As I read up on cyberbullying this week for ECMP 355, I can’t help but sigh. The more I read, the more I ask, “Why?”

  • Why do people cyberbully?
  • Why do we allow it to happen/think it is okay/ignore it?
  • Why is cyberbullying such a big part of our online culture now?
  • Why do children, teens, and adolescents keep cyber-bullying from their parents?

I will not attempt to necessarily answer any of these questions this week, but rather, I will raise them and begin to explore them. I encourage conversation/for you to share your thoughts in the comments section below in response to these questions. My goal is to start an important conversation.

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Understandably, cyberbullying is much more present among adolescents, teens, and children (compared to adults). This article is absolutely filled with statistics on cyberbullying. It states, “Over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying.” To add to my ongoing list of questions, I wonder if cyberbullying is replacing face-to-face bullying. Has bullying in schools gone down as a result of cyberbullying? Or is the amount of bullying (in any form) simply gone up with the creation of the Internet?

In the CBC documentary series, The Fifth Estate, there is an episode that features around Amanda Todd, a teen who committed suicide after falling victim to a cyberbully. One woman states that young girls in particular are “naïve and trusting” while online. This is partly because when teens are online, they feel disarmed. They feel removed from the people they are interacting with/do not actually view them as human. They do not sense a threat and are therefore more open. Young people are generally naïve and trusting, however, this is amplified while online. This causes them to say and do things, such as cyberbully, which they might not normally do. It also allows them to be more accepting of cyberbullying, as they do not view the bullies as real people either. They tolerate a different level of communication while online. When was the last time you read comments on a YouTube video and didn’t see a hateful comment? Did you report it? The online language is much more critical and vulgar than verbal, face-to-face language. And we tolerate it.

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The reporter from the same documentary says “[Amanda’s] impulsive gesture was immortalized,” which raises another important question: Why are we so easily disarmed while online when everything we do can be held against us? Everything we do is documented. At least in person-to-person conversations, we do not leave a trail behind us. We need to educate youth in classrooms about being more vigilant while online and to not be so trusting. We need to teach them to think and judge for themselves and to react accordingly. No one deserves to be cyberbullied, and no one deserves to feel like it is acceptable if they are. Students need to be educated to develop the mindset that cyberbullying holds the same consequences as real bullying, affects people the same way as real bullying, and can be documented. Potential victims of cyberbullying need to be aware that what they post and say online can be held against them/manipulated to paint them in a negative light (remix culture). My main point here is that there is a lot of education that needs to take place!

This education starts in the classroom. We cannot avoid it or assume that youth know how to navigate this online world. Look at where that has gotten us? Students don’t simply need a long list of consequences or things they shouldn’t do. They need to understand. We need to equip students with the knowledge to think and react and interact for themselves.

In the TED Talk “One Tweet Can Ruin Your Life” by Jon Ronson, he states (talking about Twitter) that “People would admit shameful secrets about themselves and other people would say ‘Oh my god’ I’m exactly the same.” He talks about people finding their voice online. A powerful voice. This could answer some of the questions from above. People are seeking out a community online. They are seeking to be heard and listened to. This makes them vulnerable. This allows them to tolerate negative words or actions that target them.

Ronson also refers to “That sad feeling when the Internet doesn’t congratulate us for being funny.” His example is when a tweet does not get any likes or replies. This forces us to up our game. To raise our ante. We want to be noticed. We want to find a community of people online who give us affirmation. In the case of Justine Sacco, this lead her to tweeting out something incredibly inappropriate that, as the title of the TED Talk states, “ruined her life.” Obviously no one deserves to be cyberbullied or cyberharrassed, however, this particular tweet set her up for an overwhelming amount of hate directed at her online. Her vulnerability and trustworthiness caused her to post something that was A) documented for all of the world to see and B) incredibly offensive and sparked the responses of thousands of people.

My hope is that this post opens up some discussion. Please comment below to join the conversation. For anyone wishing to read more about cyberbullying and its permanent nature, check out this article that reinforces the idea that “The Internet has no delete button.”

For anyone who is currently the victim of cyberbullying, please read this article that outlines a number of options that you have and reinforces the fact that it is not your fault.