vulnerable to cyberbullying.
With the prevalence of technology, there are so many tools for cyberbulling – email, chat rooms, rating/voting sites, blogging and gaming, instant messaging and cell phones … and the list goes on.
Hinduja and Patchin (2009) report that the most common forms of cyber-bullying include:
- photoshopping images to portray a person in compromising, humorous or humiliating ways.
- flaming – sending or posting inflammatory messages.
- trolling – posting less personally directed comments to stir up arguments or generally to disrupt online social interaction.
- Identity theft - such as posting a bogus and insulting profile of a person on a social networking site. These often include suggestions of promiscuity, drug-use or disclosure of personal information.
- Happy-slapping – where an incident of physical bullying/abuse is videoed or photographed and posted on the internet through sites such as You Tube.
- Physical threats – including death threats sent via email or mobile phone.
Hinduja and Patchin (2009) suggest three key reasons why adolescents cyberbully:
- For revenge
- Because they think the victim deserves it
- For fun
One of the most distressing features of cyberbullying is that the bully is often someone known, or even trusted, by the victim (Hinduja & Patchin, 2009). For example, Hinduja and Patchin tell of an incident where one student confided in a friend, revealing that she was pregnant. The next thing she knew, it was all over the school due to a viral phone message.
The deep psychological hurt engendered by such incidences have lead to youth suicide such as the story of a 14 year old girl in Melbourne.
Cyberbullying can also lead to other mental health and future relationship issues. Imagine the difficulty you would have in trusting others in the future if you had been betrayed in such a way by what you thought was a close friend.
Could this be more damaging than physical bullying?
While most cyberbullying is done by people known to the victim, there is that element of removal. The bully is not getting any immediate feedback from their victim’s body-language about the impact of their actions. Thus, they don’t need to control their behaviour for fear of the physical or social consequences.
Bullies can further avoid these consequences if they choose to remain anonymous. This provides them with a great sense of power and freedom (Hinduja & Patchin, 2009).
One consequence of this may mean that adolescents motivated by a sense of “fun” cross the line between humour and humiliation without being aware of the fact. For some “victims” the whole incident may seem humourous until things start getting out of control as more and more people access and comment on a posting. In other cases, the victim isn’t even aware of what is going on until things have blown up and it is too late to respond without widespread social consequences (Hinduja & Patchin, 2009).
The problem with the cyberworld is that once something is out there it is permanent. For example, even if the originator of an insulting photoshopped image deletes that photo there is no way of controlling who has copied, downloaded, uploaded or printed the image. And even deleted images can be accessed by the internet-savvy.
Imagine how helpless this makes the victim feel! Imagine the regret if it had been done initially “just for fun”.
There is no going back.
Stop and think before you press send. This is a message we all need to heed.
Technology expedites the sharing of information. Batched messages or emails can reach hundreds of people simultaneously. A posted message, photo or video can be accessed by people neither the bully nor the victim have ever met.
This phenomenon turns individual bullying into group bullying – where the powerlessness of the victim increases greatly. It can also mean that the bully feels a mass of approval for their behaviour whilst having no visual feedback from the victim in terms of body language to communicate the negative effect that their behaviour is having.
Hinduja and Patchin also suggest that the lack of supervision, especially in the context of private person-to-person communication such as emails and text messages, is another reason why cyberbullying can go unchecked.
In short, the difference between traditional bullying and cyberbullying is that the measures for identifying when you have crossed the line, and moderating your own behaviour, are not immediately present or as effective in the cyberworld.
Being bullied remotely takes the humanity out of human interaction.
The only way we can truly stop it is to help children understand and think about the significant impact posting, emailing or texting something can have on others – even if they are just doing it for fun.
Hinduja, S. and Patchin, J.W. (2009). Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and responding to cyberbullying. Corwin Press: California.
Williams, K.R., and Guerra, N.G. (2007). Prevalence and Predictors of Internet Bullying. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41, S14–S21