The new age of communications technology has made an entire world of information available at our fingertips. With the onset of social media, individuals can connect with co-workers, classmates and even strangers on the other side of the globe in ways that were not possible even a decade ago.
But while the ease and availability of internet access has made communications simpler, it has also given rise to the phenomenon known as “cyber bullying”.
What is cyber bullying, exactly? And how does it compare with ‘traditional’ bullying at school or work?
While many sources vary on the specifics, they all agree that the core of cyber bullying involves the act of mean-spirited communication broadcast to all and sundry using digital technology.
Cyber bullying can appear in a variety of forms, including:
- Continued and relentless text bullying where the participants know each other
- Anonymous messages posted on a message board or forum
- Racist, sexist and/or homophobic rhetoric made through social media.
A good rule of thumb would be to consider cyber bullying as the kind of behaviour that would be considered unacceptable in “real life”, but it is communicated digitally using a smartphone, email or online chat.
Studies conducted in Australia explored the depth of bullying and cyber bullying on and off school campuses, and have found:
- 30.5% of students have reported being victims of bullying in person compared to 14% experiencing cyber bullying
- 7% of students have reported being subjected to both
- The vast majority of bullying victims and their tormentors (83%) knew each other in real life.
Why Cyber Bulling? The Anonymity Factor.
When you browse social media and online message boards, it becomes very easy to see people online as names and numbers as opposed to human beings with lives, feelings and goals of their own.
Combined with anonymous messaging (and with it, no fear of reprisal) and it becomes very easy for some people to say things they would not in the outside world.
Cyber bullies do not physically see the people they bully and the devastating effects of words on them, making it easier to deliver criticism and nasty messages.
The Effects of Cyber Bullying
While much cyber bullying stems from bullying in the real world, the ability for tormentors to continue pursuing their victims outside of school (online) can present a serious issue for vulnerable teenagers.
Furthermore, with message boards, social media, video games permeating our lives where there’s internet connection, cyber bullying can present itself anywhere at any time. This can mean that the targeted have no way of escaping their bullies. Worse, parents or teachers may be unaware of the bullying.
The fact that it can occur with an audience up to and including the entire world only empowers the bullies, making cyber bullying even more damaging and harmful than traditional bullying.
What to do about Bullying in the Digital Age
In recent years, various local governments in Australia have recognised the existence of cyber bullying and have funded legislation and agencies to deal with this new phenomenon.
Find out how being assertive can help with protecting yourself against bullying – Assertiveness: The Benefits of Being Assertive.
The exact legislation varies across the Commonwealth, but many of them have laws set up to deal with the most severe forms of cyber bullying such as:
- Encouraging suicide.
If you are a parent concerned and you’re concerned your child is a victim of cyber bullying, then act fast. Here are some actions to take:
- Talk with your child
- Supervise the websites your children visit
- If online games are involved, ask about the online communities
- Introduce internet filters
- Ban the internet at certain times of the day
- Speak to the school principal and/or counsellor
- Speak to a child psychologist.
You may also be interesting in the following information:
Remember, bullying does not become acceptable just because it is online.
If you have taken steps to curb bullying issues experienced by your family and feel you need more help, it may be time to speak with a child psychologist.
We have trained specialists who can help introduce strategies to restore confidence in your child, and to keep your family safe and informed about the internet and cyber bullying.