Cyber bullying has been around since we first got our internet on an AOL disc and to log on to instant messenger we listened to the bleeps, blurps, and buzzing of dial-up. Kids in middle school, some friends even just to be cheeky, would get snarky online or create fake accounts to make comments about my race or something about who I “liked” at the time. I lived in a predominantly Caucasian community, so comments about fortune cookies and sideways vaginas were about as lethal as one would get. Once I was asked what it was like to be the only Asian in school and that I should only be using chopsticks. I rebutted, “at least there’s an Asian Angel in Charlie’s Angels and not a fat one!” The girl messaging me was overweight, we were young, we were being mean to each other. Sad facts.
As technology becomes more and more integral in our lives, even at the youngest of ages with toddlers bumping around with iPads in hand, cyber bullying does too. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth, about 4,400 deaths per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control- many due to bullying. It’s rare to open your news screen and not see something, somewhere about a teen who has been bullied into taking their own lives or suffers continually at the hands of another via technology.
As of late, I’ve noticed it grow even more within my circle of peers- including myself- being at the brunt. Maybe I do it too. After watching an understated yet excellent film, Disconnect, about the effects of technology on a person’s life and wellness I wrote an article for the magazine I work for on the topic. Hopefully it will cause someone to stop and think before writing something publicly malicious or creating a fake account to blather obscenities. It’s cowardly to say the least and simply isn’t a good look, especially once you’re found out.
“It’s likely that you have heard of cyber bulling, known someone who has been affected by it, or even been the target of it in some way or form. Cyber bulling is when electronic communications sent as emails, text/SMS messages, instant messages, or comments through social media are used to humiliate, threaten, or emotionally damage the recipient. In an age when people rarely set down their electronic devices and are constantly “plugged in”, cyber bullying- also known as internet bulling- has become the new cat fight or schoolyard brawl and can rocket to drastic, life-ruining levels. According to statistics from the i-SAFE Foundation and The Cyberbullying Research Center, over 80 percent of teens (in the United States) use a cell phone regularly and that over half of adolescents and teens are bullied online. More than 1 in 3 young adults have been threatened online or through an electronic device and over half of the adolescents that are being bullied do not tell their parents about the harassment. Bullying via internet can cause major anxiety, stress, and even suicide in tragic cases which have become disturbingly high in the past few years. Cyber bullying is not only reserved for teens, although the behavior is linked to immaturity, less developed social skills, and ignorance; many adults partake in cyber bulling.
To end the cycle of cyber bulling that either you or one close to you is dealing with, there are things you can do to halt the annoyance, unnecessary attacks, and/or emotional pain.
Watch for Signs
Messages: Keep an eye out for messages that use foul language, defamatory comments, name calling, attempts to control another person’s behavior by threatening or blackmail, or harassment in the form of threats or violence.
Constant: Many times, a cyber bully will use the time on their hands to harass by bombarding you with relentless texts, calls, instant messages, comments, or emails- even if they may seem nonthreatening at the time. The barrage of messages can be the start to something worse.
Images: If threatening or embarrassing images are being sent to you, this is a form of online harassment.
Public Forums: One way of cyber bulling is the bully using tools like Facebook, Instagram, or social media sites to publicly embarrass, slander, or threaten the target. Some examples are the bully posting status updates or tweeting about the individual, using a blog or public forum to talk negatively about the target, or sharing photos that are embarrassing and aimed to humiliate the individual it has captured.
Impersonation: An even more craven form of cyber bullying is impersonation. It is a less obvious and more difficult way to track who the bully is- they may create fake accounts to harass through or the bully may even steal their target’s password to log into their accounts to create problems.
Identify the Causes
There are some bullies who simply have nothing better in their lives to do that harass complete strangers, but much of the time a cyber bully will come in the form of an ex boyfriend /girlfriend (yours or your current partner’s), an old friend you have severed ties with, or someone you have connected with in the past. If you can reasonably speak with the individual, it’s best to ask them to stop in person rather than through email or text. The tendency is that cyber bullies target individuals they are jealous of or are threatened by in person and their own insecurities and/or mental instability pushes them to act this way. This is not your problem or fault, try and remember that in the end- the bully is wasting their time on you rather than the other way around.
If you do not know who the bully is, if they are irrational or dishonest, or are being bullied by a group of people, it’s best to take stronger action and refuse to engage further.
Save each email, text, instant message, web site, photo, or posting that has been directed at you from the bully for future evidence. Record the time and date for each message- it’s important to have this information to stop the bullying or if necessary, press charges. File these away in a safe place where you don’t need to look at them constantly which may cause anxiety, but you can access them if necessary.
Refuse to Respond
Even though some messages may strike a nerve, do not respond. Sometimes, a cyber bully will first threaten and harass then ask to talk normally online, although their intent may seem innocent do not trust their motives. Do not engage in further conversation or interaction with the bully and refuse to respond to their messages. One of the worst things you can do is react angrily and send an equally ugly response- let them remain on their low level and stay above their behavior.
Take Preventative Measures
Before the bullying can escalate, block the bully by cutting off contact from the individual. Once you’ve made sure you have saved all evidence of the cyber bully, delete the person from your mail contacts and block them through instant messaging, social media sites, and your phone. You may also want to change your privacy and account settings so that if the person is desperate to manage to stay in contact or find you online, they can’t create another account and still have access to your personal information. Do not reveal your address, phone number, or where you are located online or if you choose to do so, make it so that only close family or friends can view the information. It may also be a good idea to change your account or screen name or any other online identification, especially if the bully knew it before you blocked them. Notify your friends and family that you have created the new account.
Ask for Backup
Sometimes ignoring the problem will make it go away and there are other times it simply doesn’t. There are bullies unrelenting in their need to torment or attempt to stay relevant. If the bullying persists, bring the harassment to the attention of those close to you. Let your voice be heard, do not let the bully make you cower down in fear or sadness, and call the bully out on their behavior by shedding light on the situation. If you are a child or teen, ask an adult to help you; a parent, teacher, advisor, mentor, or even boss can be of assistance to stop the bulling. If your child is being affected by cyber bulling, take it seriously- it can become extremely devastating to a young adult’s well-being.
Report the Harassment
Cyber bullying violates most terms of service created by social media sites, service providers, and cell phone providers; find out their policy and report the threatening and harassing behavior to your service provider. The bully may be penalized for their actions if you can use the evidence you have compiled against them.
Involve the Law
If the bullying truly gets out of control or is affecting your daily life and overall happiness, you may be able to involve the law and press charges. Stalking, use of intimidation, threats, hate-related communication, or sexually explicit photos of a minor can all be considered crime punishable by law. It is important that you have sufficient evidence to support your case if you choose to get the law involved. Speak with your family, friends, and peers to discuss the best option for bringing this aspect into the situation.
Do Your Part
Many times, communication online can be misinterpreted by the recipient and may cause an argument that escalates into cyber bulling or an unnecessary fight. Resolving a problem in person before it spirals into something very negative is important, especially if you were on good terms with the person before. It’s important to act online as you would in person; if you would not say something to someone’s face; do not send it through an email, text message, or an online route. Stay away from your phone, computer, or tablet if you’re feeling angry or emotional- you may write something you regret or your words can be construed incorrectly by the recipient.
Do not participate in cyber bullying. Ask yourself if you would like to be treated the way you are treating another or how you would react to a message before sending it. Even if others in your group or friends circle are partaking, stay away from the act and better yet- try to get them to stop. Set an example of maturity, class, and simple common sense and courtesy and stay away from cyber bullying. Even if someone attacks you via internet or technology and you become enraged, step back from the situation. Responding to the threats, messages, or emails will only perpetuate the cycle- especially if you do so in an angry manner.”
Keep it classy, kids. And when all else fails, love your enemy.
“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. “
*posted with edits
Woah, blast from the past! I remember when AOL was on promo disks attached to magazines lol. It’s amazing to me how much technology has enabled such foul behavior. Back in my highschool days, this behavior was non-existent. I mean, yeah, okay, we had bullies and all (cough), but nothing like this. This article is great–I wish you’d send it to magazine editors for consideration.
Thank you Rashad! It’s incredible the lengths people will go to simply to bring another’s self esteem down to the point of devastation. Oh, what a world we live in. Thank you for your compliment- much, much appreciated!