Cyberbullying: The Dark Side of the Internet
A recent study suggests that 95% of teenagers use the internet, and out of these, 81% of these are on social media. Although social media can be used for many harmless activities including talking to and sharing information with friends and family, more and more children teenagers are being targeted by cyber bullies. In fact, Internet security firm McAfee polled 2,000 UK teens and found over a third of 11 to 17-year-olds had been targeted by malicious online bullies — this number has doubled since 2013.
What causes cyber bullying?
Cyber bullying can be caused by the same triggers that cause any other type of bullying. The individual may act in a malicious way for any of the below reasons:
- They have insecurities themselves and feel that taking their frustrations out on others can help their own self esteem
- They have been peer pressured into behaving this way by their social group and do it to ‘fit in’
- They have little concept of how their actions can affect others and feel that this is ‘the norm’
- They feel they have anonymity online and so they cannot be reprimanded
What are the effects of cyber bullying?
Cyber bullying can have an immense psychological effect on the victim. Despitesupport offered from family, teachers and support organisations, many victims feel like they are alone in their suffering and don’t want to speak out in fear of it getting worse. This can lead to isolation, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and in some extreme cases, self-harming and suicide.
How can it be prevented?
The main form of prevention is education. This can start at school, where teachers can educate pupils on the misuse of online communication and the punishment involved. Many schools find it hard to take action as the events take place out of school hours and off of school premises and can often be sued for exceeding their authority. To prevent this, Stopbullying.org recommend that a provision is added to the school’s acceptable use policy reserving the right to discipline the student for actions taken off-campus if they are intended to have an effect on a student or they adversely affect the safety and well-being of student while in school. This makes it a contractual, not a constitutional, issue.
Deletecyberbullying.org also provide some great tips on how to prevent cyberbullying before it starts:
Make the most of privacy settings. Investigate what measures you can take to keep content private on the websites you use. On Facebook and other social networking sites, you can adjust your settings so that only the people you select are able to see your personal information and posts. It’s important to check these privacy settings frequently, because sites sometimes change their policies.
Think before you post. Never forget that the internet is public. What you put out there can never be erased. If you wouldn’t say something in a room full of strangers, don’t say it via internet. Even letting someone know sensitive or embarrassing information about you via email can have unforeseen consequences.
Keep personal information personal. Don’t reveal identifying details about yourself — address, phone number, school, credit card number, etc. — online. Passwords exist for a reason; sharing them with friends is like passing out copies of your house key to friends and strangers alike. If anyone besides you knows your passwords, it should be your parents and your parents only.
How can it be dealt with?
For parents, the main role is to provide support and to not over-react — something that many children are frightened of. Stopcyberbullying.org provides sound advice for parents:
It is crucial that all electronic evidence is preserved to allow the person to be traced and to take whatever action needs to be taken. The electronic evidence is at risk for being deleted by the Internet service providers unless you reach out and notify them that you need those records preserved. Using a monitoring product, like Spectorsoft, collects all electronic data necessary to report, investigate and prosecute your case (if necessary). While hopefully you will never need it, the evidence is automatically saved by the software in a form useable by law enforcement when you need it without you having to learn to log or copy header and IP information.
If you are being bullied, the golden rule is to not retaliate. This will only make the problem worse and can put you at risk of being punished too.
Instead, Helpguide.org recommend responding to cyberbullying by:
- Saving the evidence of the cyberbullying, keep abusive text messages or a screenshot of a webpage, for example, and then reporting them to a trusted adult, such as a family member or teacher. If you don’t report incidents, the cyberbully will often become more aggressive.
- Reporting threats of harm and inappropriate sexual messages to the police. In many cases, the cyberbully’s actions can be prosecuted by law.
- Being relentless. Cyberbullying is rarely limited to one or two incidents. It’s far more likely to be a sustained attack on you over a period of time. So, like the cyberbully, you may have to be relentless and keep reporting each and every bullying incident until it stops. There is no reason for you to ever put up with cyberbullying.
- Preventing communication from the cyberbully by blocking their email address, phone number, and deleting them from social media contacts. Report their activities to their internet service provider (ISP) or to any web sites they use to target you.
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