Cyberbullying is as much a social issue as a psychological problem. With 36% of middle and high school students in the U.S. admitting having been bullied at one point in their life (Patchin, 2019), cyberbullying exacerbated by social media only adds fuel to the fire.
In particular, victims of teenage cyberbullying can go into isolation, depression and even illness. Worse than traditional bullying where the atrocity happens in a specific location (school, for instance), cyberbullying occurs at any time and place. The victim, even in the private confines of his or her room, will not find a safe space when faced by online bullying.
The first step to address the problem is to have a data baseline. In this article, we will provide a background of why cyberbullying can be an even more devastating experience for the victim than traditional bullying. We will also highlight some important points to consider about cyberbullying, especially when it comes to its various effects on a victim’s social and mental wellbeing. Schools and institutions should know that dealing with teenage cyberbullying is guaranteeing the student rights at school.
Compared to traditional (physical and relational) bullying, cyberbullying happens using electronic mediums; thus there are certain features that make it potentially more distressing for the victim. First, it is easier to carry out cyberbullying because the perpetrator does not need to confront the victim in person. This means that harassment can take place at any time of the day in the virtual world. It becomes harder to avoid attacks and the victim can feel that there is no escape.
Second, the percentage of cyberbullying on social media keeps increasing due to the global use of social media and the fact that it is not only adults who have access to digital devices. Even teenagers and children use smartphones and the Internet. In fact, 95% of teenagers can easily have access to smartphones and 45% of them are online throughout the day. Also, 88% of teens say they have access to a desktop or laptop computer (Anderson and Jiang, 2018).
Because of this virtually limitless number of people who can see posts and conversations online, the victims might feel that they do not have control over the situation. Attackers can also be anonymous, so the victims might not even know who is harassing them and cannot approach them to tell them to stop.
Third, the permanency of online messages and its potential to go viral are other features that make cyberbullying a serious issue. It can be very difficult to remove posted content online, viewers can easily share harmful content to other social media or messaging apps, and content can also be searched through search engines.
Souce: Pew Research Center 2018Designed by
Looking at some important cyberbullying on social media statistics will help provide a better perspective on just how serious the problem has become.
Cyberbullying also varies between genders and age groups. Young people, ages 18-29, are the most likely to experience cyberbullying, while men are more likely to be cyberbullied than women. However, women are the most likely to experience severe forms of online abuse (Duggan, 2017).
There can be many forms of cyberbullying. In a recent statistics of cyberbullying on social media, which involved 743 teens ages 13-17, results indicated that the most common type of online harassment was name-calling, followed by rumor spreading (Anderson, 2018).
In a separate survey of adult internet users, name-calling was also the most common online harassment, followed by shaming or deliberately embarrassing someone (Duggan, 2014).
These statistics provide information on the extent of cyberbullying. But where does it occur the most? In a 2020 survey of different online environments such as instant messaging apps and social media, it was found that Facebook is where most online harassments take place. Other online environments where cyberbullying occurs include the comments sections of websites, email, and gaming sites (Duggan, 2017).
When it comes to why people get cyberbullied, the reasons range from political views to personal characteristics and race (Duggan, 2017). Among those who encountered any type of harassment online:
No one is immune to the negative effects of cyberbullying. Though individual reactions may vary, the effects of cyberbullying on teenagers and children can be most damaging since they are still learning how to control and manage their emotions.
Past studies reveal the relationship between cyberbullying and affective disorders. Among adolescents, for example, cyberbullying has been connected to depression with 93% of cybervictims reporting mixed feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and powerlessness (Raskauskas and Stoltz, 2007, as cited in Nixon, 2014).
Moreover, victims of cyberbullying also complained about a number of physical and mental health problems such as difficulty sleeping, anxiety, fear, and suicidal tendencies (Hinduja and Patchin, 2010, as cited in Nixon, 2014). Somatic symptoms and poor academic performance also correlated to cyberbullying (Kowalski and Limber, 2012, as cited in Nixon, 2014). More long-term negative effects of cyberbullying were also observed. These include substance abuse, alcoholism, social withdrawal, low self-esteem, and trust issues (Selkie et al., 2015).
Between the genders, women become more upset about their cyberbullying experience. Eighteen percent of women compared to 9% of men said their experiences were "extremely upsetting," while 20% said they were "very upsetting" compared to only 8% of men (Duggan, 2014).
Sixty-six percent of American adults have seen others being cyberbullied. True to the findings on the most common type of cyberbullying, 53% said they have witnessed others being called names, and 43% said they've seen others deliberately embarrass somebody else (Duggan, 2017).
It is not only victims who experience the negative effects of cyberbullying. The people who witness them can also be profoundly impacted by the hostile behaviors they witness online. Among adults who witnessed cyberbullying, for example, 8% said they felt "very anxious" and 26% felt "mildly anxious" after seeing others get harassed online. For young adults ages 18-29 who witnessed cyberbullying, 12% felt "very anxious" and 36% felt "mildly anxious" (Duggan, 2017).
Among those who experienced cyberbullying, 34% said the attacks came from a stranger, while 31% said they do not know the perpetrator's real identity. Another 26% said the person who harassed them online was their acquaintance; 18% reported it was their friend; 11% said it was a family member; 7% said it was an ex-romantic partner; and 5% reported they were cyberbullied by a coworker (Duggan, 2017).
As we can see, it can be hard to tell who is a cyberbully. It can also be equally hard for young people to report cyberbullying to their parents or other adults, but there are signs that can determine whether someone is being cyberbullied ("Cyberbullying Warning Signs," n.d.):
Based on a study by Pew Research Center, more than half—56%—of the 41% of Americans who experienced cyberbullying faced their experience alone. For those who did receive help, 29% said it came from family and friends. Seventeen percent said support came from other people online (Duggan, 2017). This suggests that a great deal of support for cyberbullying victims still involves the help of kin.
Some things you can take to help your child or friend who is a victim of cyberbullying:
Staying vigilant is still one of the most effective ways to combat cyberbullying. While cyberbullying is not as petrifying as student crimes, it is no less virulent. The sooner you can detect hostile behavior online, the better you can address it and protect your loved ones from the potential long-term negative effects of cyberbullying.