Cyberbullying is a new take on an old concept. Before getting into the cyber aspect of it, though, it’s first important to understand what the term bullying actually means.
As a teacher, I heard many students (and parents) accuse others of bullying. Sometimes, they were right. Many other times, it was students just being plain mean to each other. The term “bullying” is used so frequently today that it has lost some of its meaning.
What is bullying?
Bullying, by definition, is repeated, unwanted, aggressive behavior (both physical and verbal) that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. It is also done on purpose. Let’s break that down to better understand it. First, there must be a real or perceived power imbalance, which can be in terms of age, rank, gender, nationality, or another trait. Usually, someone vulnerable will be purposefully bullied by someone stronger or more powerful. The victim’s vulnerability can be real or just perceived as real by the bully. Bullying is also repeated and ongoing. This is where a lot of the misunderstanding takes place. If someone is rude to you once, he or she is not a bully. He or she is mean. True bullying is repeating the unwanted, aggressive actions many times, even after being asked to stop.
What is cyberbullying?
With the rise in internet usage, a new type of bully has emerged. Cyberbullying occurs when bullying takes place over digital devices, including phones, computers, and tablets. There are many avenues through which cyberbullying can take place. These include text conversations, social media sites (Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter), online forums like chat rooms, and apps where people can communicate via instant messages.
In the digital age, it has become much easier for bullies for several reasons:
- Constant contact: People have constant access to their phones and the internet, which gives them the ability to communicate 24 hours a day. This increases the likelihood that bullying can occur and makes it more difficult for a victim to escape a bully.
- Permanence: When you post something online, it’s permanent and often publicly accessible. This includes any bullying posts, which can make the effects of cyberbullying far-reaching. This can impact the victim’s reputation in a negative way, leading to judgement or further isolation from any friends or acquaintances who see the offending posts.
- Anonymous: Cyberbullies do not have to face their victims while bullying occurs, which increases the number of people who will actually bully others. Since it requires less courage, some people who would never participate in face-to-face bullying may participate in cyberbullying.
- Ignorance: Since cyberbullying happens behind a screen, the bully cannot see the immediate effect that their words or actions have on their victim. This ignorance about the true impact they have allows cyberbullying to go on for longer periods of time. Ignorance also comes from outsiders—the parents, teachers, and friends of those being bullied. It is hard for outsiders to see the cyberbullying unless they are constantly watching the victim’s online interactions, which is often not the case. This makes it harder for cyberbullies to get caught.
Who is cyberbullied?
The short answer: Anyone. Statistically speaking, however, 12-17 year old girls are more likely to report being cyberbullied than boys of the same age (37% vs. 31% respectively). Over 33% of teens reported being cyberbullied in their lifetime, and over 25% reported being cyberbullied more than once within the past month. Additionally, the more digital and social networks a student uses, the higher the chances of them being cyberbullied.
The short answer (again): Anyone. Statistics suggest, however, that more males cyberbully than females (13% vs. 10%). Over 8% of 12-17 year old students reported cyberbullying on more than one occasion in the past month.
What are some examples of cyberbullying?
- Sending mean or threatening texts, emails, or instant messages
- Spreading rumors or sharing secrets online
- Posing as a person and sending out cruel, untrue, or unwanted information
- Sharing an embarrassing or inappropriate photo without permission
- Making fun of someone via text, chat room, or social media
- Creating a website or profile to specifically make fun of or exclude someone
It’s important to remember that cyberbullying is ongoing and on purpose. People can be mean, can fight, and can make mistakes, none of which automatically mean they are cyberbullies. However, if the behavior is continuous and the person is aware that they are causing harm to others, then they just might be a cyberbully.
Be on the lookout for our follow-up to this blog post, where we will discuss how to respond to a cyberbully if you are victimized.