So, how do we understand the bully? In the face of an increase in online abuse, and with high profile stories of victims all over the world, who tragically take their own lives after feeling brutally harassed by mates at school and on social media, many concerned people are making a statement that bullying, in all its forms, is unacceptable. This raises an important question: Who is the cyber bully?
The bully can be pretty much anyone, no matter how innocent looking. More often than not, they don’t fit the insane sociopath stereotypical image films give us about online harassers. In fact, some cyber bullying victims regularly switch from the victim to the bully role, and vice versa. It not uncommon to find cyber bullying victims tending to defend themselves the very same way they are attacked!
Cyber bullying can take several forms and can happen for so many reasons. In an era where communication technologies are on the rise, and where the methods to reach others are ever-increasing in speed and number, it has become impossible to seek refuge from violence at some point. Children used to run home for shelter from bullying at school, but now the bully has the power to invade the secure walls of home through instant messaging, texting (SMS), on Facebook, Twitter, Bebo, and other Social Networking Sites (SNS) technologies; such invasion inevitably falls into the very sensitive minds and youthful spirits of teenagers, leading them into drug and alcohol use, long-term self-harm, or even suicide, in some extreme cases.
We can’t always know why children do things, but there are some common reasons why some attempt bullying, such as anger, jealousy, wanting to feel superior and intimidating, imitation of adults, or even “having fun”. Usually, perpetrators do not recognize their actions as cyber bullying, especially when it takes the form of Facebook comments on a picture that end up being a popularity contest that’s judged by the number of “likes” a comment gets.
Research has revealed that there are four typical profiles (and one subtype) of what cyber bullies are like: Vengeful Angels who often get involved thinking they are righting wrong and standing up for others, the Power-Hungry who do it to stroke their egos, Revenge of the Nerds who may start out by defending themselves then find out they’re enjoying the torment, Mean Girls who want to remind people of their social standing, and the Inadvertent Cyber bully who does it by mere mistake. Broad outlines have been drawn in attempt to explain the motives of these bullies, how to spot them, their favorite cyber bullying methods, and how to deal with them safely and constructively.
The Bully Types: The Vengeful Angel
Who they are: Sometimes, the cyber bully does not see themselves as bullies at all; this is what vengeful angels are like. They feel the urge to right the wrong and protect themselves or their friends from the “bad buys” they attack. This usually results in a perfect power-shift situation, where the victim and the perpetrator exchange roles frequently, where the vengeful angel keeps wanting to teach the bad guys a lesson, using the same tactics the bully’s using. Though they might share the protective motives with their friends, they work alone, not in cliques.
How to spot one: As previously mentioned, they rarely work alone, and they don’t give away their real names or identities out of fear they might be bullied in real life. You can easily spot them through the tone they use in their language; they usually sound like “If you don’t leave Tom alone, I’ll hunt you down and you’ll pay really bad!”, or some other threat that – they think – would stop the bully from annoying their friends, or else they’d face bad consequences.
Tactics: They use all kinds of technology, but often resort to hacks and other tech-related attack. You may find them posing as the victim, doing something to get them in trouble online, such as sending particular content to some people or posting things on their behalf.
- They need to know that trying to take justice into their own hands almost always backfires, because fighting bullying with more bullying not only makes things worse, but also makes them bullies themselves.
- Instead of seeing themselves as protective do-gooders, they should realize the gravity of their actions as bullies.
- It might help if they knew that there are two sides to every story, and the person they believe is a bully might actually be another victim.
- Instead of blaming the vengeful angel, we can review the situation: Is there a place to report cyber bullying or bullying (instead of responding to it)? Can the reporting be anonymous? What about parents and school administrators. Do they ignore bullying when it occurs, or do they take it seriously? By doing that, we are giving them the proper channels to deal with cyber bullies, making it less likely for them to want to take justice into their own hands.
It is worth noting that vengeful angels usually become involved only when schools and others in authority aren’t doing anything, or they think they aren’t. It is a symptom of a broken system for young people who are attacked online and offline by bullies.
The Bully Types: The Power Hungry and Revenge of the Nerds
Who they are: This type is no different from the tough school yard bullies, except for how they do it, and that they’re only virtually tough. One main thing about bullying in general is that they want to exert authority upon others, flex muscles and show intimidating and frightening power that could make others do what the bully wants and often control others. Sometimes, the motive is that they want to cause pain, and other times it’s just that they don’t like the person.
Whether they were a small audience of friends or those within their school circle, power hungry cyber bullies usually need an audience, and they often brag about their actions because they want to trigger reactions, and they can escalate the gravity of their actions until they get them.
Interestingly enough, though, the “Power-Hungry” cyber bully is often the victim of typical offline bullying. They may be female, or physically smaller, the ones picked on for not being popular enough, or cool enough. However, they may have greater technical skills, especially considering how they can be empowered by the anonymity of the Internet and digital communications, never having to confront their victims. They may act tough online, but are not tough in real life. They are often not a bullying but “just playing one on TV.”
How to spot one: Power-Hungry cyber bullies usually operate alone, but they will let you know who they are because you don’t scare them. They will use any kind of technology and often make physical threats like, “I am going to punch your lights out next time I see you,” or “Next time you log in to [insert name of game or forum], you’ll see what I can do to you and your account!”
However, the “revenge of the nerds” cyber bullies usually target their victims one-on-one and the cyber bully often keeps their activities secret from their friends. If they share their actions, they are doing it only with others they feel would be sympathetic. The rarely appreciate the seriousness of their actions. They also often resort to cyber bullying-by-proxy. Because of this and their tech skills, they can be the most dangerous of all cyber bullies. Even though they can’t be real life bullies, cyber bullying is easy for them because they often have better technical skills than others. It is their intention to frighten or intimidate their victims, while never having to confront them physically or reveal their identity. They often resort to anonymous attacks or direct threats sent to their victims anonymously. Their attacks look exactly like those of the PowerHungry cyber bully, but there is a difference. Unlike traditional Power-Hungry cyber bullies who tend to act alone, Revenge of the Nerds can sometimes act in groups with others who fit their profile. “Trolling” is when a group of Revenge of the Nerds cyber bullies attack together.
Tactics: Power-Hungry cyber bullies almost always use direct attack methods, using text messages, IMs, emails, and private messages to their victims. They may use high tech methods too. They can be destructive, sending malware or breaking into systems to hack, delete files or reformat drives. They think they are tough and want you to know it. They also often threaten offline acts of violence, happy to follow through.
On the other hand, Revenge of the Nerds cyber bullies’ favourite methods to harass others are online gaming attacks, point theft and hacking, threatening you with hacking or trying to destroy your reputation with blatantly false allegations. They sometimes target celebrities to make a name for themselves and gain attention. They will also make threats for offline harm, even if they can’t follow through.
- Reporting: Threats of physical harm, destruction of property, or even game “gold” stealing should be directly reported. While lots of these aren’t serious threats, you never know and have to take them all seriously. Investigators can almost always find the ones behind the attacks, even if the cyber bullies try and mask their identities, which is why it is important to save all communications, since they often send private IMs, texts or email threats.
- Prosecution: Make it clear that what they do is breaking the law (it mostly is). Educating people about what is lawful and what is not can help them take action quickly, because prosecution to one power-hungry bully can be a quick lesson for anyone who is thinking about doing that.
- Publicizing prosecution cases helps reduce the number of cyber bullying attacks, at least in the short term.
- Controlling: Teaching anger management and other different ways of resolving conflict and dispute can help deflate or absorb the anger that many Power-Hungry cyber bullies feel. They are often seen as “troublemakers” and may have lots of their own issues.
- Ignoring: With both types of Power-Hungry cyber bullies, they want a reaction and to see their victims sweat, so ignoring them can be very effective. If you don’t react, you’re no fun to play with. So, “stop, block and tell!” is especially effective here. Threatening them back only “feeds the trolls.” But sometimes, instead of going away when ignored, they escalate their actions to get others involved as well or to get you to lose control.
- Protection: Make sure you use good digital hygiene, passwords that are easy for you to remember but hard for others to guess, never leave your cell phone unattended and don’t share passwords or accounts.
- Exposure: jeopardize their anonymity and they will want to stop. One tactic that works with Revenge of the Nerds cyber bullies who always hide their identity is to disclose their true identity. Like in the Wizard of Oz movie, they act like the little man behind the curtain pretending to be the all-powerful Oz. And since they usually antagonize offline thugs and popular kids, they fear being exposed because it would most likely lead to being physically or verbally bullied in real life. Fear of disclosure is usually enough to stop them, if they think you can pierce their anonymity. That’s why Revenge of the Nerds cyber bullies often rethink their actions when threatened with exposure. They need to understand that everyone leaves a Hansel-and-Gretel-trail of cyber-breadcrumbs behind them wherever they go on the World Wide Web. Facebook, YouTube, Gmail, and other websites with registered users all collect IP addresses and other information from everyone who sets up an account or interacts with their sites or services. And, with the assistance of law enforcement or a legal subpoena, we can almost always find the cyberabusers and cybercriminals in real life
- Google yourself!: Google, Bing, Yahoo and Facebook yourself, setting alerts for your name, cell number or other common pieces of information that might be used in a cyber bullying attack. You can spot their escalations early and take action.
By understanding who is the bully and what to do with the bully you can finally put an end to the bully epidemic once and for all.