A part of our mission at Presence Global is to use our technology and voice to promote solutions to the disease of cyberbullying. This two-part series of articles is about cyberbullying and what you can do to protect against it or correct the situation if it has intruded into your life or the life of someone you care about. This article is Part 1 of a 2-part series on the cyberbullying crisis. Part 1 describes the crisis and its signs.
After defining cyberbullying and crisis, we outline the present crisis, its symptoms and consequences, and constructive responses. Part 2 of this series is a collection of resources that, in turn, contain an abundance of information, both prescriptive and statistical for various demographics, and links to specialized subsections of focus. Through the information in Part 2, you can better understand cyberbullying and see that a growing number of people, from school groups to governments at different levels, and private institutions, are creating solutions.
Cyberbullying is bullying inflicted through communications technology. Cyberbullying has layers that, working together, constitute a difficult and unacceptable situation:
- The hardware of cyberbullying is smart phones or computers, servers that host software that gets abused for cyberbullying, and the worldwide communications networks that link them all.
- The software of Cyberbullying can be anything from the underlying communications software to apps for globe-spanning social media, to short message service (SMS), multimedia message service (MMS), or text, which people use in online social media, forums, and online gaming—wherever people can view, participate in, or share words or visuals.
- The acts of Cyberbullying include targeting, posting or sharing harmful, humiliating, false, hateful, or threatening content about a person or group of people. It even includes creating fake social media account using in victim’s name. Cyberbullying is unlawful and can cause the bully’s account to be terminated or lead to criminal prosecution. Every state in the U.S. has laws related to cyberbullying, and 44 of those states have statutes for criminal prosecution of cyberbullies, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center. This site lists the cyberbullying laws by state and by application (e.g., criminal, sanctions for in-school or off-campus, etc.).
At a personal, national, or global level, cyberbullying is now a crisis. If you doubt this, consider that it is common in America for people who share scientific and medical facts or studies, historical facts, or U.S. law to receive death threats by phone or the internet from strangers. Some young people have been bullied by killing themselves, as Part 1 and Part 2 of this series document.
Cyberbullying happens in different demographics, not just to teenagers.
- According to Broadband Search, 37% of internet users have experienced cyberbullying.
- A staggering 87% of young people have observed online cyberbullying.
- Bullyingstatistics.org states that over 50% of teenagers have been cyberbullied online.
Keeping in mind that cyberbullying is a crisis, also understand that its effects can be long-lasting. The government website Stopbullying.gov describes how cyberbullying differs from the historical, face-to-face bullying:
- Persistent: Digital devices offer an ability to communicate 24 hours a day. This availability can make it difficult for children and teens who experience cyberbullying to find relief. Ideally, adults have the abilities and boundaries to find relief, but this is not always the case.
- Permanent: Most information communicated electronically remains public if it is not reported and removed. A negative online reputation (including the bully’s reputation) can impact college admission, employment, and other aspects of life.
- Easy to Overlook: Cyberbullying does not usually happen in front of employers, parents, teachers, or others on school staff. The hidden nature of cyberbullying is the reason that the adults in charge fail to see it and for cyberbullies to feel emboldened.
When hurtful comments are posted, they can affect a person’s reputation; an online persona might falsely represent the actual person and become very problematic when they apply to college or for a job.
In addition, the consequences of bullying can haunt the cyberbully’s conscience or opportunities. For example, after reports about Mitchell Miller’s past bullying behavior were verified, a National Hockey League team, the Arizona Coyotes, renounced their draft pick of Mitchell Miller.
After the initial humiliation, despair, anger, or depression that a cyberbully intends, the victim’s trauma continues. Victims often feel very alone, isolated, and insecure, and these feelings intensify the initial pain. Many cases of anxiety, depression, and suicide can be traced to cyberbullying.
The phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800 273 8155.
In 2016, Netflix released a documentary named Audrie & Daisy (available for streaming from Netflix and YouTube as of this writing). It documents sexual assaults on two girls in their mid-teens in two different towns. Daisy Coleman lived in Maryville, Missouri. Audrie Pott lived in Los Altos, California. Audrie Pott endured cyberbullying for eight days before committing suicide. Daisy Coleman endured shaming and cyberbullying for eight years before committing suicide. Their story is significant and revealing about the victims and their cruel re-victimization in a supposedly civilized country. Resources with many details and updates to their stories and other stories are Part 2 of this series.
The telling of this tragedy would not be complete unless we reminded you that a teenager’s brain loses good judgment much faster than an adult brain, and the same is valid for the progression of addiction. Inebriation (with or without the presence of a date-rape drug) was key to the girls’ vulnerability, which the boys counted on as they pressured the girls to drink. Two probabilities for the girls are necessary to consider: If they had not been pressured into drinking alcohol, they would have had a chance to reject sexual pressure, so the subsequent humiliation by schoolmates and adults would not have happened. Without the pressure to drink on the fateful nights, the lives of the girls and the boys likely would have been different.
Complicating our wish to help is that the target of cyberbullying or the bully might hide the bullying. Therefore, it’s essential to know the signs of cyberbullying.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) lists the behaviors that indicate someone is being cyberbullied, that is, if they:
- Becomes sad or angry after using their phone
- Withdraws from family and friends
- Lacks desire or shows reluctance to engage in previously enjoyable activities
- Has a mysterious decline in grades
- Hesitates to go to school or to a specific class
- Starts self-reporting illnesses and expressing a wish to stay home
- Shows prolonged signs of depression or sadness
Check-in with someone who seems uncharacteristically negative. Victims should not be ashamed to discuss their traumas, so it is essential for family or friends to have a welcoming, non-threatening conversation about cyberbullying. Keep in mind the conversation skills and encouragement that Seize the Awkward offers.
Similarly, know the signs of someone who is cyberbullying others. According to Broadband Search, cyberbullies will:
- Stop using their computer or phone when someone comes near them
- Look nervous or jumpy when online
- Be secretive about what they are doing online
- Spend an excessive amount of time on a computer
- Become angry or upset when Internet access is removed (truer for minors than adults)
Blocking, unfollowing in social media, and muting the accounts that launch cyberbullying are helpful ways for the victim to disengage from a cyberbully, but these steps might not suffice. To mitigate or stop cyberbullying, we need to involve more friends and family early as online observers so they can quickly defend those they care about—no more standing by—to stop the bullying or reduce the harm. If you observe or suspect someone is being harassed, stalked, or bullied online, contact that person, offer help, and assure them they are not alone. Likewise, if you suspect someone is the bully, reach out to that person, initially in a non-hostile way, until you see whether they are honest or evasive. See Part 2 <link to Part 2> of this series for further guidance and links to many resources so you can become prepared to cope with cyberbullying.
Presence Global offers an app for creating an online support network. Our Hive app is a community app, not a social app. When a hive member begins to post negativity, other members in the Hive get an alert and receive options to call, text, WhatsApp message (or better yet, the Signal app because of its assured privacy [www.signal.org]), or otherwise reach out. For a description of Hive, see the “Our Hive Feature for Supporting Each Other in Times of Conflict” post.
Talking about mental health is an excellent place to y initiating the dialogue can be difficult in certain situations. Fortunately, guidance is available. Seize the Awkward (https://seizetheawkward.org) provides conversation starters and tips and has a section with encouragement from public figures widely known to young people. Many more resources are available from NAMI and Stopcyberbullying (select the Resources tab).
Documenting all the instances and details of bullying is particularly important. Making detailed notes, saving messages, doing screen captures, and recording dialogue and video (such as with Quicktime Pro or a similar app) can build a robust case against the bully or bullies for presentation to police agencies or school administrators. Seeing the evidence, authorities can become more empathetic and willing to act.
Presence is looking to partner with organizations to help raise awareness and support the fight against cyberbullying. If your organization is interested in partnering with us, contact us!
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