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Cyberbullying: What Is It & How To Prevent It

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Cyberbullying has become one of the most defining experiences in digital media. It exists among teenagers and adults and is common across digital mediums of communication.

The simplest way to understand cyberbullying is by understanding its characteristics:

  1. It’s Intentional Whoever is bullying you, or your loved one has a malicious intention. This can include making you feel inferior, isolated, cornered, or embarrassed.
  2. It’s Repetitive Cyberbullying generally doesn’t stop at one incident. It continues and often gets more participants in it if it is not resolved early. With more people turning into perpetrators, it can take the form of trolling.
  3. It Can Be Anonymous Cyberbullying is often practiced by anonymous accounts. When you see an anonymous account showing intent with repeated bullying, you should conclude it as a case of cyberbullying.

What Is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying consists of a set of activities performed by a perpetrator over a digital medium to psychologically impact the one being bullied. The mediums can often include social media, texts, chats, forums, or even emails. The activities include posting embarrassing videos, pictures, or texts about the victim on social media, leaking the victim’s private data, spreading false rumors about the victim, or directly communicating with the victim in a malicious or bullying manner.

Cyberbullying should not be confused with hacking or other similar forms of cyberattacks. While they may often come together, cyberbullying always targets the individual and her/his well being. That is the reason why it is common among all age groups. However, children take more time to cope with such incidents and hence need special attention. As per data published by StopBullying.gov, nearly 15% of all school children faced cyberbullying in some form.

Differences from Traditional Bullying

While it is in no way less harmful than the conventional forms of bullying, cyberbullying does have some stark differences:

1. Conventional bullying is often private. Cyberbullying can be visible to a large audience if it is done on a public forum.

Cyberbullying becomes more dangerous when it is witnessed on social media platforms. Since there are several social connections of the victim on the platform, the victim often perceives that the incident’s memories would last longer and will impact her/his relationships.

2. Cyberbullying can go unnoticed for a longer period than conventional bullying.

Conventional bullying often includes physically harming the victim. It often leaves traces or marks on the victim, which can come to the parents, guardians, or teachers’ attention. Cyberbullying cases can last for weeks or months without getting noticed. Since the victim is directly being harassed, she/he may feel isolated and may not talk about it, until it becomes unbearable or till it converts into a public incident.

3. Cyberbullying can be very organized and leave a deeper psychological impact.

When conducted by a group of people, cyberbullying can take a very organized form. Victims can often face the same perpetrators across different platforms and media. Since there is no limit to making new accounts, even after blocking the perpetrator, the victims may keep receiving communication from new forms of accounts.

Cyberbullying has a deeper psychological impact. Since the bullying is done publically, it may make the victim feel ashamed, embarrassed, or humiliated to an unparalleled extent. It is easy to record cyberbullying with a screenshot. Hence, the psychological impact can be exacerbated, if stored for a long period.

Example of Cyberbullying

There are many undocumented experiences of cyberbullying. The deeper one digs, the more forms of cyberbullying incidents one would find. However, its risks can be assessed by looking at the most prominent forms of incidents identified a cyberbullying:

1. Posting Private Images of a Person on Social Media Without Consent

One of the most common forms of cyberbullying includes posting content in the form of pictures or videos about an individual in public forums, without the person’s consent. The pictures can be explicit, shared in confidence with the perpetrator. Or, they can be embarrassing for the victim, recorded without her/his consent.

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While popular social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have features of untagging oneself from a social media post, getting it removed is often tedious.

2. Sending Abusive Texts or Unsolicited Disturbing Images

This is the form of cyberbullying, which has risen in numbers with the popularization of trolling. People target one person’s public social media profile and often send her/him unsolicited disturbing images or abusive texts. While abusing someone in a public forum may or may not be illegal depending on the circumstances, doing so repeatedly even in a private chat would be considered cyberbullying.

3. Spreading Insinuations About an Individual in Public Forums or Private Chats

This is one of the more nuanced examples. But, if a person or group of people are posting information that is unverified or offensive, it might be equated with cyberbullying. Even if the victim does not know about this, it can be considered a legal offense if the attempt is made knowingly and consistently.

4. Blackmailing or Threatening Using Anonymous Accounts

Some people often get threats and equally disturbing messages from anonymous accounts. Even if the account is deleted, or is never made public, the incident is classified under cyberbullying. Perpetrators often try to use fake images, private images, and other data to approach the victim and get more such data or money in exchange for not posting the content online.

5. Making a Fake Account Impersonating Someone

An increasingly growing form of cyberbullying is often practiced by people having a malicious intent or by click farms trying to create fake profiles on social media. If an organized team or an individual uses your picture and or name, that is supposed to show some relation between you and the account without your knowledge, it might be considered a form of cyberbullying or cybercrime, depending on nature and intent the fake profile.

How to Identify Cyberbullying

Identifying cyberbullying as a parent, teacher, or guardian is trickier than knowing about the conventional form of bullying. Most of the time, the victims start showing signs of potential cyberbullying in a very subtle form. Conventional bullying would often leave the victim physically harmed or with loss of tangible property. Since the impact of cyberbullying is not that visual, parents and teachers have to pay more attention to the possible signs.

Here are some ways to check whether your loved one has experienced cyberbullying recently or not:

Sudden Change in Behavioural Traits

This can be the after-effect of cyberbullying or any other form of trauma. The sudden change may last only for a while, but you will soon start witnessing patterns. If your child or loved one has suddenly changed her/his behavior with you or with people around her/him, you should talk to the person.

Fear of Posting Content Online

This would be a noticeable indicator only if your child or loved one used to have a different approach towards social media. If she/he has been through a cyberbullying incident, her defense mechanism will make her/him feel threatened and uneasy while browsing the platform.

Social Awkwardness

Cyberbullying, like other forms of bullying, directly impacts the self-confidence and self-perception of an individual. If it is not dealt with immediately, this can lead to several issues like general social awkwardness. Your child or loved one will all of sudden become aloof or would avoid social interaction.

Clinical Depression

While clinical depression can be a standalone condition, it can also get triggered by the onset of cyberbullying. Since cyberbullying hampers the self-worth of an individual, it can spiral the victim into depression.

Digital Media Aversion

A muted but often indicative signal of recent cyberbullying experience is a vigilant-like approach to digital media. Your child or loved one may suddenly look at emails, social media posts, texts, and video chats with an eye of suspicion. Much like the fear of posting online, this might be an exhibiting trait of getting cyberbullied.

The Potential Effects of Cyberbullying

The major impact of cyberbullying is on the person’s individual behavior. However, a victim may witness a cohort of problems because of cyberbullying over the long run:

1. Damage to Public Image.

When cyberbullying occurs in public forums, it becomes very difficult for the victim to erase or rectify her/his image. Public perception has become a major challenge, even for people with teams working on such issues.

Many companies conduct online due-diligence of people’s social media presence. If the objectionable content posted by a bully is not removed at the earliest or reported by the victim, it may show up when someone searches for the victim online. This can hinder professional progress if the recruiter is not aware of the cyberbullying incident. Hence, if you see someone’s profile being imitated or false information being spread about an individual, report it immediately.

2. Prolonged Issues with Trusting People.

Cyberbullying can have an impact closer to that of bullying. Children or teenagers who face cyberbullying in their growth years often develop a mistrust against people they have just met. While this increased sense of threat can make them stay away from such incidents, it can also make people feel isolated and distanced from social relationships.

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3. Damaged Self-Worth.

Cyberbullies are often trying to repair their self-perception by trying to pull the self-worth of the victim down. While more clinical research is being conducted on the issue, it is common for people to feel impaired about their self-worth. You will see the spiral of low self-esteem when you praise someone for her/his good traits. Victims of cyberbullying get deeply impacted, and if they have not entirely processed how the events unfolded, they may end up getting trapped in victim-blaming – holding themselves responsible for the issues.

4. Elongated Depression.

Again, depression can be the cause or effect of a multitude of problems. However, unresolved issues with roots in past cyberbullying experiences can be as damaging as actual physical damages incurred by physical bullying.

Tips to Prevent Cyberbullying

1. Don’t Let It Go Unreported.

It is important to note that cyberbullying is a result of the perpetrators’ activities. Never blame the victim for any part of the process, especially not while the incident is still fresh. Whenever you see rumors being spread, fake accounts posting malicious content, or someone trying to solicit something from your loved ones – report their profiles immediately. Even if the profile is anonymous, you will be able to report and get it blocked.

2. Collect Proof and File a Legally Binding Complaint.

If you find the cyberbullying attempt repetitive, make sure you take screenshots and then report the profile. As soon as you have reported the profile, get it to touch with your local area’s cybercrime cell. If you cannot approach the cyber cell, you can also visit the police. Police departments are equipped to help you or guide you to the right resources. Never try to orchestrate an operation of meeting the perpetrator without some supervision.

3. Don’t Share Private Data with Anyone.

While this may impact the experience you have on social media, it will also save you from a potential threat by a cyberbully. Do not share data that you believe can be used against you in any form with people you know or people you have just met. Even if it is a temporary format, it is easy to create copies of such data without your knowledge.

4. Visit a Professional Therapist.

While this is not a proactive measure, it can contain the psychological impact of cyberbullying. If you are witnessing such an incident, make sure you visit a therapist at the earliest possible. If one of your loved ones is going through it, take them to a therapist even if they are reluctant. Addressing emotions of feeling threatened is not easy, and hence you may find the victim to be a little apprehensive about talking to professionals. Make sure the person feels safe in your company and help her/him approach a therapist.

5. Keep an Eye on Your Loved One’s Social Media Presence.

Many teenagers do not add their parents to their social media friends’ list. Try to work around this. Your child should be able to have an inhibitive but safe experience on social media. Even if you are not in her/his social media circle, make sure you keep updated on her/his activity on social media. A sudden change in social media can be the first indicator of possible cyberbullying. Working on the issue will save your loved one from years of damage and also follow the social networking hygiene tips.

How many cases of cyberbullying are there?

Most of the cyberbullying cases go unreported. Hence, finding the exact number of cases registered by a given point in time is difficult. However, some estimates suggest that 1 in 10 adolescents in India have witnessed some form of cyberbullying.

What are the long term effects of cyberbullying?

Long-term effects can include depression, impairment in self-worth, trust issues, and a generally negative perception of social media. If any objectionable content is not removed, it can get associated with the victim's name and may show up in basic social media due diligence, hindering professional progress.

How can cyberbullying happen?

Cyberbullying can take place over any form of digital or social media, which includes but is not limited to texts, forums, chats, emails, and popular social media platforms. The thing that differentiates cyberbullying from unhealthy social media practices is that the former is deliberate and repetitive.

What are some cyberbullying facts?

Here are some common facts which show the state of cyberbullying: 1. Girls are more likely to be the victims or perpetrators of cyberbullying than boys. 2. 50% of LGBTQ+ community members face some form of cyberbullying. 3. 42% of cyberbullying cases, as presented in the results of a survey, originated on Instagram. 4. 60% of young people have witnessed some form of cyberbullying.

What is the difference between cyberbullying and bullying?

Cyberbullying is the specific form of bullying conducted using digital and social media platforms. Bullying is a phenomenon associated with the tangible world.

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