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Cyberbullying – What is it?

Cyberbullying has significant social, physical and psychological impacts, which is why the Center of Disease Control considers it a public health concern. Years ago, a schoolyard bully was a student’s worst nightmare; anybody born before 1990 likely can identify with this statement. Now, there’s a second, possibly more dangerous bully; cyberbullies. Cyberbullies can be obvious, remain anonymous, create fake profiles, and can strike at all hours of the day and night on multiple platforms. With minimal effort, they can threaten, taunt, harass and humiliate their target, causing severe emotional distress that, in some instances, bullying has even led to suicide. According to board certified child, adolescent and adult psychiatrists and the Center for Disease Control, suicide is the second leading cause of death for American teenagers and young adults. Cyberbullying is considered a contributing factor. But what is cyberbullying, how does it happen and how did it grow into a phenomenon?

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology to harass, threaten, intimidate, humiliate and target victims. Cyberbullying is basically the electronic version of bullying. It occurs when an individual engages in bullying through the use of any electronic communication device, including a phone, computer, camera, e-mail, instant message, text message, chat room, social media, website or other form of electronic communication. Some examples of cyberbullying could include:

  • Sending viscous text messages, emails or instant messages about a student
  • Spreading rumors or gossip by posting it to social networking sites
  • Taking and sending embarrassing pictures or videos without permission
  • Creating a fake profile and pretending to be another student

The growth of cyberbullying mirrors the speed of invention. In other words, as new technology which is utilized as a communication tool is developed, the users of those tools make decisions on how to use them. One of the current primary methods of transmitting these communications is through social media. Although social media is merely a communication tool, social media created opportunities and avenues for bullies to seize upon. Let’s quickly look at the rise of social media from its birth to present date.

In 1997, the first true social media site was born, it was called SixDegrees.com, where a profile page was created and messaging occurred within networks. In the year 2000, a site was created where users could submit photos of themselves so other persons could rate their attractiveness; what could go wrong? Friendster in 2002 started strong, but its servers had various issues which left the door open for Myspace and LinkedIn in 2003. The Facebook (not a typo) launched in 2004, changing to “Facebook,” in 2005. In this time-period, a large number of other social media sites launched and went live, including YouTube (2005) and Twitter (2006). Hashtags (#) became useable symbols to promote awareness on social issues, in 2007. Digital culture changed with the uses of emoji’s, which first appeared in 1999 but became a staple by 2010. Instagram was introduced in 2010, Snapchat in 2011. In 2014 Twitter promoted the “Year of the Selfie,” and Paris Hilton is widely referred to as the inventor of the selfie.

The primary method of utilizing social media is through cell phones. Cell phones also are utilized to transmit text messages, take and share video/pictures, leave voice messages, place calls and access the internet. Of all the tools available to people, it is my opinion that the cell phone is the primary device for transmitting cyberbullying communications; followed by laptops, tablets and computers. Social media is one vehicle on the roads paved by phones and computers.
For school age victims, cyberbullying can occur anywhere, including outside of school property. It is safe to say, a large part of cyberbullying occurs when victims are at home or other non-school related functions. We will cover the law and punishment of these occurrences in blogs to follow. Here are some interesting statistics you may not otherwise be aware of.

According to www.stopbullying.gov:

  • 1 in 10 boys cyberbullied
  • 1 in 5 girls cyberbullied

Places Where Cyberbullying Occurs (per www.stopbullying.gov)

  • 71% chance a Cyberbullying incident will occur on FACEBOOK
  • 52% chance a Cyberbullying incident will occur on INSTAGRAM
  • 41% chance a Cyberbullying incident will occur on SNAPCHAT
  • Statistics on TikTok still being accumulated

How are kids cyberbullied? (per www.stopbullying.gov)

  • Mean or hurtful comments online 23%
  • Rumors online 20%
  • Posted mean names or comments online with a sexual meaning 13%
  • Threatened to hurt me online 12%
  • Threatened to hurt me through a cell phone text 12%
  • Posted a mean or hurtful picture of victim online 11%

Posted by Jammy Kiggundu, Attorney, Social Advocate and Cyberbullying Expert on 8 Oct 2020