Cyber Bullying, A Persistent Problem

In February of 2011, Rebecca Black released her single “Friday”. The song was originally intended to be something fun for Rebecca and her friends to do, and something they can watch with family on YouTube. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

A little over a month later, and the song finds its way onto social media, immediately being dubbed “The Worst Song Ever”. The YouTube video was suddenly flooded with negative comments, ranging from the mundane:

To the vicious:

And even death threats (which we won’t repost here).

All of this hatred and vitriol just because an aspiring 13 year old singer released a music video.

Now, bullying has been around since time immemorial, but it doesn’t make it any less of a problem. Back then, a bullied person might have to endure psychological and emotional (sometimes even physical) harassment from people in their immediate vicinity. Nowadays, with the instant transmission of data via the internet, you’re looking at a blast radius that is almost infinite: anywhere you go, whether it’s online or IRL, if you’re a target of cyber bullying, you’re a target for life.

Thankfully, our favorite songstress rose above the hate and used that experience to help other teenagers going through what she did. Who else to talk about the worst things about being cyber bullied than someone who went through it herself?

A Persistent Problem

The Germans have a word for that feeling of satisfaction whenever you bully someone: schadenfreude. It describes this feeling of contentment, even pleasure, whenever we see someone else’s misfortune. It’s one way of explaining why people just love being mean to one another.

And it’s even more common than we think: according to a study by cyberbullying.org, more than 70% of students from around the country say that they’ve felt bullied at least once in their life, with 44% of respondents saying they were bullied within the last 30 days.

But those statistics are for real-world bullying, it hasn’t even touched cyber bullying yet. With the advent of technology and the widespread, almost universal, adoption and integration of social media into our daily lives, bullying someone through the internet has become so much easier, more accessible, and more widespread.

Some people think that, because it happens online, it’s not as bad as real-life bullying. However, cyber bullying can actually be worse than real life bullying for a few reasons:

  • Cyberbullying can happen anytime from anywhere.
  • Depending on the platform, the nasty things people say about you can only be removed if the person who posted it chooses to remove it.
  • Unlike real-life bullying, cyberbullying can be harder to spot because typed up comments lack the nuances of voice and human interaction like differences in pitch, body language, sarcasm, etc.

But it gets worse…

“It’s a natural part of life! Get used to it!”

That’s something my father used to tell me when I’d get home and I would tell him about how I was bullied in school. His personal favorites were: “Stand up for yourself!”, “That’s just kids being kids” and my personal favorite: “Stop being so sensitive”.

If he were still around today, I would show him the hard facts: according to Ditch The Label, an NGO dedicated to eradicating cyberbullying, roughly 77% of children from around the world believe that bullying should not be a normal part of growing up.

And it makes sense, why do we want to normalize a practice that is, quite frankly, barbaric? Are there no other ways of teaching someone to stand up for their values other than harassing them physically, mentally, and psychologically?

Cyberbullying doesn’t just apply to kids and teens, mind you. Adults can go through the same kind of online harassment that a high school sophomore might go through. In the adult world, cyberbullying can take on different names, like harassment or even stalking.

The latter is the most prevalent problem amongst adult women. Around the world, 1 in 6 women (and 1 in 19 men) have reported being made uncomfortable online by someone of the opposite gender. In our country alone, 4 out of every 10 American adult has reported being harassed online.

So for someone to say “that’s just kids being kids” to someone who’s been bullied is not only insensitive, it’s factually wrong. By normalizing bullying, it becomes a perennial problem, something that doesn’t go away just because you graduated college and are now working in an office.

If You See Something, Say Something!

Cyberbullying leaves obvious signs and symptoms on its victims, but it does require you looking at someone more closely. Not only will this let you know who to help and comfort, you might even be in a position to intervene.

The National Crime Prevention Center released a pretty detailed list of behavioral changes one might see in someone being bullied online. These may include:

  • Suddenly becoming withdrawn and shy
  • Becoming increasingly agitated and anxious
  • Mood swings and signs of stress
  • Not wanting to go to school
  • Gets into trouble at school
  • Truancy
  • A sudden dip in academic and social performance
  • Avoidance of digital devices
  • Increase/decrease in eating
  • Changing sleep habits
  • Self-harm

Recognizing these signs early on can mean saving a life. Remember: bullying, whether online or in real life, has led people to suicide, or worse, mass shootings.

How Do You Help?

One study showed that 81% of children believe that online bullying is easier to pull off than in real life, this is backed up by the fact that an overwhelming 90% of children who see cyberbullying tend to ignore it.

But that’s slowly starting to change: more and more teenagers in high school are standing up to cyberbullying in various forms, from reporting abusive comments to directly confronting cyberbullies and demanding they stop.

Adults can do their part too. If you see a child being bullied online, there are steps you can take, such as:

As an adult, if you see a kid being cyberbullied, consider doing one of the following:

  • Talk to the child and let them know what cyberbullying is. Let them know that it isn’t right and is definitely not something they should tolerate.
  • Raise the issue with the child’s teachers. Most cyberbullies usually pick on people they know personally.
  • Ask the child’s friends to be more involved. Often, people are paralyzed by bystander apathy. But by engaging everyone to take a more active role in preventing cyberbullying, you’re able to rally an effective defense against future harassment.
  • Report the abusive comments to the respective administrators of the social media platform. Many social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have steps in place to report hateful comments.

Break the Cycle

Cyberbullying is a serious issue, there’s no two ways about it. Despite the strength Rebecca Black has shown throughout her whole ordeal, she’s also admitted to feeling despondent, lonely, hurt, and attacked.

No child should ever go through that. It’s time we stood up and said “no more!” to cyberbullying. And we will not stop until it’s eradicated completely.

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