Cyberbullying is an extensive topic which has become subject, in many countries, to legislative branches of government finding themselves in need of passing bills seeking to make the bully, or aggressor, legally responsible for their actions. But laws take time to write, pass and implement; meanwhile, as a society we need to become more aware of the extensive damage that online cruelty can cause. Cyberbullying has one major difference with school bullying: people of any age that use social media can be targeted by mobs of “trolls” with the intent to psychologically harm, scare, belittle, threaten, or sometimes even take virtual hate into real life.
At its rawest definition, cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology connected to the internet. That is to say, cyberbullying is also dangerous because of how easy it is to target someone from anywhere. A bully can engage in intimidating or insulting their victim in the comfort of their homes, in their office, walking down a sidewalk or sitting comfortably in a café. This means that a victim of cyberbullying cannot feel safe at home, with their loved ones, at work, at the gym: there is no escaping the 24/7 day and night torment caused by cyberbullying. Another distinction is that cyberbullying easily carries into mobs of ‘trolls’ attacking an individual at the same time, relentlessly. If dealing with one bully is hard, dealing with hundreds of internet personas hiding behind relative anonymity is an enormous challenge. It is especially dangerous and harmful for teenagers and younger kids — sometimes to the point of having suicidal thoughts, attempts or committing suicide.
Cyberbullying tends to take place in public forums, social media, personal blogs and websites, vlogs and other public spaces that allow comments or contacting a person directly. These comments are willfully and consciously written with the intention of causing harm to the victim through intimidation, manipulation, humiliation or defamation. Cyberbullies do not send one message, they engage in aggressive, repetitive and deliberate actions which may seek to embarrass, hurt, threaten a person’s physical well-being, their personal economy or their social standing.
Cyberbullies don’t just target people they know, often they seek out celebrities or select victims at random. At times a cyberbully may intentionally look for other people to join into their initial aggressions in order to ensure that a significant mass of people intentionally engage in the aggressive behavior, which in turn, makes the harm caused worse. This practice is known as cybermobbing or digital pile-ons.
As anyone can be a victim of cyberbullying, awareness efforts have been made by many organizations and celebrities who have suffered digital pile-ons have also helped to create awareness. Amy Schumer uploaded a picture of herself in a swimsuit to show her bullies who tend to engage in fat-shaming her that she feels fine with the way she looks. Ashley Judd took some of her cyberbullies to court to send a message, even though she stated that she didn’t think the cases would be persecuted to a full extent. Monica Lewinsky has an enlightening TED talk about cyberbullying in which she talks about public humiliation and it’s very negative consequences (referring to the suicide of homosexual college student Tyler Clementi).
Despite the myriad of website, cyberbullying victim help websites and awareness organization, and the growing amount of celebrities exposing cases of cyberbullying, including Jimmy Kimmel’s humorous series called “Mean Tweets”, we also remember the case of celebrity rapper and infamous cyberbully Azealia Banks, whose aggression has even been directed at child actors. Thankfully, Twitter has finally suspended her account, but apart from harming her own image, she left behind something many pop culture fans will never forget: a celebrity is not necessarily a good person.
Cyberbullying is unacceptable behavior, and it is up to us to create awareness and to choose not to participate in it, whether it be one on one or by participating in digital pile-ons.