Cyberbullying is the act of insulting or threatening another person online, with an intent to cause harm or fear. For example, someone may send cruel text messages or emails, create a malicious website about an individual, harass others in chat groups, post inappropriate photos, or make nasty comments on social networking sites.
Unfortunately, cyberbullying has become more common than “traditional” bullying (i.e., bullying in person) with some studies in North America estimating that over 50% of kids have experienced some form of cyberbullying.
Who are cyberbullies?
It is estimated that a third of cyberbullies do not bully kids in person. This means that cyberbullies must be somewhat different than traditional bullies. In fact, research shows they are more likely to be aggressive, and feel that moral standards don’t apply to them in certain situations (e.g., online chat rooms). Because they are not physically in front of the people they are talking to online, they are unable to see how the others are reacting to their words or actions. They are also not receiving the typical negative feedback for bad behaviour, an important part of learning how to treat others. So it is easy to see that cyberbullies feel less empathy (i.e., the ability to feel sorry for others in pain).
Also, it may seem odd, but those who are cyberbullied can also BE cyberbullies. It may also be the case that kids in grades 6-8 (ages 11-13) are more likely to bully.
How can cyberbullying affect my health?
Cyberbullying is different than bullying someone in person because the attacks can follow you into your own home—a place where you are supposed to feel safe. It is understandable then that cyberbullying can have a big impact on your mental health. Being cyberbullied can result in feeling fearful, depressed, anxious, aggressive, and even wishing you were dead. So if you are a victim of cyberbullying, it is extremely important to do something about it.
What are my rights?
In Canada, there is not a specific law in the criminal code for cyberbullying, but that does not mean it is not a crime. Cyberbullying is considered a criminal act if:
(1) a person repeatedly sends you messages, calls, or communicates with you in any way so as to make you fear for your safety; or
(2) a person publicly writes something about you that is intended to insult you or harm your reputation.
Most Canadian provinces are still working to put cyberbullying laws into effect. Nova Scotia is the only province to currently have a “Cyber-Safety Act,” while Ontario has created a “zero-tolerance” policy for cyberbullying in their Safe Schools Act, and will suspend or expel any student caught cyberbullying. In other provinces, a similar policy is still being developed.
What can I do?
Tell someone. Don’t try to deal with this on your own. Parents, homestay parents, guidance counsellors, and teachers are all good choices. If you tell them about it, they will be able to help you decide what steps to take next.
Don’t engage. If you are on the receiving end of a cyberbully, do NOT respond. The only time it is okay to respond would be after the first incident, and your message should clearly say “stop harassing me!” If you continue to be bullied, ignore any further communication (e.g., emails, text messages, chat room comments, etc.), but be sure to keep a record of all of these incidents, including times, dates, and what was said. For example, take a screenshot of what you see on your computer screen, or keep emails in a separate folder. You may need them as proof of bullying.
Contact owners. Many websites and chat rooms have rules that they enforce. There is usually a link on the website to report abusive content, or a contact form, email address, or phone number to directly report the bullying. If you report the offensive content, it will likely be removed from the site, the bully’s account may be deleted, or they may be banned from the chat room. Similar to website owners, Internet service providers (ISPs) and cell phone companies also have rules about how their services can be used. So you can contact your local ISP to find out how an abusive website can be removed, or contact your cell phone company to learn how to block certain numbers from calling or texting you.
For more tips and articles, visit the Ingle International blog.
- Bully Free Alberta. (2006). Cyberbullying. Retrieved from http://www.bullyfreealberta.ca/teens_cyber_bullying.htm.
- Kids Help Phone. (2013). What is cyberbullying? Retrieved from http://www.kidshelpphone.ca/Teens/InfoBooth/Bullying/Cyberbullying/What-Is-Cyberbullying.aspx.
- Kowalski, R.M., & Limber, S.P. (2013). Psychological, physical, and academic correlates of cyberbullying and traditional bullying. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53(1 Suppl), S13–20.
- Menesini, E., Nocentini, A., & Camodeca, M. (2013). Morality, values, traditional bullying, and cyberbullying in adolescence. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 31(Pt 1), 1–14.
- Ortega, R., Elipe, P., Mora-Merchán, J.A., Genta, M.L., Brighi, A., Guarini, A., . . . Tippett, N. (2012). The emotional impact of bullying and cyberbullying on victims: A European cross-national study. Aggressive Behavior, 38(5), 342–356.
- Renati, R., Berrone, C., & Zanetti, M.A. (2012). Morally disengaged and unempathic: Do cyberbullies fit these definitions? An exploratory study. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 15(8), 391–398.
- Sourander, A., Brunstein Klomek, A., Ikonen, M., Lindroos, J., Luntamo, T., Koskelainen, M., . . . Helenius, H. (2010). Psychosocial risk factors associated with cyberbullying among adolescents: A population-based study. Archives of General Psychiatry, 67(7), 720–728.