As citizens in a digital world, we must deal with a number of issues that did not exist thirty years ago. Some of these issues include the public sharing of our personal information, identity theft, and unhealthy online behaviors such as gaming, social media and online shopping addictions. But one of the issues we struggle with today that’s not new is that of bullying.
Bullying is not a 21st century problem. It’s one that has existed forever. Very few of us can say that we were never bullied as young children. Whether we had our hair pulled by the student sitting behind us, became victims of the “I’m not touching you” game played by our siblings or classmates, or were chased on a playground repeatedly by a kid who just wouldn’t leave us alone, we have all been treated in ways that made us feel like targets for teasing, name-calling, and/or cruelty. The bullies we dealt with as children are the people who inspired the “Sticks and Stones” rhyme that our parents told us repeatedly as we were growing up. We were advised to ignore the things bullies said to us, and typically it worked.
Bullying continues in the 21st century, but digital technology has made it a much bigger issue. Children continue to be teased and bothered by their siblings and peers, but it doesn’t stop there. As they grow up they face the risk of being “cyberbullied” by digital users, often people they may not even know. Cyberbullying is defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as bullying that takes place using electronic technology (“What is Cyberbullying | StopBullying.gov“, 2017). Electronic technology includes such things as cell phones, computers, laptops, tablets, and the Internet. Cyberbullies have much more opportunity to target their victims in a world where people are connected 24/7, so cyberbullying can happen anytime, anywhere, and the victim doesn’t even need to be present.
Cyberbullying can be a much more serious issue than traditional bullying for a number of reasons. First, cyberbullies can be anyone, at any age. Their identities are easy to disguise because the bullying doesn’t take place face-to-face. They could be complete strangers disguised as “friends” or vice versa. This is called masquerading, and it is a common form of cyberbullying on social media and other online sites. Additionally, the victims can be anyone. People are much quicker to judge and willing to bully when they don’t have to do it face-to-face. Cyberbullying can involve anyone, and everyone, which makes it an issue for all of us.
Secondly, the things that bullies say and do to their victims online can be shared with anyone, making the experience public. Publicly posted comments can lead to the participation of others in the cyberbullying of the victim. It can result in legal discipline for the perpetrator(s), depending on the information they share, and the results of their cyberbullying attacks.
Thirdly, the information that’s posted online cannot be taken back. Once it is posted and shared with the world, it is there forever and can be used to perpetually haunt or harass the victims. The cyberbullying experience can take on a life of its own, beyond the original cyberbully, destroying the lives of victims, and possible “humiliating them to death” (TED, 2015).
Cyberbullying can take on place in number of ways. Typically they are all forms of “harassment” creating opportunities for repeated malicious messages and posts designed to target victims. Some cyberbullies target the victims personally by sending them repeated “flaming” emails, texts or chats in an effort to start trouble, threaten or instigate them. This can lead to physical harassment and potential physical harm. Others may “masquerade” and disguise themselves online in an effort to either gain information about the victim that can be shared with others, or to post things anonymously to belittle them or defame their character. Some cyberbullies form groups in which the victim is the target of “exclusion” and in which malicious online posts and conversations are made about him or her. Another form of cyberbullying takes place when personal information is shared about the victim, “outing” him or her in an effort to embarrass or defame him or her, or just expose someone publicly.
Technology has turned bullying into a much bigger issue than it used to be. What was at one time a personal attack among members of a local physical community has become a public one in world-wide digital community. It’s important that we, as users of digital technology, understand what constitutes cyberbullying and act safely, ethically, and responsibly to help put an end to it.
TED. (2015). Monica Lewinsky: The price of shame. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_8y0WLm78U
What is Cyberbullying | StopBullying.gov. (2017). Stopbullying.gov. Retrieved 30 September 2017, from https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/what-is-it/index.html