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Bullying has long been an issue and experienced by many people at some point in their lives. Bullies frequently, and ironically, target the perceived weakest person. Often times, people who are being bullied are told to just walk away or ignore the bully, but what happens when the bully infiltrates the internet and uses it as a weapon to continue the harassment?
With the rise of technological advancements, people are now able to do almost anything online; shop, chat, look up information, etc. from almost any type of device; computers, phones, tablets, etc. With all the exceptional things that the internet has to offer, it also has a dark and menacing side that everyone needs to be aware of. Bullies are no longer just at school or hanging out by the mall; they are sitting behind screens and can carry out their devious, self-serving acts from anywhere, at any time.
Long gone are the days of safety and solace found in ones’ home. Cyberbullying began with the rapid development and availability of technology and social media websites. According to Kids Health, “Cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person”. This can encompass anything from sending mean or derogatory text messages repeatedly, to posting untrue or hurtful posts on social platforms. Some common social platforms that can be used to execute these appalling acts are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. Cyberbullies are typically drawn to these types of sites in effort to gain an audience and to further embarrass their victim. Sometimes others will join the cyberbully in the harassment and bullying, almost exuding to a pack mentality. Although these sites try and work to stop these types of incidents, it is extremely difficult to halt them due to the reluctance of the victim to report and the anonymity that the internet allows. The secrecy and readily availability of the internet is part of the enticing aspects that attract conventional bullies to taking their harassment online. It is extremely difficult to try and find out who the perpetrator(s) are due to individuals being able to create fake profiles and screen names.
Cyberbullying is a growing concern, especially amongst juveniles and pre- adolescence. This age group is typically the prime offenders and victims. During this stage of life, many teens are trying to find their own identity, facing peer-pressures such as being popular and accepted, as well as experiencing a little more freedom and independence than they are used to, while trying to push boundaries. Many cyberbullies typically prey upon individuals that they perceive as weak, in effort to make themselves appear strong and cool. They also choose individuals that they feel will not tell about the harassment or will not stand-up for their selves. “Although males participate in cyberbullying, females are usually the main offenders and victims”. According to Kids Health, “This could be attributed to the fact that most males use confrontation in the form of insults and threats, whereas females use passive aggressive actions such as spreading hurtful/harmful lies and gossip”. None the less, the impact of cyberbullying, whether from males or females, can be very detrimental.
Seemingly, many people believe that bullying, whether in person or online, has little to no effect. However, this is far from the truth. Mental, emotional, and psychological health issues can arise due to this type of harassment. Many individuals develop anxiety, depression, lower self-confidence, etc., which could lead to suicidal thoughts/actions. A recent study conducted by the National Institute of Health showed that “victims of cyberbullying have shown to exhibit greater levels of depression than victims of traditional bullying”. Depression can affect individuals in different ways such as, loss of previous interests, detachment from friends and family, lower grades, changes in moods, etc. However, depression is often associated with suicidal thoughts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year”. There have been numerous, tragic stories about teens committing suicide after being bullied online.
One devastating story of how cyberbullying caused extreme depression and eventually took the life an innocent victim is the story of Mallory Grossman. Mallory was a twelve-year-old girl who was continuously harassed and bullied for several months, through text messages, and online social platforms (Snap Chat and Instant Messenger). She was so immersed in her depression that was brought on by the constant ridicule and belittlement she received online (even being told that she should just kill herself), that she eventually thought the only way to stop the torment and suffering was by taking her own life. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. Suicide attempts and successful suicide attempts continue to rise in relation to cyberbullying, yet, many times, the aggressors/cyberbullies are not held accountable for their actions.
Cyberbullying has not always been considered a crime. However, in recent years, with the eruption of many high profile, public incidents such as suicides, mass school shootings and outcries for help, laws have been implemented to help address this issue. In many states, cyberbullying is now considered a crime. However, cyberbullying tends to be more sanctioned towards schools, and typically revolve around bullying that is school related, thus not really taking every type of bullying that may happen outside of school into consideration (although most incidents of cyberbullying come from peers). Also, many of the laws that revolve around cyberbullying tend to fall under pre-established laws such as harassment and stalking. These guidelines can be very difficult to prove and various loopholes within different state statutes can cause misinterpretations and confusion. Recently, there has been more well-defined laws about cyberbullying in several states. These laws and punishments are specifically related to cyberbullying.
One example of these types of laws is the Jefferey Johnston Stand Up for All Student Act. This law basically provides protection to all students from grades K-12 in the area of bullying and specifically includes provisions concerning cyberbullying. According to the Florida Department of Education, “All forms of bullying, including cyberbullying will not be tolerated using school-related or non-school related technology or electronic devices”. This law not only makes special mention of cyberbullying, it also adds protections for cyberbullying that takes place outside of the school environment. Although, cyberbullying laws are present in most states, cases concerning cyberbullying can be extremely hard to prove and prosecute.
However, there are several ways in which individuals can help protect others from experiencing this type of harassment. Some very simple steps can be taken in efforts to combat cyberbullying: Knowledge/awareness, noticing signs, speaking up, and reporting online bullying. In effort to combat cyberbullying, one of the most important steps that can be taken in preventing this type of harassment is to have knowledge/awareness and understanding of what cyberbullying is and what it consists of. Being aware of possible signs that someone is being bullied online also helps. Some possible signs that someone is being bullied online are: fits of rage/anger, anxiety, withdrawing from friends and family, shutting down social media accounts, etc. Speaking up about being a victim or witnessing a person who may be getting cyberbullied is an imperative step in preventing this type of crime. A person who may be a victim of cyberbullying should speak-up and tell a trusted individual such as a parent, teacher, or friend. A person who may be a witness to someone being bullied online should stand-up for the victim or tell a trusted individual. Also, reporting these incidents helps to provide records, if bullying/harassment continues, and needs to be turned over to law-enforcement or appropriate individuals.
I grew up during the era when social media was not as popular as it is today, and dialup internet was enough to discourage anyone from attempting to go online very often (gosh forbid a phone call come through). There were no smartphones, and tablets were not even a thought (Tomagotchi’s and portable CD players were the greatest technological advances at that time). However, I did personally experience traditional bullying in seventh grade. As horrible as that was to endure, I did have the relief of solace at my home. I cannot fathom what pre-teens and adolescents go through when being cyberbullied. The place that should be their comfort and security does not shield them from the harassment, embarrassment, and constant ridicule. As inhumane and morbid as this sounds, I can see why some cyberbully victims contemplate or commit suicide. I know that one of the steps mentioned in efforts to prevent/stop cyberbullying says to report incidents to a trusted teacher/individual. However, this could instigate even more bullying or retribution. I do know that some schools implement counseling and have the infamous “anti-bullying” posters hanging in hallways but often, school officials do very little to help these situations. There is typically very little consequences or reprimand done by the school, and most schools dismiss any type of harassment that is done off school premises and after school hours.
I personally believe that more emphasis on this topic needs to be brought to the attention of policy and law-makers. Harsher punishments need to be implemented in these cases. Nothing about bullying/harassment is a joke or should be casually brushed off as “child’s play”. If most cyberbullying incidents are going to primarily fall on the schools to deal with, then stronger and more strict school policies and punishments should be implemented and enforced. Cyberbullying is an unfortunate and devastating crime that affects many children and adolescents. As technology continues to grow, so will computer crimes such as cyberbullying. Bullying has long been an issue faced by many people, but the access that bullies have to harass their victims through the web, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, puts a whole new meaning behind the saying, “you can run but you can’t hide”. Until everyone of us takes this issue seriously, our youth will continue to live in a cyber-hell.
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