Who could have foreseen the far-reaching consequences of the invention of the Internet and its subsequent commercial use? One of such consequences is cyberbullying that harms the most vulnerable Web users – children and teens.
Cyberbullying (also known as online bullying) refers to bullying that is mediated by means of interactive and digital technologies such as the Internet and mobile phones. Young victims of cyberbullies are harassed, humiliated, and embarrassed on a regular basis. When the online harassment targets adults, it is referred to as cyber-harassment.
The harmful bullying behavior can be recognized by its repeating patterns and the explicit intent to harm. The incremental abuse and hostility eventually create extreme states of frustration, anger, and fear in a victim. In some cases, cyberbullying leads to the increased suicidal ideation and depression. Some bullied teens even commit suicide just as Megan Meier did in 2006 over troubling messages on MySpace. Being in one’s teenage years is a precarious state of life, the quality of which can be woefully undermined by a vicious cycle of online harassment.
According to recent reports, approximately fifty percent of teenagers and adolescents have experienced some form of cyberbullying. Taking into consideration the fact that the threatening behavior is not restricted to school, young victims have no escape from it. Furthermore, it is virtually impossible to take down images and messages from the Internet. They can be circulated over social networks indefinitely, thereby repeatedly causing harm.
There are many reasons behind online harassment; however, the most common and disheartening one is amusement. Perpetrators are entertained by the torment of their victims. They think it is fun to post nasty comments about people’s appearance or disseminate someone’s private photos. There are also those who intentionally humiliate their targets trying to achieve maximum emotional damage as in Megan Meier’s case. Although online bullies think that their outbursts of sarcasm and vitriol won’t result in serious repercussions, some of them are disciplined according to school policies or even prosecuted under state laws.
Another issue to be considered is that of the communication between a victim of cyberbullying and their parents/authority figures. Recent reports reveal that more than fifty percent of bullied children do not go to their parents for help. It is necessary to admit how problematic the figure is considering that parents and authority figures are the only people capable of stopping cyberbullying when it occurs. Children and teens are not willing to report the abuse to parents because they are afraid of losing their access to the Internet. The relationship between victims of cyberbullying and law enforcement are similarly frustrating. Studies on the phenomenon suggest that fewer than 1 in 5 incidents of adolescent online bullying are reported to authorities. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, as much as 20 percent of adults experience online harassment regularly.
To better understand the issue at hand, it is important to discuss the propagation of electronic means of communication among teens. Cell phones are the most commonly used tools of cyberbullying because more than 80 percent of teens use them daily. The problem is exacerbated by the spread of another medium of abuse – the Internet. The majority of American households has a computer, which creates an additional avenue for the child and teen abuse. The high prevalence of cyberbullying is a function of online anonymity. When children do not know the identity of crime perpetrators, they are less likely to believe in a satisfactory resolution of the problem. Anonymity also makes bullies feel more empowered, which causes more crime.
Admittedly, cyberbullying is an important problem faced by the society today. The ever-changing technological landscape is likely to produce new avenues for online bullying, which will undoubtedly be exploited by malign and mischievous individuals to cause harm. If the issue is not properly addressed, the acute emotional pain inflicted on children and teens will only increase. One way to solve the problem is to get rid of anonymity. When stripped of the opportunity to write and comment anonymously, online bullies are less likely to engage in harmful behavior. The fear of legal and social repercussions is a powerful weapon in a fight against cyberbullying, which should be wielded by governments around the world to improve the lot of children and teens.