Cyberbullying: A Reality Check for Victims and Perpetrators

Every day, almost 80% of Americans access the internet in some way. Right now, you’re even using it to read this article. Technology has become a major part of people’s daily lives, and a big part of that technology is social media. Different social media sites such as Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and hundreds of others are visited by users at a concerning rate. With more and more online exchanges between individuals, their “online friends”, and “followers”, many positive interactions occur. However, with the positive interactions come a large number of negative interactions, and cyberbullying has become more common with the growing popularity of social media in America.

I’m sure that you have been on social media before, which means you’ve probably seen at least negative interactions taking place on these social media sites. Bullying has always existed and has been a problem everywhere in the world. It’s almost as if human nature has ensured that people will always find ways to tease and put others down. In the past, bullying was much easier to identify and put an end to. Nowadays, it is much more complicated to identify perpetrators and victims in the virtual world as opposed to in person. Technological advancements have allowed people to bully from behind a screen. As social media has become a large portion of many adolescent lives, cyberbullying has also become a part of everyday life. It’s extremely easy for anyone to sit behind a computer screen and say whatever they want on the internet, feeling like nobody will ever know it was them. Many cyberbullies believe their words will be lost on the internet before anyone is affected by them.

But is that really the case?

The short answer to this question is no, that is not the case. And there are many reasons as to why that is.

To begin with, cyberbullying nowadays is actually much worse for the cyberbully than bullying has ever been. Contrary to the past, where bullies could say or do something harmful to another and the only evidence would be witnesses or actual physical marks, the evidence of cyberbullying couldn’t be more clear. Everything that cyberbullies say on the internet is completely cemented as permanent proof of what interactions occurred between the perpetrator and his/her victim. Everything on the internet, including all of the aforementioned social media sites, lasts forever. Yes, even the stuff you’re convinced disappears and vanishes into the abyss. And I know what you’re thinking. “This guy must not know about-”, allow me to cut you off. Because yes even Snapchat, with its disappearing photos and 24 hour chat features, leaves permanent evidence if the situation calls for it. 

To continue, cyberbullying can be just as bad and even more harmful than traditional bullying. It has become a much more personal activity with access to photos, direct messages, and public forums. The ease of being able to bully online behind a screen without feeling any sort of immediate consequence tempts many adolescents and even adults to do and say things online that they would never say to someone in person. This has made cyberbullying an even more harmful occurrence than traditional bullying, as people aren’t afraid to be as mean and personal as they want. 

But why has cyberbullying become such a problem?

A major factor that contributes to the growing problem of cyberbullying is that you no longer have to be the big bad bully to oppress and intimidate others. In the past, there were basically certain height and weight requirements that you had to meet in order to even have the ability to bully others. It’s not like some little kid was going up to someone a foot taller than them and being physically or verbally abusive. There always had to be some sort of power imbalance that was nearly always backed up by a physical advantage. In the online world though, it doesn’t matter how big or small you are or where you sit on the social totem pole. As long as you have some form of technology and social media, which everybody does, you have the ability to cyberbully. 

Also, many online users who cyberbully do so anonymously on an account that they believe cannot be traced back to them. People can make fake profiles or make profiles that have no information about who they are, and they use those accounts to leave comments on profiles, message other profiles, and everything else a normal account could do. The only difference being that their account doesn’t have an identity, or at least a real one. Social media platforms that allow for anonymous communication are more likely to facilitate cyberbullying perpetration than social media platforms that more likely identify the user (Barlett, 2018). Not only that, but many victims of cyberbullying think that they can’t get help because they don’t actually know who the perpetrator is. Johnson (2017) stated that in a study of nearly 4000 youth, 48% of those who were cyber victimized were uncertain of the identity of the perpetrator.

This aspect of cyberbullying on social media contributes to the level of negativity that perpetrators have gotten to. It has become more and more popular to leave nasty comments or ridicule others while completely disregarding the consequences associated because nobody knows who is leaving those comments. While users believe wholeheartedly that their identity is safe and nobody will ever know it’s them spreading negativity throughout the online world, that isn’t the case. In many cases, if the problem becomes big enough and some figures of authority get involved, the anonymous account will be traced back to whoever the perpetrator is.

But how can we prevent cyberbullying?

This seems to be the age old question, despite social media and cyberbullying being relatively new concepts. The key to preventing cyberbullying lies mostly with victims themselves. There are many ways that victims can defend themselves, the problem is that many victims don’t know those strategies. If you’ve been cyberbullied before, the following section should provide you with some useful tips to help prevent future interactions and stop current ones.

A great feature that all social media sites have is the block feature. Users can take any account, whether it be following them or they’re “online friends” or whatever the case, and completely erase its existence from that user’s account. The user will no longer be able to see any comments or posts that the account creates, and essentially the account will no longer exist for the user. This is a great feature for when a random person or stranger is perpetrating online. Although, it may not work if the relationship between the victim and perpetrator is more personal.

If that’s the case, another effective strategy is reporting cyberbullying. Depending on the situation and its circumstances, victims can report to several different authorities whether it be a counselor, the social media site itself, or even the police if threats are made or danger is believed to be imminent. Most social media sites have teams that are active 24/7 that individuals can report cases of cyberbullying to, and the team will take over in reaching a solution. In addition to that, social media sites have also begun to implement anti-bullying technology. This technology analyzes what is being said on these social media sites and can flag content that it deems may be malicious or offensive. These sites can also block certain words and language in order to help prevent cyberbullying on a more general and widespread scale. 

  • Set up privacy settings
  • Be careful about what you post
  • Do not open messages from people you don’t know
  • Block users who have engaged in cyberbullying
  • Report cases to some form of authority

So if you ever find yourself in a situation where you might be a victim of cyberbullying, know that you are not hopeless. There are many different prevention approaches and tools that can help you. And if you happen to be a cyberbully yourself, which some of you reading this are, you’re not as safe as you think.

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