I’ve wanted to write a blog post on cyber-bullying for a while, but it’s something I am wary about posting about, partly because it is personal to me, but also because it’s a different topic to what I normally write about. Cyber-bullying is, however, becoming more and more common.
Cyber-bullying can refer to any method of bullying via social media (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat etc) or by text message. It can cause lasting harm to victims and can be relentless. My experiences are by no means the most severe that people can experience; I received some nasty messages on Twitter and Facebook, but the result was deleting my Twitter account and locking down on the security on my Facebook account. The messages included threats, about beating me up as well as sharing personal information about me on an anonymous Tumblr account. The whole thing made me feel really unsafe. I was paranoid about them actually turning up at my house, to the point that I was jumping out of my skin at the passing shadows of cars or neighbours. My friends tried to reassure me but it had little impact. The fear went on for weeks and only diminished when I moved house (planned, not because of the bullying!).
I’m old enough to shrug off messages calling me a bitch or a slag, but I know that can be a lot harder for someone in their early teens. Ten years ago when I was in secondary school, cyber bullying did exist but not in the way it does now. Facebook was only just taking off, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat didn’t exist so the cyber power was minimal. Once you left school, in the majority of cases, the bullying stopped. Sure people still exchanged some bitchy text messages or emails, but there wasn’t the all angled attack which young people experience now.
In 2015, research by Teen Safe showed that approximately 87% of teenagers have witnessed cyber-bullying, with roughly a third saying that they have personal experience of cyber-bullying. There isn’t an escape and that can massively impact on the well-being of young people, to the point that they are being diagnosed with anxiety and depression. But they aren’t the only effects, young people have reported that cyber-bullying can negatively impact their social lives and self esteem. My role in work means that I often have to deal with cyber-bullying and the after-effects, including self harm and thoughts of suicide.
The 24/7 nature of cyber-bullying means that information shared on social media can go viral very quickly and the ways in which it can be done vary and change, to include harassment, impersonation, cyber stalking,exclusion and denigration (where fake information about a personal is shared). Despite this, there isn’t a legal definition of cyber-bullying within UK law. That said, there are ways of seeking help and support within the UK justice system which can be applied to cases of cyberbullying and online harassment:
- Protection from Harassment Act 1997
- Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
- Malicious Communications Act 1988
- Communications Act 2003
- Breach of the Peace (Scotland)
- Defamation Act 2013
It’s easy to say that you shouldn’t send inflammatory messages online or by text message and as an adult, it’s easy for me to use the old line of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything”, but I get that people feel more confident in saying something online instead of saying it directly to someone’s face. Being a keyboard warrior isn’t going to resolve problems, unfortunately it’s likely to escalate a problem; messages can be misunderstood and more people can get involved, without other people knowing.
You can respond to cyber-bullying by reporting messages to the internet service provider (ISP) if the bullying happened online. Tell someone you trust and report serious bullying, such as physical or sexual threats, to the police as soon as possible; having the messages to show the police is crucial so ensure that the messages aren’t deleted, but block the perpetrator. Avoid responding to the messages, as this can lead to you being in trouble as well.
With further education and information, I can only hope that cyber-bullying will become less prevalent for teenagers, because there are some really shocking statistics. Try to use the internet and mobile phones carefully and think before you type!