In the context of a rapidly and highly digitized global environment, online bullying, otherwise known as cyberbullying, has become a prevalent issue. Using electronic means and online platforms to engage in harassment often under cover of anonymity, the problem is especially affecting younger populations. Cyberbullying can have significant consequences on par or greater than traditional physical bullying. It is vital to consider the extent and effect of online bullying and implement measures on various levels which address this serious social problem.
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Online bullying is difficult to define since the context of Internet interactions often encompasses rough humor or toxic environments, which, although concerning, do not represent cyberbullying. Furthermore, similar to regular bullying, it also encompasses social elements that academic research must define in the context of psychological and legal concepts. Cyberbullying is defined as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phone, or other electronic devices” through the use of textual, visual, and oral communication for the purposes of abusing, coercing, or intimidating an individual (Espelage, Hong, & Valido, 2018, p. 65).
Similar to regular bullying, cyberbullying must meet the criteria of intent, harm, repetition, and imbalance of power, but these have different considerations in the digital space. For example, in online bullying, the repeating pattern of online attacks may not be as obvious to an external observer. However, a hurtful single post or comment can become viral due to the ease of public accessibility, and anyone who chooses to share or “like” it essentially contributes to repeated attacks on the victim (Patchin & Hinduja, 2015).
Internet is a gray area in cyberbullying as the online environments of discussion, gaming, and others can create a feeling of distance between people, especially if anonymous. Furthermore, there are numerous instances of taunting or social traditions in gaming, which may seem aggressive, but do not ultimately hold the intent to seriously harm another individual. In this case, it is common to refer to criminal law, which suggests that an individual must engage in a wrongful act with a guilty mind, and intent to harm.
Finally, the aspect of harm is most difficult to define within online bullying since there is no evident response or physical damages which may occur in real-life bullying. Harm depends on the perceptions of the victim and can vary in effect from social shunning to mental problems, which will be discussed later. Harm in its concept and operationalization of bullying must be assumed to be the truth when discussed by the victim, considering that online bullying has real-world consequences (Patchin & Hinduja, 2015).
Extent and Effect of Online Bullying
Cyberbullying has been recognized as a critical public health concern in the United States by the CDC. It is considered a digitized version of peer-to-peer aggression, which has become the norm as technological advancements and availability allows great access of adolescents to online communication platforms (Espelage et al., 2018). Research indicates that 59% of US teens have experienced a form of cyberbullying, with the majority (42%) facing offensive name-calling and a lesser amount (32%) are a victim of false rumors spread online (Anderson, 2018).
Online bullying can have worrying effects and consequences on victims. Youth that experiences online harassment has report health problems such as difficulty with sleep, frequent headaches, and abdominal pains.
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Psychological problems and symptoms of conditions including stress, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation are common (Selkie, Fales, & Moreno, 2015). Both victims and perpetrators suffer from self-esteem, loneliness, poor life satisfaction, which, in turn, leads to conduct problems, substance abuse, and emotional instability. Participants and victims of cyberbullying are likely to experience poor performance in academics and potentially experience far-reaching effects such as lackluster success in jobs and need for psychiatric medication later in life (Lancaster, 2018).
Discussion and Solutions
It is important to consider that although there are similarities in the causes, process, and consequences between real-world and online bullying, the electronic medium has unique features which make this so challenging to address. Online presence results in a limitless audience in the public domain, the permanent mark of the bullying since it is impractical to delete all records of something from the Internet, and the numerous methods of anonymity which can be employed by the bully.
The Internet is so expansive and a tremendous part of a modern person’s life, it essentially destroys any limits on time and space where an individual can be bullied (Selkie et al., 2015). Referring back to the aspect of repetition, harm, and intent cyberbullying amplifies these aspects, which can have much more profound effects on the developing psyche of adolescent victims in particular.
It is difficult to pinpoint a solution to such a complex and abstract issue. A range of interventions has been implemented or encouraged to curb cyberbullying. The primary is parental control and filtering, which allows identifying early any exposure to only bullying. Online platforms have become actively participating by also filtering and removing content, improving reporting guidelines, and implementing stricter control and regulation policies.
Providing educational materials and opening safety centers are also effective solutions (Topcu-Uzer & Tanrıkulu, 2018). Comprehensive programs in schools meant to normalize behavior, influence attitudes, and shape healthy social norms and communication, along with emphasizing the responsibility and consequences of negative online presence, have also proven effective (Lancaster, 2018).
The provided evidence suggests the significant extent of online bullying in the modern digital world. The effects and consequences on victims can be profound. It is also evident that the current systems in place to prevent cyberbullying are lacking. Going forward, as younger generations raised in the digital age become active online, policy and protective measures must be implemented to limit the impact and presence of cyberbullying.
Anderson, M. (2018). A majority of teens have experienced some form of cyberbullying. Web.
Espelage, D. L., Hong, J. S., & Valido, A. (2018). Cyberbullying in the United States. In A. Baldry, C. Blaya & D. Farrington (Eds.), International perspectives on cyberbullying (pp. 65-99). Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.
Lancaster, M. (2018). Systematic research synthesis on cyberbullying interventions in the United States. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 21(10), 593-602. Web.
Patchin, J. W., & Hinduja, S. (2015). Measuring cyberbullying: Implications for research. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 23, 69-74. Web.
Selkie, E. M., Fales, J. L., & Moreno, M. A. (2016). Cyberbullying prevalence among US middle and high school-aged adolescents: A systematic review and quality assessment. Journal of Adolescent Health, 58(2), 125-133. Web.
Topcu-Uzer, C., Tanrıkulu, I. (2018). Technological solutions for cyberbullying. In M. Campbell & S. Bauman (Eds.), Reducing cyberbullying in schools: International evidence-based best practices (pp. 33-47). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier.