Whether or not you care to admit it, the internet has seen a staggering increase in the number of cyber bullying instances in the last few years. We’re not just talking about the USA either; the UK has been hit very hard by the desire to torment others via the latest social media technology.
The children’s helpline Childline has seen a staggering 87% increase in the number of counselling sessions over the three years 2013-2015 as a direct result of online bullying. Even if someone hasn’t reported an act of cyberbullying, many have still been exposed to it or had it affect them directly. More than two in five (41%) of youngsters aged between 11-19 have admitted to seeing online behaviour or content that upset them, with 27% of children aged 7-11 saying the same.
When you consider that 96% of youngsters aged between 11-19 use at least one form of online communication, you can see the scale of the problem.
To put the numbers into something more quantifiable, a staggering 5.43 million children in the UK have admitted to seeing cyberbullying, or being a victim of it. An even more alarming 1.26 million have stated they have been subjected to extreme cyberbullying every single day.The internet may be a wonderful tool for learning, but it’s also a deeply scary tool for bullying. Click To Tweet
So what is cyberbullying, and what forms does it take? Here are a few examples of cyberbullying. If any of these situations seem familiar to you, you need to be able to recognise them.
Outing or shaming
This is when someone is exposed to a group of people, often friends, for something personal to them. It could be a secret they’ve been keeping, or something they’ve done that they’d rather not have announced. The cyberbully will have no thought for the feelings of the person being outed or shamed, and will encourage others to mock them.
This is when a person pretends to be someone else online. They may have done this by gaining access to their computer, phone or tablet and posting comments from their account, or they may have created a fake profile in the victim’s name.
This is a very popular term by the media and one that is rolled out to describe any sort of online action deemed distasteful. Trolling is actually when you derail a conversion with a series of comments designed to cause an argument.
Often confused with trolling, flaming is when you purposefully insult or rile someone to the point of retaliation. This can be aimed at one person or at a group of people.
This is when you track someone’s movements throughout social media, but you don’t necessarily communicate with them. You could follow them across all platforms, interacting with their posts and photos and generally offering unwanted attention. The ability to block people on Facebook and Twitter, and to make accounts private, makes cyber stalking less of an issue.
Some may say that cyberbullying isn’t really a problem as you don’t actually get hurt. The old phrase ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’ could be trotted out at this point.
Of course this is utter nonsense. Physically bullying in school is limited to school time, and when a child goes home, they’re away from the bullies. With cyberbullying, there’s no respite. The internet is open 24/7, which gives the cyberbullies 24/7 access to their victims.
But what can be done about this?
With cyberbullying being a very real, growing, problem and the police and schools often unprepared to deal with the issues it raises, what actually be done to protect children from it? Should you just ban them from the internet as a whole, so they’re free from the risks?
Well, no. That wouldn’t be fair, it would hinder their development and, in fact, it wouldn’t help. Just because someone isn’t on Facebook, it doesn’t mean their cyberbully isn’t – they’re just unaware of the things being posted about them. Rest assured, they’ll be told soon enough. Staying off the internet doesn’t protect you, it merely reduces your chance to guard against it.
No, there are other things you can do.
As mentioned earlier, ensure the privacy settings are properly set on any social networking sites being used. Any children using Twitter and Facebook should have their accounts set to private, so only confirmed friends can see their posts.
Only accept real friends and followers
Do not accept friend requests on Facebook, or follow requests on Twitter, from people you do not know. If you receive a request from someone you think you may know, be sure to ask them in person before you accept them. Not everyone on the internet is who they claim to be, so be distrusting from the offset. It sounds cynical, but it’s necessary.
Be careful what you share
People who are new to the internet, and certainly new to social media, will often take content at face value and share it without thinking. Those who have grown up with the internet for the last 20 years, like myself, find it a little easier to identify the hoaxes and scams and separate them from the real posts.
For example, there are a lot of fake competitions and fake posts on Facebook that ask you for likes and comments, such as ‘Type Amen to save this baby’ or ‘How many likes for this soldier wounded in action’. They’re not real; they’re hoaxes designed to farm comments.
Falling for these merely exposes you to more dangerous types of content, and marks you out as someone who is an ideal target for more intrusive scams. Always be suspicious of content, and don’t share things just because someone else has done so.
Talk about cyberbullying
Parents should talk with their children about cyberbullying. Explain that it is wrong and any instances of cyberbullying, whether it concerns them or someone they know, should be reported to their parents. Nobody should have to suffer in silence, as the constant barrage of abuse someone may take online could resort in very drastic measures.
It’s not your fault
If you’ve been the victim of cyberbullying, you need to know that you’re not to blame. It’s not something you have done wrong. Don’t feel you’re in any way responsible or that there is something wrong with you. There isn’t.
This is the most important thing. If you receive any messages or comments online from cyberbullies, don’t delete them or ignore them. Take screenshots of any messages you have received and save them on your phone or computer. If you’re using Twitter or Facebook, you can also report the posts as abuse and they will investigate.
Make sure you take screenshots first though, as they could be removed after you report them or, at the very least, hidden from your view!
Trace and expose them
Often, the cyberbullies try to hide behind a fake profile so you don’t know who they are. This is a common trick and one that makes the cyberbullies feel secure. Their security is their downfall however, as they can be traced.
This eBook explains how you can trace a fake Facebook profile and find out who has created it. It’s £29.00, but by using the discount code EWTRACE, you can get the eBook for £9.99. It features examples of how a fake Facebook account was traced and how the person behind it was uncovered.
If you have been the victim of cyberbullying, give Childline a call on 0800 1111. They can help.