Chapter Twenty-Two: Introduction to Cyber Bullying and Its Dangers

As the digital age gets more and more advanced and technology becomes more easily accessible to children, new issues begin to arise with this increased use of technology. Predator safety threats are amplified online and the age-old school-bullying problem has risen exponentially.

Definition of Cyber Bullying and Technology for Cyber Bullying

By definition, cyber bullying "is when one person or a group of people try to threaten, tease or embarrass someone else by using a mobile phone or the Internet. Cyber bullying [can be, and is oftentimes,] just as harmful as bullying in the real world." The bullies attack many of the same characteristics of a person that a school bully would, except with the proliferation of social media, these attacks have become more personalized and may occur during any part of the day or night. Social media profiles give people the ability to post pictures of anything they want. Whether it is pictures of themselves, pictures of things that interest them or updates of their whereabouts, cyberbullies are given the opportunity to pinpoint certain aspects of a person’s life to make fun of. Cyberbullies carefully single out and humiliate their target on social media publicly, oftentimes embarrassing them or sending hurtful messages.

What makes cyberbullying so dangerous is that it gives bullies the ability to embarrass anyone they want in public at any hour of the day, using multiple different types of technology. These can include devices such as, cellphones, instant messaging platforms, tablets, interactive gaming websites, and even email. Kids are using these platforms more frequently now, so it is becoming easier than ever to be a victim of these prejudices, or even become a prime suspect. A study recently revealed that "1 in 3 high school students have been subjected to some form of bullying or cyberbullying."

Bullying by mobile phone

While most people consider cell phones to be a positive and productive part of everyone’s life, many use these devices as a means to cause harm to others. As cell phones get "smarter," so do the bullies using them. Bullies can easily obtain mobile phone numbers of their victims from friends or other peers and send humiliating or even abusive text messages or photos/videos to their targets. These pictures can be taken candidly, or can even be pictures of the victims performing embarrassing acts in front of others. Some of these bullies use cell phone messages as a threat to coerce the victim to do something for them while taking these images as a form of ransom. Bullies can ask their victims to carry out a wide variety of tasks, ranging from doing their homework to performing sexual acts on them or their friends. This type of threat is not limited to only bullies, though. Sexual predators and pedophiles oftentimes hold embarrassing photos and videos of their victims to give them the incentive to meet up in person or risk getting those photos leaked and spread around the Internet for everyone to see. Bullies usually use images they have gathered themselves from the victim’s profiles, or from pictures they have taken themselves with the intent of using them to hurt the other person.

Instant Messaging

Besides social media, cyberbullies most often use instant messaging platforms as a means for their tactics. With instant messaging, unlike social media, it is easier for bullies to create fictitious screen names and hide their true identity behind the computer screen. Because of this, instant messaging bullies are sometimes one of the most hurtful ones, as they have less incentiveto back down from their cruel tactics. In their own way, cyberbullies groom their victims before the harassing starts, much like sexual predators do with their innocent subjects. Due to instant messaging’s short message response time, these chats resemble simulated conversations in real time. As such, it is easier for people to become more engaged in the conversation and want to respond and keep it going. Since they don’t have to see the reaction on the other person’s face when they talk to them, predators have more freedom to continue sending messages back and forth.

Not only can these bullies make fun of the person they are talking to by simply saying insensitive things, they can copy and paste snippets of these conversations and plaster them all over the Internet and send them to everyone’s emails. Cyberbullies tend to gather "blackmail" on their victim with embarrassing or risqué photographs they had sent to them, publicly exposing them to everyone they know. What the victims believed to be private messages or shared content then becomes become public for anyone and everyone, and the victims become the center of ridicule.

Just like sexual predators, cyberbullies prey on vulnerable people and attack their perceived weaknesses. Whether they know these weaknesses from in-person conversations at school, or the bully has gotten enough information out of the victim from constant grooming/questioning, the bully will pick on these sensitive topics until they are caught or something drastic happens. It is important to teach your children safety tips for communicating with strangers or anyone that makes them uncomfortable. If children are aware of their rights, options, and even their self-worth, they can better protect themselves from getting attacked by a cyberbully.

Gaming Websites

Interactive gaming websites allow players to chat online with anyone they find who may be a match with them on a multi-player game in regards to skill level, interests or keywords. Cyberbullies can threaten other players when they are not playing to their standards, make fun of them, lock them out of games, spread false rumors, or even hack into accounts. Chatting in interactive games is much like chatting in online chat rooms, except that with these online games, adrenaline is flowing, and oftentimes threats to others become heated and extremely serious. Boys who play online games often threaten or insult each other’s ego, ability to play, intellect and overall well-being. As kids often play these games as an enjoyable pastime, these types of comments and threats can drastically affect how children perceive these games as well as their state of mind. To help prevent this from happening, it can be a good idea to limit the amount of time allowed to play, the ability to communicate with other players, and occasionally check up on them by sitting and learning about the games with them.

Email Cyber Bullying

Lastly, bullying can occur via email. Though email is not as instant as online chatting, it can be just as hurtful as the other social mediums. People tend to think that hiding behind a screen name will not get them in trouble. Fortunately for parents everywhere, email can be tracked down to an exact IP address and location of user. Unfortunately, this fact is not yet known to many, so they begin to groom and eventually bully their victims using email. Just as with chatting, hurtfully-worded messages and/or embarrassing or threatening images can be sent through email. Though it is becoming less and less common as a means to chat and/or cyberbully, this option is still available for all. It is important to regularly check your child’s email and continually monitor what they send and to whom. Email bullying provides more concrete evidence that can be used as a means to educate children and prosecute any offenders.

These four social media mediums used to engage in cyberbullying touch at only the tip of the iceberg in regards to the number of other available social media sites that contribute to the cyberbullying influx. The aforementioned mediums are of the more prevalent ones, so it goes without saying that there are thousands more websites that connect kids to friends, strangers, bullies, etc. For this reason, it is always important to remember how crucial it is to establish open dialogue between you and your children, and how love, care and support, can make a difference in preventing your children from communicating with online predators or cyberbullies. Pay attention to the warning signs that your child may be giving off. Be wary if they begin to spend countless hours online, withdraw from friends and/or family, seem worried about going to school, or even seem worried or nervous about responding to a message online. Being aware of your child’s behaviors and interactions can save them from dangerous situations.