Written bullying can take many forms. Online bullying is the most common form in today’s Internet-obsessed world, involving the relentless pursuit of a victim by one or more bullies, either on social media or through email or texting. My Space, Facebook, Twitter, all are arenas with which the cyberbully is familiar, and they afford the perfect pulpit from which the cyberbully can project to an audience.
Cyberbullying is defined as bullying that is accomplished through the use of technological devices, such as computers, cell phones, or tablets. Perpetrators post written messages, posts, tweets, or other typewritten text, often conveyed on social media (Facebook, My Space, Twitter, email, texting). It achieves a similar result as that of in-person bullying psychologically, but without physical battering or face-to-face confrontation.
The term “trolling” refers to Internet users who post incendiary articles or comments on Internet discussion boards or social media for the express purpose of inciting argument. Their intent is to interrupt discussion and provoke conflict. Their tirades can range from sarcastic to intentionally cruel, and they often take an intellectually superior tone calculated to irritate other commenters. Often, when someone takes the bait from their “trolling” posts, they bombard the person with insulting or snide remarks until their victim exits the Internet humiliated.
Many websites and blogs advise users not to “feed the trolls,” and to report the behavior. Repeat offenders can be blocked from using sites, and individuals are often able to block trolls on their own. Facebook has given users control functions that allow them to “unfriend” people they do not wish to have in their list of friends. But many people get caught up in the game, to the delight of the trolls that initiate these confrontations.
It’s not always easy to opt out without seeming to be walking away from the fight. However, it is the best course of action, especially if done early, before the bully has a chance to inflict too much damage. Remember, it’s seldom a level playing field; trolls often plan their attacks in advance and are relentless.
The only positive feature of cyberbullying is that there is often a record of the attack. It is accomplished through the written word and usually can be saved, copied, or traced. In the case of a young girl in Massachusetts, Phoebe Prince, who committed suicide due to bullying by her classmates, some of her posts were read at the trial of her attackers to indicate the extent to which their mental harassment had driven her.
The best solution to cyberbullies is to report misuse of the Internet to Internet hosts or blog owners. In addition, children can report misuse to their parents, and, if the abuse is severe enough, the parents can contact law enforcement or legal authorities to handle the matter.
Document Your Case
If you or someone you know if the victim of cyberbullying, document the abuse by keeping a record of the messages or posts. The more evidence and information you can supply to authorities, the better chance they have of preventing the abuse. And if you know who the bullies are, let the authorities or websites know so that they can take steps to remedy the situation. Don’t be afraid to protect yourself, even if the bullies are friends or school acquaintances. No one deserves to be bullied or taken advantage of.
Parents, schools, and local authorities need to adopt a zero tolerance stance against bullying in all its forms, physical, mental, and written. They need to put bullies on notice that their actions will be met with swift and severe punishment and that they can be held accountable for any damage they inflict.
The Bully Pulpit
The most perplexing issue associated with bullying is the question of why. Why do they do it? What do they hope to accomplish? Why do they pursue their victims to the point of pushing them over the edge, often to suicide? The obvious answer is, of course, power. Many times bullies start out just showing off, proving they are intellectually superior to their peers or friends. Once the hook is set in their victim, however, they often become drunk with the power of manipulating their prey. They can’t seem to stop themselves from going the extra mile to prove their mastery over their target.
Recent studies have established links between cyberbullying and sadistic behavior. Studies indicate that cyberbullies often have traits of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavelianism (manipulation and deceit), even Sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others). Bullies may hesitate to inflict pain in the traditional manner, i.e. physically injuring someone; however, they find cyberbullying to be a more socially acceptable means of exerting their sadistic urge. By proving they can intellectually overshadow someone in an argument, or berate another into feeling humiliated before their peers, they feel they are superior and dominant.
The Attraction of Anonymity
A lot of the cyberbullying that takes place is between people who are known to one another, but there is a growing trend toward anonymous bullying, particularly with Internet trolls. They choose names that they or their friends find clever (often inside jokes or media references). It’s always easier to torment others when you can strike like some anonymous super-villain. This type of adversary is difficult to “out,” but they can be caught and/or unmasked. Internet bloggers and users often have the ultimate control and don’t realize it. They can always report the troll and block them.
Ultimately, there are several important steps to follow if you are attacked by practitioners of written bullying.
- Don’t engage – don’t play into their hands by arguing with them once they become abusive.
- Report misuse immediately – don’t let them get to you; cut the abuse off as soon as possible.
- Don’t keep silent – talk to parents or authorities.
- Don’t give out personal information – this is like opening the door to a thief; don’t hand them a weapon to use against you.
- Go to the authorities – if necessary, report extreme abuse to law enforcement.
- Don’t try to handle it yourself – parents who get involved in online fights are just encouraging the behavior; let authorities handle it.
- Be supportive/involved – don’t blame your child or restrict media use; try to encourage your child to talk to you about such matters.
- Teach confidence – let your child know his or her opinions and feelings are important and that they don’t have to suffer bullying in silence.
- Follow through – make sure the authorities take the problem seriously and get it handled to a conclusion; some bullies never give up; if necessary, engage in mediation procedures.
- If your child is a bully – don’t make excuses, get help; support your child, but let them know this behavior is never permissible.
When the online community participates in a concerted effort to crack down on this unwanted behavior and handle potentially explosive situations, there can be a good result. All it takes is the cooperation of those who frequent social media and the cooperation of the authorities to put cyberbullies in their place and send the message that trolls are not welcome.