Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place online in digital spaces from social media to email to text messages and more. Cyberbullies write messages and trolling comments with the purpose to harm the recipient. Just to put some of these concepts in numbers, 36.5% of people in 2022 report to have been cyberbullied. Though most perpetrators and victims are young people, cyberbullying affects all age groups – everyone who uses the internet. Cyberbullying often seems so unjust because the victim cannot actually defend themselves in the moment and effectively tell them to just stop. Often blocking on social media or phone is the only way, but as victims know the cyberbullies are adept at finding other online windows to punch their victims through.
I attended a pretty typical and stereotypical American high school in North Carolina that had the all white jock “popular crowd” in stark opposition to the diverse “unpopular crowd” of BIPOC students and nerds. In Mr. Stephen’s Economics class senior year in 1999, for some reason it was the worst of this dynamic. Mr. Stephen (the teacher!) wanted to be cool with all the white male jocks (who all have since become medical doctors by the way, no joke) so he would let them harass and make fun of the “unpopular” students – all women, BIPOC and one white male nerd during class, every day. Each class I would try to talk those mean boys down, saying “Stop it! Shut up! You think you are cool for putting other people down?” And each class my defense would cause them to stop and sort of snort into their own laughs and look sheepishly at each other. But at least they would be silent for the rest of class.
This memory captures how I have always stood up to bullies in my life, but it is a very different scenario in the cyber-world, where you cannot say “Shut up!” and embarrass assholes in front of each other and their victims. Online the bully retreats into the anonymity of the void and waits it out, only to reemerge for the next punch when nobody is looking – the victim unaware and defenseless. And the bully is always ready to retreat and attack again, and over and over and over. Online the victim exists in a constant state of vulnerability. And cyberviolence and online hate are destroying our democratic institutions, civil society, and trust in one another as human beings worldwide. Cyberbullying can lead to mental health decline (including the rise of teen suicides since the pandemic started), legal action (cyberharassment and online character defamation are in fact crimes), the spread of misinformation (why do we think that politial extremism is on the rise?), and destroyed personal and professional relationships. So, please, stop bullying other people online – you may feel strong when you do, but in fact you only show the entire web that you are a coward. If you were in Mr. Stephen’s Economics classroom in the late ’90s, I would have shut you up by now.
The US Federal government has a website devoted to cyberbullying prevention, I suggest everyone visit it: https://www.stopbullying.gov/