Cyberbullying – is this a thing?

February 17, 2018

The short answer is of course!  However, what is cyberbullying?  According to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, “Cyberbullying is the use of technology to bully a person or group with the intent to hurt them socially, psychologically or even physically”.  Many young people can fall prey to  cyberbullying through one digital medium or another, with the latest example in the media being the unfortunate death of a young Akubra model Amy “Dolly” Everett who was a victim of this horrible crime. However, cyberbullying is not limited to just young people, adults can also be subjected to the same crime.

 

Cyberbullying works in much the same way as conventional bullying.  It is the use of repeated threats, intimidation, whether implicit or explicit to coerce and pressure a reaction, changing perception and social imbalance to victimise an individual or group.  Cyberbullying occurs in, but is not limited to the following ways:

 

  1. Abusive and derogatory texts and emails

  2. Exclusion of individuals or in groups online

  3. The humiliation of individuals or groups online

 

There are several other ways cyberbullying occurs, and the context of each scenario needs to be understood to provide guidance on mitigation strategies to stop it.

As adults in varying degrees, for the most part, have the necessary tools to deal with cyberbullies or bullies due to experiences from when we were younger, including advice from family and friends over the years and support from our greater networks such as teachers, counsellors, sports coaches and other people of influence.  Children can due to age, be naive when being introduced to and working with the digital world.  The digital world introduces an explosion of information and knowledge to digest and sieve through. The World Wide Web can be an exciting place to learn new things but at the same time can impair the mental state of a child’s mind when needing to be vigilant regarding online conversations, especially when directed/involved.

 

Cyberbullying education and awareness is the key tool in supporting children against cyberbullying. Dealing with cyberbullying is similar to dealing with the bully in the schoolyard, however, dealing with a bully online has some technical advantages.  The following list outlines some key areas that should be at a minimum, discussed with children around the topic of cyberbullying.  The key is to help children build a real resilience and formulate a life skill of dealing with the issue instead of this being just a checklist:

 

  1. You are valued: When a child understands how valued they are, this can help the child to start to develop resilience in understanding that online abuse is not a true representation of themselves. How a child perceives their value will be on a case by case basis.  It is important that at home and at school every family member/student is reminded how special they are and how much value they individually provide the world.

  2. Social media responsibility: education for both teachers and students about social media and the individual responsibilities when posting information online is necessary.  We are in a digital age and schools are moving online more and more.  The key message is for children to stop and think before posting anything on social media.  Exercising restraint and reviewing simple messages or posts prior to publishing them can stop messages being interpreted the wrong way and can also be the difference between being criticised about a message or post or hurting someone else’s feelings.  Educating children on more appropriate writing techniques would be an advantage for effective communication online.

  3. Don't delete messages: the more evidence you have, the better it is for the parents and the legal system to deal with cyberbullying.  Don't delete messages even if they may be embarrassing.  All messages in one way or another can contribute as evidence against the bully when a complaint is raised and actioned.

  4. Be brave and block: one of the most powerful functions that we have at our fingertips is the function of the block button located on social media platforms.  

  5. It is ok to say something: Children must be encouraged to say something when bullying occurs.  School teachers or the school counsellor are a good start.  However, ensure that children know it is okay to go to their parents, and extended family and say something.  Their environment around them needs to provide comfortable assurance, so they feel able to report when cyberbullying is taking place.

  6. Teachers and parents need to act: education in the schools around cyberbullying is critical.  Not only on how to identify cyberbullying but to assist children to have the confidence to report the issue, this is critical in dealing with cyberbullying to enable action to be taken to put a stop to the bullying.

  7. Don't communicate with people you do not know: this goes to the topic of never talk to strangers.   From an awareness perspective, educate children to ask the question, “I do not know this person, am I comfortable telling this person things about me”?

  8. Digital device-free time: everyone needs a break from his or her digital world.  This break is to ensure interaction with humans at a personal level, allow the mind to do something different and to set the precedence for others online, that you are not available 24 hours per day.  A lack of availability online can lead to cyberbullying as some bullies require constant attention.  You are in control of your digital devices. Discipline is key.

 

Parents, children, educational institutions, we all need to work collaboratively to beat this problem and ensure the right messages are going out to both children and adults that cyberbullying is not acceptable, and many avenues can be sought to deal with this problem, and ensure that all options for bullying are removed and deal with the problem at hand. It is never too late to speak up.

 

Focus Cyber Group provides cybersecurity awareness and training and can deliver presentations on cyberbullying to audiences which are interactive and designed for participants to ask any questions they may have that are concerning them about this topic.

 

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