No one wants to see their child being bullied. As bullying becomes more and more prevalent in the media, it has become obvious that bullying no longer just takes on the “Steal your lunch money” tactics of past generations. So who is a cyberbully?
Cyberbullying is, in many ways, more intense than in-person bullying. Cyberbullying acutely targets a child’s insecurities, making the emotional and psychological bruises far more permanent than the traditional punch or swirly. Cyberbullying allows bullies to feel anonymous, freeing them up to say harsher, more pervasive things than they might say in person. Cyber bullies generally face fewer consequences- unlike in a traditional school context, there are no adults monitoring for signs of abuse on a regular basis, so unless a parent, guardian, or school official is tipped off to the problem, it can go unpunished for a substantial amount of time.
The biggest difference between online attacks by a cyber bully and the tactics of bullies in the past is that it does not go away. A cyberbully seems inescapable to victims because the bullies can access them 24/7– at home, in school, anywhere the victim can access the internet from.
Many lawmakers are coming up with new ways to prevent or punish cyberbullying. One of the most difficult issues with cyberbully prevention and online safety mechanisms is that they are unpredictable. Many who cyberbully do follow a certain pattern, though, and one that adults can easily recognize. The most effective thing for parents, guardians, and teachers to handle this trend is to know what to look out for. Here are the ten most often used tactics to watch out for if you suspect someone is bullying your child online.
E-mail Threats- The most aggressive form of cyberbullying, threats make it explicit that physical or social harm will come to the recipient unless they comply with a bully’s demands. These can span from threatening to tell embarrassing secrets to threats of abuse or murder. E-mail threats may come explicitly from a cyber bully or from an anonymous e-mail address, depending on what tactic the bully thinks will be scarier.
Flaming– When people get into heightened or heated arguments in an online forum, flaming- harassment and profanity taken to an extreme level in public- can occur. Flaming can go off the message boards, leading to continued harassment on social media and explicit accusations between the arguers. When flaming goes offline, into the real world, it can be overwhelming to victims, creating feelings of being ostracised or left out.
Exclusion– Taking a page out of the traditional bullying book, exclusion depends on ostracising a child from events going on online. This can take the form of not “inviting” a child into a certain page or chatroom, deleting a person’s comments repeatedly so they are not heard, or just deliberately ignoring a child’s presence in the online community.
When done maliciously, excluding a tween or teen in an online context can lead to them feeling worthless or outside the group. Exclusion is a hard tactic to prove because it is not overtly targeted at a student- rather than doing something, the cyberbully in this instance omits actions.
Outing– Outing is the act of making privately shared information (via emails, pictures, texts, or other communication) public knowledge. For example, if one girl messages another girl regarding a crush, and the recipient then forwards to message to the crush in question or other people who are not privy to the information, that’s an outing.
The outing is one of the most prevalent forms of online bullying because of the ramifications they take on. News stories discussing outing in terms of sexuality or orientation have led to teens committing and attempting to commit suicide. Students who are outed can feel massive amounts of humiliation that can be exacerbated by the situations that the child is in (such as the family’s religious and cultural feelings towards homosexuality and other issues).
Phishing– One of the tactics used to create outings is phishing, or tricking teens into revealing personal information to strangers or friends online through a series of lies or deceptive messages. For adults, phishing is a threat because it can lead to identity theft, resulting in fraudulent charges, financial ruin, and other massively difficult factors. For teens, phishing is much more of an emotional attack, looking to get embarrassing pictures or information for the sake of humiliating and using the target.
Harassment– In terms of cyberbullying, harassment relates to teens repeatedly receiving hurtful personal messages in an online context. Harassment can include phishing, flaming, impersonating, e-mail threats, exclusion, or any other repeated offence. Harassment can be misunderstood to be “just joking” and thus is not taken nearly as seriously as the impacts of harassment suggest it should be.
Impersonation (Imping)- Bullying at its most extreme, is when a bully impersonates the victim online, creating a false profile or pretending to be the victim saying embarrassing, lewd or mean things in order to create a bad image of them online. Much of the legislation about cyberbullying now responds to the idea of impersonating, due to more than one instance of suicide after someone has been “imped.”
Image Dissemination– Used through text or e-mail, this is the passing around of humiliating photos of the victim to everyone he or she knows. Image dissemination is especially dangerous when it is in the context of private photos, including nudity and sexual content. When those images are disseminated to a minor, they technically fall under the codes regarding child pornography and can put the cyberbully in jail for a long time.
Happy-Slapping- Like image dissemination, this is the publication of images and videos of an unknowing victim online to embarrass them. Several teen suicide cases are linked to Imping and Happy-Slapping because it destroys a reputation at an extremely volatile age, as well as because happy slapping and imping are not things that can easily be taken offline; the information can be accessed long after the initial bullying has stopped.
Cyberbullying is not going to go away. It is critical for parents, teachers, and administrators to work together to build an awareness of the ways a cyberbully operates and how these methods can be shut down. When prevention methods are in place in the school and home environments, children are safer and less likely to do themselves extreme physical and emotional harm. Safety is the number one concern for any parent, and safety has just as much of a place online as it does in the physical world.