Since the advent of the internet, a new form of bullying has emerged. No longer restricted to the school yard, now bullies can reach out and punch their victims digitally through the use of social media and instant messaging. Those who are bullied are finding it harder to avoid their antagonists. In recent years, the spectre of cyberbullying has risen to the forefront of school based issues. Sadly, it has also taken the lives of many young people who had been pushed into a corner that they felt they were unable to escape from. Now is the time to put an end to this form of harassment once and for all.
To understand cyberbullying, it is necessary to understand who the bullies are. Whilst in the school yard, the bully is most often the big kid, online, it is an equal opportunity position with no size restriction. There are several kinds of bullies who resort to online harassment.
The revenge seeker is someone who feels slighted, either imaginary or actually, by something said or done. They generally want to make someone ‘pay’.
There is the bully who is bored and simply looking for something to do. Much like internet trolling where someone tries to cause an argument for fun, the bored bully will pick on someone to occupy their time, much like playing a video game.
Accidental bullies don’t realise that what they are doing is bullying and in fact hurting someone. They may believe that they are joking around, teasing, or engaging in friendly banter but without realising it, they are having a negative effect on someone.
Perhaps the worst type of cyberbully is the popular kid. They are liked by many and wishing to remain so will try to show off and prove that they are superior to someone else. What happens when the cyberbully is popular though is it is more likely for their friends to actually join in, whether they realise how wrong it is or not. There is probably no worse feeling than that of having the whole world against you, especially when you are young. If you are friends online with someone who is a bully, you run the risk of being caught up in the bullying and being put into a position that you would not normally be in.
If someone is perceived to be ‘different’ then they are more of a target to be bullied. A student suffering from acne, believed or actual gender preferences, even the colour of someone’s hair can be enough to trigger the bully. It appears that no one is immune to bullying.
While cyberbullying often takes the form of words, that isn’t the only way that someone can be harassed. Sending a digital image that has been modified or ‘photoshopped’ to offend or upset someone is also a form of bullying.
There are many ways to help protect and insulate your child, or yourself from cyberbullying.
The first and most obvious way is to avoid posting personal information online. Before divulging something, the thought process has to be, ‘do I really need to share this and is there anyway this could used against me?’. Phone number, address, even e-mail address and instant message identities are dangerous to give out. Think of it this way, if you are using Facebook, why do you need to give someone your email address when you can simply send a Facebook message?
Don’t always believe everything you read on the internet. When the ‘net first became popular in the mid to late 90s, a flurry of e-mails appeared in mailboxes claiming that the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, wanted to send you to Disney World if you forwarded the e-mail. It was obviously fake but a lot of people believed it because they wanted it to be true. A very famous internet scam, the Nigerian Prince, is another e-mail that appears in mailboxes from time to time. Claiming to be from a rich, and deposed, ‘Prince’ in Africa, it promises untold riches if you simply help them move the money out of the country. All you need to do is send money to them to start the process. Once the money is sent, you never hear from the ‘Prince’ again. It works because the reward of millions of dollars seems to outweigh the risks involved. While it is such an obvious scam, many have fallen for it time and time again. Just because it arrived in your e-mail doesn’t mean it is true, or even from the person it appears to have been sent from.
If you receive an e-mail that angers you, don’t reply straight away as you are more likely to use words and phrases that you will regret when you re-read the email once you have calmed down. It is better to take sometime, be it minutes, hours or even days, to think about how you want to reply and how to phrase it. There is nothing worse than sending an e-mail and realizing ten minutes later that you shouldn’t have said something. The second worst is having sent the e-mail, coming up with a line or phrase that you wished you had used. All e-mail programs allow you to save your un-sent email as a draft, take advantage of this feature.
Following on from that last point, you should never, ever say something on the internet that you wouldn’t say in real life, and that you wouldn’t be embarrassed about if your parents read it. While parents were once teenagers themselves, and would understand a lot of what you say and do, they have learnt from experience not to cross that invisible line, and would not want you to do so either. As strange as it sounds, punctuation makes a huge difference when sending a typed message. “Lets’ eat, Grandma” is a lot better than “Let’s eat Grandma”.
You should never, ever write something anonymously. If you don’t have the courage to put your name to it, you should not post it. If you post something anonymously, it simply opens up the opportunity for someone else to also post anonymously and to blame you. Take responsiblity for your words and actions, as you do in the real world.
If you watch sports you will know that often the original offence goes unpunished, and instead the reaction is the one that is noticed. It can be the same online. The original provocation might be interpreted as innocent but your over the top reply might be the one that gets authorities involved. And on that theme, more and more arrests and charges are being made because of online behaviour. In Windsor recently, a 14 yr old girl was arrested for making death threats against another 14 yr old.
Parents can be both a resource and a support system that is under used and under appreciated. Parents know what their children are going through, even if it was many years since they themselves were teenagers. It is so important to be upfront and honest with parents. You may get into trouble but it won’t be half as much as if you had attempted to cover something up and got caught. Parents try to protect children, it is instinctive and natural. Consider creating a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ envelope where you place your usernames and passwords for all your online websites and logins. Parents must promise to never open the envelope unless in an emergency. It comes down to a matter of trust between children and parents. If parents give guidelines, children need to understand that there reasons for it, and they aren’t being punished or restricted for no reason.
On websites such as Facebook, there is an option to block another person so you no longer see their posts. You can also report harassment to Facebook themselves. If you do receive threats, you must print them or save them. They can be used as proof should the need arise. It is also important that cyberbullies aren’t allowed to get away with what they do. If you fail to report them, how will you feel if the next person they bully harms themselves? You aren’t just protecting yourself, you are looking out for others who may be in similar situations.