Content warning: Mentions of suicide and self-harm
Cyberbullying brought an end to the cinematic experience of being stuffed in a locker and robbed of your lunch money. Bullying in the digital age is far easier now and requires fewer muscles and intimidation. Cyberbullying made its grand debut in the 1990s when it became far more affordable to keep personal computers and progressed as smartphones hit the market and became hip.
Cyberbullying is defined as “bullying that takes place over digital devices like cellphones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, Text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else.”
The horrifying part about cyberbullying is that it is persistent, permanent and hard to notice. The ability to hide behind a screen has paved way for all kinds of people to be able to bully others. Bullying somebody over the internet no longer requires the physical strength to beat somebody up or the bravery to show your identity. Often, a cyberbullying victim may not even know who the offender is. This newfound anonymity creates a distance between bullies and their decisions.
Although cyberbullying may peak during the years of middle and high school, it does not end there. This may come as a shock to new college students. In fact, college freshmen are very likely to be cyberbullied.
There are six different ways in which cyberbullying can manifest itself: flaming, harassment, denigration, cyberstalking, masquerade and trolling.
Cyberbullying in the form of “flaming” is when an argument occurs online within a direct message on some type of messaging application. In most cases, this includes the usage of some type of severely inappropriate behavior or language in the attempt to evoke a response.
Online harassment refers to sending rude messages repeatedly in the hope of offending the recipient. This also often includes sending some type of unsolicited sexual photos or messages.
Denigration refers to posting and circulating humiliating and/or false information about somebody to harm their social image.
Cyberstalking occurs when somebody attempts to intimidate someone by sending repeated threats. Cyberstalking can potentially cross the line into illegality.
Masquerading refers to creating a fake profile in which one pretends to be somebody else. This type of cyberbullying can also become overly severe to the point where the offender may post private and personal information about the victim online. This includes posting embarrassing photos or videos, obviously without consent.
The sixth type of cyberbullying is trolling. Trolling is when somebody posts content or comments with the intent of baiting other strangers to fight with them online.
While it may seem to be easy to just block a user that sends you degrading content, it is not quite that simple. Cyberbullying does not always mean sending crude messages to the victim personally — at times it can include posting these things or distributing them to multiple people. It is also next to impossible to ever reverse the damage because whatever is posted to the internet is truly permanent.
This can come with horrifying consequences. According to a study from the Cyberbullying Research Center, “…cyberbullying victims were 1.9 times more likely and cyberbullying offenders were 1.5 times more likely to have attempted suicide than those who were not cyberbullying victims or offenders.”
In fact, one of the earliest cases of suicide due to cyberbullying occurred in 2007. Thirteen-year-old Megan Meier had become friends with a “boy” on her Myspace account. It turned out that Meier’s neighbor created this fake account under the name “Josh Evans” and messaged her, until one day “Josh” started sending rude messages, posting their conversations publicly, with the final message reading, “The world would be a better place without you.” Meier hung herself in her closet.
Another horrifying story is that of 18-year-old Jessica Logan. Logan’s ex-boyfriend sent her nude photos around to his circle of friends. These photos then got around to many other students, and Logan continued to be bullied, this time by her peers. Though she sought out help from the school guidance counselor, they were unsuccessful in stopping the name-calling and harassment. Logan also hung herself in her room.
A third story is one about 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, who was a student at Rutgers University. He had just started to become comfortable with his sexual orientation but was still getting used to the idea of coming out. His roommate, Dharun Ravi, pointed his computer’s webcam at Clementi’s bed and secretly recorded a video of him kissing another man. Ravi then shared this video with their classmates. Clementi discovered this video — which had been posted to Twitter — and to his horror, he became the topic of ridicule and humiliation. He then also found out that Ravi had been planning on doing this again. Just a mere few days later, Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge.
The frightening reality is that, alongside these three cyberbullying victims, there are millions of other young adults who share the same horrific ending to their story.
Cyberbullying should be taken seriously, but how can that be done? Somebody that is getting cyberbullied will tend to have a poor quality of sleep and display signs of depression. These students are also more likely to self-harm, have suicidal tendencies and even have a higher chance of participating in violence and delinquency.
That is why it is incredibly important to look for potential signs that your friends or close ones are being cyberbullied. One common sign that somebody is getting cyberbullied includes appearing to be anxious or upset after logging on to some type of social media. This person may also tend to withdraw from social activities and even avoid going to school, causing their grades to suffer.
If you or somebody you know is being cyberbullied, take charge. Block the offender and contact a teacher or some other school official. Be sure to take screenshots and save photos of these incidents. Depending on the severity, you may need to go to the police. Do not be afraid to reach out for help.
There are many resources available to you, and it’s important to know what hotline numbers to call for help.
If you or your friend is struggling, please call The U.S. Bullying Hotline number (this is also the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). This phone number is 1-800-273-8255.