The world is more connected than it has ever been. Skype, email, Facebook, Twitter. We can snap a picture on our phones, post a thought or share a joke with thousands of other people - all within a matter of seconds. Today’s teens, having never known a world without the Internet, are especially adept at picking up new technology and use electronic communication to create vital social networks. Problems arise when the technology that is supposed to bring people together is used instead to abuse others, pushing peers out of their social network into a world that is filled with loneliness, embarrassment, fear or shame.
What is Cyberbullying?
- Sending mean and sometimes threatening emails or text messages.
- Spreading gossip, secrets or rumours about another person that will damage that person’s reputation.
- Breaking into an email account and sending hurtful materials to others under an assumed identity.
- Creating blogs or websites that have stories, cartoons, pictures or jokes ridiculing others.
- Creating polling websites where visitors are asked to rate individuals’ attributes in a negative manner.
- Taking an embarrassing photo of someone with a digital camera and emailing that photo to others.
- Engaging someone in instant messaging, tricking them into revealing personal information and then forwarding that information to others.
- Using someone else’s password in order to change their profile to reflect sexual, racist and other content that may offend others.
- Posting false or hurtful messages on online bulletin boards or in chat rooms.
- Deliberately excluding others from instant messaging and email contact lists.
The Impact of Cyberbullying
Unlike other forms of bullying, the harassment, humiliation, intimidation and threatening of others through cyberbullying occurs 24 hours a day. It is relentless and aggressive, reaching kids at the dinner table while sitting with their parents, or in the privacy of their bedroom. There is no safe zone.
Kids who bully others through electronic means are able to hide behind the technology, remaining anonymous if they choose. Kids who cyberbully don’t immediately see the reaction of their words or taunts, which might otherwise spark some empathy for the pain they have caused. Not witnessing the reaction of others makes it easier to become more aggressive and vicious.
Kids who witness cyberbullying by receiving messages or forwarding them to others don’t consider themselves as being part of the problem. Forwarding hurtful messages or content can increase the number of people who witness the bullying of another by thousands, instantly. “Liking” a message or passing it on tells the person who is cyberbullying that his or her behaviour is okay, and makes it easier for that person to become more aggressive and vicious.
Kids who are cyberbullied feel an intense sense of isolation, fear, loneliness and despair. Their desperation can sometimes lead to acts of self-harm or tragically, even suicide.