Cyberbullying

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

Forget traditional give-me-your-lunch-money bullying. Cyberbullying is what’s in fashion now.

Cyberbullying is a collective term that refers to bullying that takes place through an electronic device of some sort (e.g. cell phone) or online application (e.g. Facebook). If old-school bullying could deliver a hard blow to mental health, cyberbullying can completely demolish it. Cyberbullying allows intimidation to be more viewed, more targeted, more distasteful, more permanent, more anonymous, and more harmful. Perhaps this is why several organizations (including the Atlantic region-based Adosanté.org, which recently launched a cyberbullying page) have created cyberbullying awareness websites and resources.

It may come as a surprise to some that cyberbullies usually know their victims in the real world (according to Adosanté.org, 50% of those cyber-intimidated describe the bully as having or being a good friend). Uninformed potential victims make themselves easy prey to cyberbullies when they use obvious passwords, share secrets online, post or give permission to others to post embarrassing pictures of themselves online, display their phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and profiles liberally, and allow themselves to be rated on popularity websites. People who make these mistakes aren’t rare; if you take a closer look at your and your friends’ and family’s online activities, you may be surprised at the number of uninformed choices being made.

Blissfully ignorant cyberbullies often attack victims without realizing what they’re doing. Jokes and pranks online take on a magnitude that is unheard of when the same jokes and pranks are pulled off in the real world. Not only are they harmful to victims, they can also bring about legal consequences for bullies like they do in the real word.

Preventing cyber bullying doesn’t call for teens’ complete avoidance of technology, but it does call for some important rules of conduct.

In my opinion, the most important rule of all is to be respectful online. Many people (not just teens; take a look at the comments on the Globe and Mail’s and CBC’s news sites) tend to stray from societal rules online more than they would in real life. To effectively prevent cyberbullying however, being more courteous than ever online is a good idea since jokes and pranks can be interpreted differently when not told face-to-face. If you think before you click and if you treat everyone you meet online as you would treat your grandmother or school principal in real life, I can almost guarantee that you won’t ever be accused of cyberbullying. Granted, being very polite might put a damper on online fun, but in the long run, it will save you heartache and keep you on good terms with your cyberfriends.

For those who are concerned about being victimized, the best advice they can be given in terms of prevention is to protect online privacy aggressively. Do not share information with people online that you wouldn’t feel comfortable broadcasting to your entire school. This isn’t as hard as it sounds: I think most teens are careful with this on cyber-locations they already perceive as public (e.g. their Facebook walls). It’s important to remember though that all cyber-locations can be public as people can copy text or message board conversations and post them anywhere and since people can easily hack into others’ accounts and pose as them (think of how easy it would be for, say, a pesky sibling to send embarrassing information about you to your friends if he simply has access to their email addresses). 

If someone has already been victimized, he should immediately stop online activities, block or ignore all new attacks, conserve proof of previous attacks, and notify a responsible adult immediately. Victims should be aware that bullying is illegal and that resources are available to help them. One such resource is the Kids Help Phone, which can be consulted online at www.kidshelpphone.ca or by telephone at 1-800-668-6868.

 

Originally published in the Times & Transcript on August 15th, 2010.

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