Most people seem to think that Cyber-bullying is simply "internet bullying" but the issue is much older than that. Simply put, cyber-bullying means bullying via electronic means. It's already a widespread problem now but the plethora of personal devices becoming available means that unless checked, it may eventually overtake most other forms of bullying.
Not Just an Internet Issue
Cyber-bullying existed long before most people got their hands on the internet. It began life as prank and threatening telephone calls, moved to nasty SMS messages and now has a thriving life on social networking sites. Make no mistake, it's a growing and credible threat. Like other types of bullying, cyber-bullying can have fatal consequences. People have murdered or committed suicide after being cyberbullied.
Note: There's nothing particularly special about the two incidents I linked above. They were just the first two I found. There are hundreds of similar cases reported online.
Just as there are many different forms of normal bullying including physical violence, name calling, pranks, engineering degrading situations, dobbing and rumour-mongering; cyberbullying also takes many forms.
- Comment, Chat and Forum Abuse
In this form of cyber-bullying, the bullies post degrading comments on the victim's web sites or blogs. They will also post negative comments on forums directly after (or simply referencing) the victim's posts.
For example; someone may have a blog which is all about cats. A cyber-bully will post off-topic personal comments on their blog. On forum sites, the cyber-bully will repeatedly attack posts by a particular person but not simply because they disagree.
The language of cyber-bullying is extremely negative and targeted. They will attempt to highlight the victims personal weaknesses or sensitivities. In many instances they will bring the victims race or religious or sexual preferences into the the discussion.
Comment spam can often be reduced by having filters on your blog (if you own the blog) and forum spam can often be dealt with by contacting the moderator (person in control) of a given forum. Of course, not all platforms support these anti-bullying measures. Facebook for instance does not screen comments made "friends".
- Stalking and Threats using Personal Information
Unlike real-life bullying, cyber-bullying can be initiated by anyone - even people you've never met. It can be quite frightening to find that an unknown person has managed to dig up your personal information and is able to make threats about dropping in for an unscheduled visit.
There's an even more frightening disclosure of information trend that has been building recently where bullies attempt to attract sexual predators to their victims by posting personal details in online wanted advertisements. This is similar to writing "for a good time call ......" on a toilet wall except that there's a much greater chance of repercussions in real life when personal details are exposed on the internet in places where such predators hang out.
There's not a lot you can do to prevent this kind of bullying.
If you can, try to reduce the amount of personal information that you put online but don't forget, it usually only take a little bit of social engineering (ie: a few awkward questions to your friends) to get hold of the obvious details.
- Photo and Video Abuse
This is by far the widespread form of internet bullying and it is very much on the rise thanks to the video cameras which are built into all modern smartphones and other devices. Even worse, many of these devices, the Nintendo DS and iPhone for instance, have built-in caricature applications which allow bullies to take photos and then manipulate them to enhance the victim's worst features before posting them online.
Sadly, many people who wouldn't otherwise bully participate in photo and internet bullying without realizing that they're contributing to the problem. The Star Wars kid is a perfect example of this and the despite the heavy involvement of the law, the videos starring him are still available on YouTube today. Remember, once a degrading photo of you is posted online, it will stay there because someone, somewhere would have downloaded a copy. The internet truly is "forever".
Then there are web sites which "specialize" in posting damaging images. (For example; http://www.uglypeople.se/ and http://failblog.org/) not to mention all of those chain letter emails and powerpoint presentations which regularly assault everyone's mailboxes. These things are funny - until they're a picture of you.
There's very little that you can do about photo and video abuse because once you're captured online, these shots spread like wildfire and can be impossible to stop.
- Character Assassination
Character assassination occurs when a bully goes all out and creates a page dedicated to destroying your character. Facebook hate pages are probably the best example of this.
Luckily, these types of sites are very easy to take down - simply complain to the ISP or hosting site. They're easily identified and the law is clear about this kind of bullying.
The last type of cyber-bullying that I want to cover is "blocking". This is where someone refuses to let you into a moderated online group. In most cases, this is simply a refusal to allow the victim to read or participate in online discussions and activities. This is often combined with "hate-discussions" about the victim.
This is the electronic equivalent of "trash talking someone behind their back".
Again, there's not a lot you can do about this but if nothing else, it's easy to say that anyone else who participates in that group isn't good enough to be your friend.
What can you do about Cyber-bullying?
For a start, don't be tempted to "hit back". Don't play the bullies game because so long as you don't break the law, it will give you some protection.
- If you're not an adult, then make sure that your parents know that you're being bullied and that it is affecting you. Many parents have difficulty understanding that certain behaviour is bullying. If your parents have this problem, persevere until they get the message.
- Contact the police if the bullies are in your country.
- Visit the Stop Cyber-bullying website (http://www.stopcyberbullying.org/) and follow the instructions there.
Other Articles in this series;
Next Time: I want to look at bullying in the workplace.