Bullying has been around for centuries. Nearly five centuries, to be exact. The term has taken on a whole new meaning this decade, however, with the comfort and anonymity of the Internet. Cyber harassment takes the face out of the equation and therefore enables those who wish to inflict severe emotional or psychological harm upon others can do so from behind the screen of their computer, from their mobile tablet device, or their smartphones.
Cyber harassment definition:
Cyber harassment is bullying online via text messaging or social network websites. The offender has a determined purpose of continuous berating or insulting of the chosen victim. This is one method by which cyber harassment can effect social pain upon an unwitting victim.
No one is immune from this kind of negative smear campaign. The victim can be harassed by words or images. Some bullies are known to inundate the victim’s email box with so many harmful messages that the victim is compelled to stop reading any messages, or they do the opposite—almost masochistically, read every word that they are given.
Who are the Victims of Cyber Harassment?
Studies that have been conducted have shown that cyberbullies are not the same people that would bully a person in a face-to-face way. Cyberbullies are more likely to be girls as they tend to use words more than actions. Cyberbully victims, however, are categorized in much the same way as their in-person counterparts. Many times the victim of face-to-face bullying is the very same as those who are bullied online (Smith, et al, 2008).
What is Cyber Harassment?
Cyber harassment is any intentional and persistent attack against another individual that is conducted in an online or mobile environment. It can be conducted via Internet social networking sites like Instagram and Facebook, or in video format such as YouTube, and via mobile devices—phone calls, text messages and instant messages. Most of the time this form of harassment is conducted outside of school hours when access to Internet devices is easier. However, as technology advances, so does the access to devices, such as smartphones, in the classroom so the cyber harassment is an ever-growing epidemic.
A report by Jacobs, et al., (2014) indicates that between 20 and 40 percent of adolescents worldwide indicate that they have been the victim of cyber harassment. The results of the bullying include depression, anxiety, emotional distress and even suicide. Adolescents who are victim of cyber harassment have also experienced drug and alcohol abuse, as well as delinquent and aggressive behavior.
How to Deal with Harassment
The easiest way to deal with harassment is to not read the texts or answer the phone. However this is not a very rational solution for most teenagers. They are becoming more and more dependent upon their mobile devices and their connectivity to the World Wide Web. Other methods of dealing with harassment are to avoid those individuals who are causing the trouble. Do not answer their calls, delete text messages without reading, and do the same with social networking sites.
Another method of dealing with harassment is to report the behavior to parents or teachers if the offense is done at school (Jacobs, et al., 2014). A student victim is unlikely to report in-school bullying to a teacher because they would run the risk of losing their own mobile devices in the process. Reporting such harassment to a parent may not work either, as many parents grew up in another era where “Sticks and stones” was their method of resolving verbal abuse as a child and they may not take the threat seriously enough.
Educating students on the best methods of learning how to deal with and even avoid cyber harassment is another method by which a bully victim can deal with it (Jacobs, et al., 2014). Ensuring that the victims of bullies and their families are aware of the repercussions and the laws that protect people from this kind of harassment should help to empower the victim and improve their knowledge of being protected.
How to Stop Cyber Harassment
Currently there is a lot of research being conducted on cyber harassment. Unfortunately, with the skills of the bully being enhanced by practice, and their ability to be anonymous, there are a very small portion of cyberbullies who are identified and then prosecuted. The laws that protect victims are only as strong as the enforcement of those laws. Many times students report incidents which are then not followed up on from the school administration. Police also need to act upon this harassment or it will continue.
Starbucks and McDonalds among other service providers have given free access to the Internet from most of their venues across the country. In addition, some states even provide free Internet access from their roadside rest areas. The more public access there is to Internet access, the more anonymous the cyberbully can be. By ensuring that tracing of this kind of behavior can be conducted, cyber harassment may be discovered more quickly and then the perpetrators can be prosecuted or corrected from their behavior.
Parental involvement in reducing risks to cyberbullying is a good step in helping to reduce the prominence of the behavior. A person accused of being a cyberbully can be corrected by reduction of mobile or Internet access (McGuckin, et al., 2014). In this day and age of immediate communications through web-based media, a child may be corrected from their negative behaviors by grounding them from their devices for a period of time that is equivalent to their level of bullying.
New developments in cyberbully intervention involve Internet use. A program that was developed by Jacobs, et al., (2014) involves utilizing web-based tailored services for the bullied adolescent. The program is twofold. The adolescent is given interactive intervention strategies in a private online environment in which they can practice positive responses to those negative remarks and images that would otherwise distress the victim. Through the process the adolescent is given practices and even tracking to see how they are improving.
Cyber harassment is a relatively new form of bullying but it is every bit as harmful as the face-to-face types (Slonje, & Smith, 2008). The adolescent or child who is a victim of this form of bullying may not know there is action they can take to reduce or eliminate their exposure to this kind of bullying. With the inclusion of technology in most of an adolescent’s life, it seems that there is no escape from bullying. Victims of bullying in person are the same as victims in face-to-face bullying but the bullies may be a different demographic altogether. There are strategies and interventions being developed but as the problem is new, the programs are also still being worked out.