Cyberbullying is an act most of us are familiar with. Knowing what it is, who’re involved, and its harmful effects to targets are easy enough to identify; but do you know that cyberbullying is surrounded by misconceptions, too? In this post, we have identified six of these myths, explained why they’re worth discrediting, and lastly, provided ways to nip cyberbullying in the bud.
Myth #1: Bullying, whether done face-to-face or online, only negatively affects the target.
This may seem like an obvious and accepted truth; however, several medical studies have shown otherwise. Both the offended and the offender experience emotional, physical, and social issues as a direct result of bullying and such effects have been consistently observed across youths in different countries, which includes headaches, recurrent stomach pains, feeling unsafe whether inside or outside the home, and difficulty sleeping at night.
Perhaps the most harmful consequence of being targeted, especially in the case of teens, is “internalizing problems”—negative self-perception, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Left untreated, these will grow worse and increase the likelihood of them developing mental health issues.
According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 40% of adults in the United States have experienced some form of bullying online. Forms of harassment range from name-calling, deliberate embarrassment, physical threats, to stalking.
In the past, we used to hear about teachers picking on students, but now we’re as likely to read about students bullying teachers.
Myth #3: The best way to beat the cyberbully is to fight back.
And by “fight back”, they mean “bullying the bully”. This may seem like sound advice from well-meaning friends or family members, but more often than not, hitting back with words may make matters worse. Those who are unable to fight back due to feelings of fear, anxiety, or powerlessness may begin blaming themselves for the bullying. It also sends the wrong message to kids and teens that out-bullying each other is the only way to stop the harassment.
Myth #4: Bullying is a part of life. Get over it.
Although bullying happens both in the digital and real domains, it shouldn’t be considered normal, okay, or acceptable, and telling those being harassed to “get over it” doesn’t help the already mentally and emotionally vulnerable. Bullying, regardless of where it takes place, is a societal problem that needs to be seriously addressed, not brushed aside.
Myth #5: Once the bullying stops, the life of the affected child/person goes back to normal.
This is far from reality. According to a joint US/UK study, people involved in bullying continue to feel and experience the effects of the act until adulthood. The severity of these effects also depends on the person’s resilience and the positive relationships he/she has with other people. Some of the problems that can carry over to adulthood are depression, panic attacks, and difficulties socializing.
Scientists also stress the long-term effects of cyberbullying, even if it happens only once.
Myth #6: There are no laws against bullying and/or cyberbullying.
‘Prevention is always better than cure’
What most of us may not realize is that a number of incidents of cyberbullying can be prevented. Here’s a few ways to tackle them:
- Never share your online credentials with anyone, not even with family members (except your parents if they asked for them), or friends. Most kids and teens these days allow their friends to access their social profiles, believing that doing so is cool. However, friends may begin posting images and messages without their consent, and may cause more headache to the innocent child or teen who owned the profile.
- Never share private or intimate photos of yourself to anyone. Not only will teen girls gain Likes from peers, they may also grab the unwanted attention of strangers, which may further lead to stalking and other forms of online harassment. Additionally, revenge porn also happens among kids and teens.
- Consider limiting the number of people seeing what you post online. Sadly, most users of social networking sites don’t bother setting up the privacy level of their profiles and posts. As most (if not all) social sites show posts publicly by default, those who express their views on, say, politics usually invite ire from strangers who don’t share similar views. If not mitigated from the get-go, the banter may quickly escalate to bullying. If you wish to remain posting publicly, then at the very least…
- Mind what you disclose online. Kids and teens share quite a lot about themselves—their thoughts, opinions, feelings, activities at the home or with friends. Although these are likely innocent, they can be used to fuel the bullying.
- Create strong passwords for all online accounts. Some cyberbullies may attempt to infiltrate a target’s account by hacking. Although this act is not considered cyberbullying, online bullies can use accounts they control to humiliate a target or harass other targets by posing as someone else. Make sure that you can efficiently manage the passwords you create.
- A word on personally identifiable information (PII): Revealing information you use to access or create accounts, such as your dog’s name and your date of birth, is highly discouraged. Not only will this contribute towards impersonation, but it may also lead to the compromise of your online account.
- When using public or shared computers, make sure to log out of your social media accounts before leaving. If possible, delete the browser history cache and cookies or you may give someone else the opportunity to be you online.
The internet is what we make of it. On the one hand, it can be a great place to learn, meet new friends, reconnect with old ones, and discover the world without leaving the comfort of your sofa. On the other hand, it can also be a destructive and hurtful place. With the guidance of parents, teachers, law enforcement, and groups that deal with online harassment, children will be steered in a direction where future generations can still experience the internet as a safe place to be.
For additional resources, take a look at our 2016 blogs from Anti-Bullying Week:
- Pledge to use your power for good this Anti-Bullying Week
- “Monkey see, monkey do”
- No sympathy for the ‘bully’?
- Of weasels, snakes, and queen bees
The Malwarebytes Labs Team