What is ‘Cyberbullying’?

Cyberbullying can be defined as repeated, aggressive and intentional acts by individuals or a group against a specific target victim through a digital device, in the cyberspace.

  • Simply put, cyberbullying is “bullying” that takes place online.
  • Both bullying and cyberbullying usually involve: serious, intentional, and repeated acts of aggression that hurts the victim emotionally, psychologically, socially, or even physically.
  • However, there are some distinctive traits of cyberbullying that exacerbate its potential negative consequences as compared to traditional bullying:
    • With cyberbullying, it is easy for negative content to spread widely, and fast. The Internet allows things to go viral very quickly!
    • Users who commit cyberbullying tend to believe that they can hide behind their screens or remain anonymous and never get caught. As it is harder to notice, this increases the ease of cyberbullying.
    • Cyberbullying can happen at anytime of the day and is not confined to face-to-face interactions, again increasing its ease.
    • Lastly, when cyberbullying happens, the perpetrator does not usually get to see the victim’s emotional reaction, making it appear less serious or painful.

How does cyberbullying occur?

  • As cyberbullying can occur in many ways and forms, it is essential to understand that not all children will call it “cyberbullying”. They may be referring to it in another way, or through their own slang terminology, therefore it is important to watch out and listen to what children and teens are saying. 
  • For e.g., “trolling” is Internet slang meaning intentionally upsetting others online and provoking arguments, which can be a form of cyberbullying and online harm.
  • The methods can vary from one situation to another. Below are several common types of cyberbullying²:
  • Harassment: abusive and offensive texts, emails, and comments posted online
  • Defamation: sharing content that provokes public disapproval or contempt. Sharing untrue, hurtful messages, images or videos to make fun of someone or scarring the good name of another person (e.g. spreading untrue stories about the target, or editing photos of the target in a nasty way and posting them to make them look bad)
  • Impersonation: pretending to be someone else online by hacking into a personal account and posting content on their behalf without consent, or creating a fake account and taking on someone else’s identity, usually involving posting embarrassing, or aggressive content.
  • Exclusion: excluding others online intentionally (e.g. cropping the target out of pictures)
  • Humiliating others online (e.g. posting an embarrassing, private picture of the target without their consent)
  • Nasty online gossip and chat.

Where does cyber bullying normally occur?

  • Cyberbullying can occur in a wide range of ways and platforms online. Below are some of the most common places where cyberbullying occurs:
    • E-mails
    • SMS and text messages
    • Popular social media apps like Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Tiktok…etc.
    • Gaming (that allows for communication with others)
    • Any other digital platform that allows users to communicate, share or view content.

What are the impacts of cyberbullying?

The impacts of cyberbullying on intended victims can be serious and potentially long-lasting.

  • These include more easily observed signs such as declined performance in school, university, or workplace; losing interest or not wanting to go to school, university, or work and skipping days.
  • Other impacts of cyberbullying are less observed including feelings of humiliation, anger and seeking revenge, deterioration in self-esteem, and sense of dissatisfaction with oneself; developing mental health challenges, feelings of loneliness, isolation, anxiety and/or depression
  • In most extreme cases, bullying and/or cyberbullying can lead to severe negative impacts like seeking illegal drugs or developing a drug addiction.
  • Lastly, bullying and cyberbullying can, unfortunately, lead to suicide attempts or an actual commitment to suicide. A new term, “bullycide’ has been coined to define this phenomenon as “when incidents of bullying become so intolerable that the victim ultimately commits suicide by taking their own life.”

With rising numbers of people falling victims to cyberbullying around the world, it is necessary to take all precautions. Find out more about how we can protect ourselves form cyberbullying:


Awareness:

  • Raise awareness about digital citizenship and the values we need to embody both as citizens and as positive digital citizens. This is especially important for younger children as they need to be prepared to know how to interact with others in the digital world.
  • Raise awareness about cyberbullying, what it is, and its consequences, and what to do if one is cyberbullied. Raise awareness that cyberbullying is a criminal offense with serious legal consequences.
  • Stress the fact that if we repeatedly post mean things taking it lightly or jokingly, it will damage our digital footprint forever, even if we delete them.
  • Encourage schools and universities to have a comprehensive anti-bullying policy, that includes cyberbullying.
  • Be aware of signs of cyberbullying to help identify early on when someone is being cyberbullied. These signs may include difficulty sleeping, a change in online habits (such as checking social media constantly), declining grades, not wanting to go to school, feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem. Note that it is not necessary that the victims of cyberbullying always show signs; in fact, there may not be any noticeable signs.

Engagement:

  • For parents and educators, it is essential to understand and engage with what children are doing online and stay updated with the latest apps and platforms they are utilizing.
  • Have regular conversations with children about their use of digital media, and how they feel about it.
  • It is advisable to encourage children to tell their parents or a trusted adult if they see anything hurtful online.

Family agreement

  • It is a good idea to have a family agreement set as soon as children are permitted to use digital media. Part of the agreement could be basic ethics and values such as kindness, respecting one another, and treating one another like we would want to be treated.

Control privacy settings

  • Review privacy settings on apps and websites used and ensure that they are set accordingly. Change passwords regularly.
  • It is always wise to avoid sharing too many personal details, even with our close friends. 
    • We never know what can happen to our relationships; we might no longer be friends with them in the future. For example, victims of cyberbullying can have embarrassing personal details disclosed by someone who was their friend one day!

What should we do if we fall victims of cyberbullying? What should we do if we find out that someone we know is committing cyberbullying? Learn how to manage these situations below.

What should we do if we are cyberbullied?

  • Immediately talk to a trusted adult (parent, teacher, family, or friend)
  • Don’t retaliate or respond—they might use it against you
  • Block the bully (this is almost always possible on social media platforms) and change privacy settings 
  • Keep a copy of evidence on the incident of cyberbullying. Take a screenshot or a picture from a smartphone. 
  • Report to the site administrator through the contact provided if possible.
  • As a last, resort, report the incident to local authorities where the cyberbullying occurred.
  •  Incidents of cyber-bullying can be reported to the police, as cyberbullying is potentially a criminal offense

What should we do if our child or someone we know is committing cyber bullying? (note that we want to avoid calling them “bullies” as this tends to label them and may further aggravate the issue).

  • Talk to the person privately. Kindly and respectfully let them know that what they are doing is wrong and unacceptable, even if this person is a friend (it may not be easy and requires being brave!)
  • Educate the person about why cyberbullying is wrong and what harm it can cause to those being cyberbullied, to themselves, and even to their friends and the wider digital community.

Did you know?

Cyberbullying is not just a “children’s thing”. Sadly, it can even happen in the workplace between coworkers, through emails for example.

Did you know?

Cyberbullying can be even more taunting than face-to-face bullying, as it makes victims feel that they can never escape. The fact that the Internet is now available almost 24/7 in every household makes it even easier to bully others online. Hence while bullying only happens in physical environments, cyberbullying can follow victims anytime and anywhere. This is why we must all collectively work to report cyberbullying offenses.

Did you know?

Cyberbullying has attracted major global attention. The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry have established “The Royal Foundation Taskforce on the Prevention of Cyberbullying”, leading active campaigns to tackle cyberbullying and raise awareness on how to handle it through interactive campaigns such as the “Stop, Speak, Support” campaign. Learn more about it here.