Anonymity can have a powerful effect on behavior. In our daily face-to-face conversations, making a negative comment has an immediate impact. If you tell your friend that their new jacket is ugly, you will quickly know if you have hurt their feelings based on their expression and response. On the internet, however, we are tucked into a blanket of anonymity. Many people take advantage of this anonymity to bully others online, where they do not have to face their victims. These cyberbullies have become a bigger problem with the spread of internet and technology usage. Cyberbullies may not know the full extent of the damage they inflict on their victims while hiding behind a screen, but the hurt they cause is very real.
Cyberbullying has been related to many different forms of psychological distress, especially among teenagers. A recent survey found that cyberbullying has increased among teens and preteens (APA, 2016), who commonly use cell phones and the internet. One study from the University of California Los Angeles found that 75% of teens had experienced cyberbullying (Will & Clayburn, 2010), while another study showed that 3 out of 4 teens had been cyberbullied over the course of a year (Wolpert, 2016). Teens who are cyberbullied can experience depression, anxiety, insomnia, low self-esteem and academic problems at school (Aboujaode, 2015; Šleglova & Cerna, 2011). Victims of cyberbullying often feel vengeful, angry, or helpless (Hinduja & Patchin, 2007), among other emotions like embarrassment, fear or self-blame (Šleglova & Cerna, 2011). When teens are cyberbullied, they are less likely to trust their peers at school or to like attending school (Šleglova & Cerna, 2011). This may be due to the fact that 85% of teens who are victims of cyberbullying also report that they have been bullied at school (Will & Clayburn, 2010).
Cyberbullies themselves have a distinct psychological profile, although cyberbullying can take many different forms. For instance, cyberbullying may include hurtful or threatening online messages, texts or emails; or spreading rumors about someone online (Šleglova & Cerna, 2011). Research shows that cyberbullies tend to have more trouble with aggression, hyperactivity and drug use (Aboujaode, 2015). Considering this profile, it seems that cyberbullying may be a problematic way that some teens cope with their own internal struggles. Cyberbullying is especially concerning, however, when adults cyberbully teens or children. A 2007 survey reported that 32% of teens had been contacted online by a total stranger, and predators are common online (Will & Clayburn, 2010).
What can be done to prevent cyberbullying? There are steps that we can take to avoid online predators and bullies. Changing the settings for online profiles so that they are private and only allowing people you are familiar with to access your profiles is one way to protect yourself. For students, informing a parent or trusted teacher or authority figure if someone is harassing you is another way to stay safe online. Cyberbullies are out there, but by taking the right steps we can stay safe online.
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Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2007). Offline consequences of online victimization: School
violence and delinquency. Journal of School Violence, 6(3), 89112. Retrieved from http://cyberbullying.org/cyberbullying_emotional_consequences.pdf
Šleglova ,V., & Cerna, A. (2011). Cyberbullying in adolescent victims: Perception and coping.
Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 5(2), article 1. Retrieved from http://www.cyberpsychology.eu/view.php?cisloclanku=2011121901
Will, J. & Clayburn, C. (2010). The psychological impact of cyberbullying. Retrieved from
Wolpert, S. (2016). UCLA psychology study explains when and why bystanders intervene in
cyberbullying. Retrieved from http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/ucla-psychology-study-explains-when-and-why-bystanders-intervene-in-cyberbullying