Hurtful comments and unnecessary slurs, trolling and cyberbullying have been a real issue for many years. They appear in many unsettling forms, but are mostly linked to social media. Most of the social networks are trying to fight this problem. For example, TikTok, the most popular platform among teenagers, commented strongly on the topic and tried to find new ways to stop cyberbullies. And there are also many things parents can do to prevent cyberbullying – but first, let’s dive a bit deeper into the topic.
Every single social media post potentially has the power to impact not only the person who created it, but also their friends or followers. Imagine that your child uploads a random selfie, but little do they know it would trigger somebody to comment on it with irrational insults and slurs. This person might be a troll or a cyberbully and may hurt your child. Therefore, awareness is key and the burdens of the online are worth discussing – even with young children.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is a form of psychological harassment when aggressors use any electronic or digital technology. It is intentionally abusive behavior intended to hurt someone, which tends to occur repeatedly and systematically. This term includes various types of online abuse that can take place anywhere from online forums to videogames. There are many types of cyberbullying, even though the signs may not be obvious at first glance.
The so-called catfishing, fraping, outing, and cyberstalking are only a few examples. Cyberbullies can be even harder to escape than bullies in school. Also, as the content used for cyberbullying might had been saved and redistributed, it is often impossible track it down fully. The notion of so many people being able to view bullying content, and the feeling of insecurity, helplessness or shame that accompanies it can be psychologically devastating. Studies conducted by the Journal of Adolescent Health show that children affected by cyberbullying are more likely to experience depression than victims of common bullying.
In recent years, a large part of education has moved to the online environment. Children now spend more time on the internet, and face even greater risk of being cyberbullied. According to the American Counseling Association, some anonymous cyberbullies have no real motive, and slander others on social media just for “fun”. It is easier said than done, but it is important to bear in mind that, generally speaking, cyberbullying has nothing personal to do with the victim. On the contrary, it is mainly motivated by the bullies’ issues, and by the ways in which they seek to reconcile them.
The lure of anonymity
Social media such as Instagram and Facebook have become the most common places for cyberbullying. Why do so many people, including kids and teens, systematically hurt their peers online, even though they might never be so daring as to do it face to face?
We can look for answers in studies conducted by the renowned psychologist Philip Zimbardo. Participants of the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment who had their faces covered indulged in worse behaviors than their associates whose identities were not hidden. A similar concept applies to social media.
How is it possible that people act differently when they’re online? The answer is the disinhibitory effect, which is typical for online communication. It describes a kind of uncontrolled and far too relaxed behavior that is due to a limitation on the ability to empathize with their communication partner because they are not able to see them, as well as a perceived anonymity and a feeling like the person (the bully) is immune to any consequences of their behaviour. Also, the communication is asynchronous, it does not take place in real time, and is immune to interruption. The disinhibitory effect intensifies or triggers many forms of online aggression – from cyberbullying and hate speech to trolling.
If your child falls victim to cyberbullying, they should not remain silent. Sharing what is on their mind with someone they trust is the first important step to resolving the situation. Teachers, close friends, and especially family members can prevent the problem from getting worse.
Read more: Is your child being cyberbullied? These are the red flags