In Cyber Bullying
Adult Cyber Bullying — Harassment in the Information Age
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The digital age has ushered in a new era of instant communication, data storage and retrieval, and shared information. It has made the world a smaller place by allowing global communication and aiding international commerce. But by the same token, it has opened up a Pandora’s box ofcyber crime, Internet fraud, and adultcyber bullying.
What Is Cyber Bullying?
“Cyber bullying is bullying through email, instant messaging (IMing), chat room exchanges, Web site posts, or digital messages or images send to a cellular phone or personal digital assistant (PDA)” (Kowalski). Sometimes it involves high school kids teasing and bullying each other on Facebook; at other times it entails adults persecuting one another over political, religious, or deeply held beliefs. It can take on a sadistic quality, in which the bully, not satisfied with merely humiliating his victim, seeks to torment his quarry to the point of self-destruction. “Cyber bullying, like traditional bullying, involves an imbalance of power, aggression, and a negative action that is often repeated,” according toViolence Prevention Works.
Cyber bullying in its simplest form takes place between two people through email, instant messaging, or phone texting. But to be fully satisfying to the genuine bully, there has to be an audience; thus, he elevates the bullying to social media, Twitter, or a comment forum. In this way, the humiliation is public and twice as shaming. And the bully can perform at his sadistic best (or worst) before like-minded aggressors.
Cyber bullying can take several forms:
According to Violence Prevention,
• Harassment: repeatedly sending offensive, rude, and insulting messages.
• Denigration: posting derogatory information about someone, and/or digitally altered photos.
• Flaming: fighting online, often using vulgar language.
• Impersonation: hacking another’s email or social media to post embarrassing material.
• Outing and Trickery: sharing another’s secrets or tricking someone into revealing embarrassing information.
• Cyber Stalking: repeated threats or online activity that makes a person afraid for his/her safety.
Characteristics of the Cyber Bully
A number of characteristics define cyber bullying:
• Anonymity: These bullies often cruise the Internet under pseudonyms, and the victim often does not know who is doing the bullying.
• Accessibility: The cyber bully can approach his victim at any time over the Internet; since the contact is not physical or face-to-face, there is no specific time during which the bully has access.
• Punitive Fears: Victims often fear retaliation from their tormentors; and if the victim is a child, the fear of losing the accessibility of a computer or other technology is a prohibitive factor.
• Bystanders: Bystanders to bullying in the cyber world can be numerous, as the information can be sent via email, cell phones, social media, and other means of technology.
• Disinhibition: The anonymity of the Internet can encourage an individual to commit acts they might not otherwise attempt in person. It affords “false courage” when the bully thinks he can’t be identified.
Cyber bullying can have disastrous consequences for young children, teens, and even adults who are not familiar with the tactics of cyber bullies. Adult cyber bullying is often not as humiliating as it is for children. Kids may feel they can’t face their peers when they have been on the losing end of cyber bullying. There have been numerous reports of children and teens committing suicide over the tactics of cyber bullies; they just aren’t emotionally equipped to handle the social degradation.
There are a number of signs to look for if a parent or guardian suspects cyber bullying. Sadness, moodiness, or anxiousness can be a sign that a child has been bullied online. Avoidance of school or social activities, as well as a drop in academic performance can also signal the problem. And if a child appears unduly upset after a session on the computer or receiving a phone text, there may be a reason to investigate the situation. But the issue with adult cyber bullying is that adults have no one to turn to. So when getting ambushed online, specially at difficult times of their life, it may completely devastate their self-worth and confidence.
Adult cyber bullying often takes the form of “trolling.” The word comes from a reference to the method of catching fish by trolling a baited line in the water and waiting for a fish to bite. In the same sense, the Internet troll tries to “catch” an unsuspecting victim to demean and humiliate. Trolls are an annoying problem for those who use the Internet regularly. They are present on social media and in the comments sections of various websites, articles, blogs, and other online forums.
“In the late 1980s, Internet users adopted the word ‘troll’ to denote someone who intentionally disrupts online communities” (Schwartz). Frequently, the technique employed is to ask stupid questions and lull the unsuspecting victim into a false sense of security and superiority, and then pounce with a constant barrage of insults meant to overwhelm and intimidate. The troll considers this a contest in which he must best his opponent, a sort of cyber-joust.
Trolls even have a system of tallying their conquests called “lulz.” “A corruption of ‘LOL’ or ‘laugh out loud,’ ‘lulz’ means the joy of disrupting another’s emotional equilibrium” (Schwartz). Some trolls in the cyber world have formed factions that hunt down their prey and relentlessly degrade them. “Technology, apparently, does more than harness the wisdom of the crowd. It can intensify its hatred as well” (Schwartz). This type of trolling, it seems, can act as a sort of cyber lynch mob, sometimes with devastating results. This relentless pursuit for pleasure has genuinely disturbing implications.
Many trolls are not content with merely persecuting their victims online. Sometimes their persecution spills over to friends and family of their original prey. Following the 2006 suicide of Mitchell Henderson, a seventh grader from Rochester, Minnesota, persistent trolls didn’t consider their childish online jokes about the dead boy to be satisfying enough, and the harassment progressed to attacks against the boy’s parents. Phone calls were made to the Hendersons; Mitchell’s father stated that it sounded like kids. “They’d say, ‘Hi, this is Mitchell, I’m at the cemetery.’ … ‘Hi, I’m Mitchell’s ghost, the front door is locked. Can you come down and let me in?’” (Schwartz). Hard-core trolls consider this type of provocation hilarious, a true indication of the juvenile mentality and mind-set of the dedicated troll. To families who have experienced a loss, it is devastating.
Trolls as Sadists
A new study seeks to classify the personalities of those who engage in trolling and to dissect this predatory behavior. The report by Erin Buckels of the University of Manitoba and two of her colleagues investigated the behavior patterns of people who enjoyed online trolling and investigated whether they possessed personality traits exhibiting manipulation and deceit, narcissism, an absence of remorse, and/or a willingness to inflict pain on others.
This type of behavior has disturbing implications. The individual who gets pleasure from “hunting” fellow humans for this sort of degrading “sport” shows serious signs of predatory and destructive tendencies. In fact, the practice of trolling has become so blatant that several websites have taken action to prevent it. “Last year Popular Science did away with its comments sections completely, citing research on the deleterious effects of trolling, and YouTube also took measures to rein in trolling.”(Mooney)
Information, Prevention, and Reporting
There are a number of places to obtain information on cyber bullying. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Childrenmaintains a “Netsmartz” program for finding information and solutions to cyber bullying. There are several other helpful websites that offer information and assistance for parents of bullied children, as well as for adults seeking legal redress for cyber bullying. The website is administered in conjunction with the Hazelden Foundation and presents information and tips for parents of bullied children, and discussion regarding the legal issues involved in cyber bullying. A Department of Education site offers directions on how to recognize, prevent, and report cyber bullying.
There are several important steps to take when there is evidence of cyber bullying. It is critical to keep a record of the incidents and to save any texts or photos associated with it. It is also important to report the incident to the online service provider for the site on which the event occurred. Victims can also block the person who is harassing them. If the bullying seems to cross the line from harassment to criminal intent, then it is time to contact law enforcement. If violence is threatened or any sexually explicit material is received, or when there is stalking or an invasion of an individual’s privacy, then the cyber bully has committed a crime and it should be investigated by the proper authorities. (stopbullying.gov)
It’s always important to know your rights and to impress these ideals on your children. No one has to be the victim of a cyber bully, and no one should have the right to infringe upon the security and well-being of any citizen with impunity. Being informed and knowing how to fight back is the only answer to eliminating this online threat.
Sources: (1) Kowalski, Robin, Limber, Susan, and Agatson, Patricia, Cyberbullying: Bullying in the Digital Age, 2d ed., Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, 2012 (2) Mooney, Chris, “New Study: Internet Trolls Are Often Machiavellian Sadists,” Feb. 14, 2014, http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2014/02/internet-trolls-sadists-psychopaths-lulz (3) Schwartz, Mattathias, “The Trolls Among Us,” The New York Times, Aug. 3, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/03/magazine/03trolls-t.html?_r=0 (4) Stopbullying.gov, “Cyberbullying,” http://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/index.html (5) Violence Prevention Works., “What is Cyberbullying?”, 2014 Hazelden Foundation, http://www.violencepreventionworks.org/public/cyber_bullying.page
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