According to a psychologist Kyler Shumway, PsyDThere are three main differences between cyberbullying and IRL bullying:
- The presence of the bully
- How fast and far the information can be disseminated
- The quality (and quantity) of the content communicated
“Cyberbullying offers the opportunity to be aggressive from a safe, anonymous distance,” he said, citing growing research showing that people are more likely to behave harshly when their identities are hidden. A 2014 study, for example, compared anonymous and anonymous comments in online newspaper stories and found that nearly 54 percent of anonymous comments contained language that was considered vulgar, racist, hateful or obscene. In contrast, only about 29% of anonymous comments fall into one of these four categories of “apoliticals”.
“Cyberbullying offers the opportunity to be aggressive from a safe, anonymous distance.” —Kyler Shumway, PsyD
For a more recent example of the possible link between anonymity and cyberbullying, take the April 6 report from the Digital Hate Response Center (CCDH) which describes Instagram’s failure to act on abusive instant messages sent through the app. The report looked at the DMs of five public figures on Instagram and found that one in 15 of the 8,717 total instant messages analyzed violated the rules of abuse and harassment of the social networking application. Before the age of social media, people would not have such easy access to anyone. And even if they did, anonymity would be more difficult to achieve in personal interactions, seemingly reducing the rates of shared feelings of hatred or otherwise abusive behavior.
Another important factor that separates digital from analog bullying is how quickly and widely harmful language can spread, adds Dr. Shumway. “Cyberbullying sometimes uses technology in ways that enhance the impact of social bullying. In the pre-Internet age, if someone called you by name or spread rumors about you, these things could only be communicated to those in “But now, you can post bad, harmful things for people to see,” he says.
For another Instagram-based example, consider the case of a 15-year-old student named Yael. in 2018, The Atlantic described her experience of heightened cyberbullying by an ex-girlfriend. “He unfollowed me, blocked me, unblocked me and then sent me messages for many days, paragraphs,” Yael said. “She kept posting about me on her account, referring me to her Story and texting me over and over for weeks.” Without the online platform, abusive messages would probably have been limited to a small social group and would not have been available to anyone with an account.
In addition, cyberbullying often leaves a record that never goes away, thanks to the digital permanence of the Internet. (That is, even if someone deletes something harmful, there is probably a file.) “One of the big issues with cyberbullying is that it does not end there,” says Lisa Ibekwe, Georgia’s LCSW child and adolescent therapist. “Unlike traditional bullying, children can get away with it when they leave, but cyberbullying follows you wherever you go.”
“One of the big issues with cyberbullying is that it does not end there. Unlike traditional bullying, it follows you wherever you go.” —Lisa Ibekwe, LCSW
And finally, cyberbullying has a lot more content to choose from at a time when almost everyone has a camera on their phone. “Now that we all have smartphones that can record audio and video on the go, we can catch people doing embarrassing, shameful things and show them to everyone on our network,” says Dr. Shumway. And the psychological impact of this rapid and effortless spread can be devastating.
The psychic price of cyberbullying
Much of the research on bullying and cyberbullying is interrelated, so it is difficult to pinpoint the specific psychological differences between bullying on your phone and bullying in person. “All bullying hurts the survivor. Recent research tells us what we already know: Survivors often suffer from symptoms of depression, such as low self-esteem or suicidal thoughts, or self-harm.” Shumway. “In addition, many have reduced their academic performance, substance use, and even become aggressive towards their peers.”
Interestingly, bullying is also bad for the bullies themselves: According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, they may express more aggression, antisocial behavior and substance abuse as well. And, for what it’s worth, passers-by do not escape unscathed. Research shows that they may experience increased anxiety and depression after bullying.
Research on adult cyberbullying, in particular, suggests both prevalence and catastrophic health effects away from the end when school is over. “The most likely victims of bullying are those who differ from those around them, whether in appearance, neurodiversity, or financial status,” says Dr. Shumway. “We also know that teens are much more likely to be involved in cyberbullying, mainly because of access, and that teenage girls may be at a much higher risk than boys.” One study found that 38 percent of girls reported experiencing cyberbullying, compared with 26 percent of boys. And a 2019 report focusing on LGBTQ + bullying found that young people who identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual were 26.6% more likely to be bullied online than their straight-line peers.
What to do if you are being bullied online
If someone makes you feel helpless online, Ibekwe says your first step should always be to say so someone. “If you are being bullied, we always recommend that you talk to someone. “Sometimes people endure for fear of embarrassment or retaliation from their peers, but in reality, many children who have attempted or even completed suicide have been bullied at some point in their lives,” he says. “I should not be ashamed to share what is happening.”
That said, there are a few other steps you can take to protect your mental health if someone intimidates you in cyberspace.
- Do not deal with “trolls”:For those who do not know what a “troll” is, these are people who act as online competitors and rejoice when they provoke angry responses from others. “In case of doubt, do not respond to someone who is bullying you online, as this often makes things worse,” says Dr. Shumway.
- Save the details: Take screenshots and record the behavior that comes your way. Some states will allow you to take legal action against the person who is bullying you if this is the path you want to take.
- Stay with your allies: “This will [help you] label the behavior as toxic or wrong without getting involved and risking making things worse. And often, others will join your friend in defending you. “Nobody likes the bully”, says Dr. Shumway.
- Law low on the internet: Eliminate, remove the friend or stop watching the person who hurts you and focus on offline joys. “Do what you need to do to keep your distance from those who try to harm you,” says Dr. Shumway.
- Take care of yourself: Ibekwe is a big supporter of using this time away from social media to write a diary, relax or do anything that brings you peace during a difficult time.
If you or someone you know is experiencing cyberbullying, English-speaking people can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Hispanic speakers can call 1-888-628-9454.