Share: The Psychology of Cyberbullying
As you know, I read a lot and in my search this morning, I came across this new article on Cyberbullying from verwellmind.com and thought to share it here on my Blog for easy reference. There is quite a bit of info in this article that I believe we all should be aware of to eliminate Cyberbullying from all platforms. I hope that I am still around to see this occur!
Yes, I totally agree and accept that I became a bully myself there for a while in the beginning where I too was naming them, trying to shame them into taking down the sites in my name, just as they did to me. I also learned that reactive abuse is normal when you are bullied as badly as I have been. I forgave myself for my bad behaviour and I am content with that.
The difference is that I learned my mistake and removed the personal names, focusing now on the words and behaviours instead, to show the toxic traits I am learning about. I am sharing the knowledge I have gained, as it helps me feel better.
I no longer care about the individuals behind the cyberbullying in my name online, all I care about now is the behaviour their actions with stellareddy.com show me, and learning how to recover from it all.
While stellaredy.com has been around for 4 1/2 years and one for just over 7 years, I am not concerned about them going “viral”. The lack of transparency, context, and anonymity shown in the content of stellareddy.com doesn’t exactly give the domain credibility and their narratives about my words and actions are too outrageous to believe.
They are cyberbullying me out of revenge for doing my job. People are smart enough to recognize the malicious intentions of the domain and are becoming more knowledgeable due to articles like this on the internet. Once you learn about the toxic traits, you can easily recognize them on display when you see them.
“In the case of cyberbullying, the victim generally has no escape from the abuse and harassment. Unlike real life encounters, online bullying and the Internet never really shut down and bullying may be unrelenting.
This can make victims feel as though they have no escape, particularly if the bullying involves sharing of their personal information or when something posted about them goes viral. This type of bullying can go on for an extended period of time.“
I see my situation in the article below and I am sure there are many more targets like me who would benefit from knowledge like this.
Cyberbullying refers to the use of digital technology to cause harm to other people. This typically involves the use of the Internet, but may also take place through mobile phones (e.g., text-based bullying). Social media is one of the primary channels through which cyberbullying takes place, including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, and more.
Cyberbullying has been deemed a public health problem, with the prevalence of cyberbullying doubling from 2007 to 2019,1 and 59% of teens in the United States reporting that they have been bullied or harassed online.2
In general, cyberbullying is a recent issue with increasing numbers of people using the Internet. Much of the focus of research is on how cyberbullying affects the victim, without a lot of focus on how to cope with cyberbullying, how to reduce cyberbullying, or what to do if you are a cyberbully yourself.
Cyberbullies can appear through social media, inside wellness apps, in public forums, during gaming, and more. However, more personal cyberbullies will operate through email, texting, or direct messaging.
It has been argued that cyberbullying is defined in light of five main criteria: intention to harm, repetition, power imbalance, anonymity, and publicity.3
Intention to harm
Cyberbullies generally have the intention to cause harm when they engage in online bullying. However, bullying can still take place without intention if a victim reasonably perceives actions to be harmful.
Repetition is a hallmark characteristic of cyberbullying. This refers to repeated actions on the part of the bully, but also the fact that material that is shared on the Internet could last much longer than the original post through sharing and re-posting by others. This is especially true in the case of sharing personal information or photos as a form of cyberbullying.
One of the other hallmark traits of bullying is that victims usually experience a power imbalance with their bully. The power differential can be due to the bully having more status, wealth, popularity, talent, etc. Cyberbullying can be severe and relentless, and the victim often has little control to stop the bullying.
Some cyberbullies make use of anonymity to hide behind their computer screen when they engage in bullying. In this case, there is no need for a power imbalance in the relationship between the bully and the victim, making it possible for anyone to be a bully. Anonymity allows the bully to engage in an increased degree of cruelty that would not occur if their identity was known.
Finally, another trait of cyberbullying is that it sometimes involves the use of publicity. This is especially true for those who choose to publicly humiliate or shame someone which can be especially impactful if it takes place in a public forum with the potential to reach a large audience.
Forms of Cyberbullying
What are the various forms of cyberbullying? Below are the types of cyberbullying that exist.
- Flaming: Flaming (or roasting) refers to using inflammatory language and hurling insults at someone or broadcasting offensive messages about them in the hopes of eliciting a reaction. One example would be Donald Trump’s use of the phrases “Crooked Hilary” or “Sleepy Joe Biden.”4
- Outing: Outing involves sharing personal or embarrassing information about someone on the Internet. This type of cyberbullying usually takes place on a larger scale rather than one-to-one or in a smaller group.
- Trolling: Trolling refers to posting content or comments with the goal of causing chaos and division. In other words, a troll will say something derogatory or offensive about a person or group, with the sole intention of getting people riled up. This type of cyberbully enjoys creating chaos and then sitting back and watching what happens.
- Name Calling: Name-calling involves using offensive language to refer to other people. Reports show that 42% of teens said they had been called offensive names through their mobile phone or on the Internet.2
- Spreading False Rumors: Cyberbullies who spread false rumors make up stories about individuals and then spread these false truths online. In the same report, 32% of teens said that someone had spread false rumors about them on the Internet.2
- Sending Explicit Images or Messages: Cyberbullies may also send explicit images or messages without the consent of the victim.
- Cyber Stalking/Harassing/Physical Threats: Some cyberbullies will repeatedly target the same people through cyberstalking, cyber harassment, or physical threats. In that same report, 16% of teens reported having been the victim of physical threats on the Internet.2
Why Do People Cyberbully?
Why do people engage in cyberbullying? There can be numerous different factors that lead to someone becoming a cyberbully.
Mental Health Issues
Cyberbullies may be living with mental health issues that relate to their bullying or make it worse.5 Examples include problems with behavioral issues such as aggression, hyperactivity, or impulsivity, as well as substance abuse.
In addition, those with personality features resembling the “dark tetrad” of psychopathy, Machiavellianism (deceptive, manipulative), sadism (deriving pleasure from harming others), and narcissism may be at risk for cyberbullying.6 These individuals tend to violate social norms, have a low level of empathy for other people, and may bully others as a way to increase their sense of power or worth.
Victims of Bullying
Cyberbullies sometimes become bullies after having experienced cyberbullying themselves.7 In this way, they may be looking to feel more in control or lash out after feeling victimized and being unable to retaliate to the original bully. It may feel like a dichotomous world of “bully or be bullied,” not having the insight that there is another pathway.
Result of Conflicts or Breakups
Cyberbullying that takes place between two people who were previously friends or in a relationship may be triggered by conflicts in the friendship or the breakdown of the relationship. In this way, this type of cyberbullying might be viewed as driven by anger, jealousy, or revenge.8
Boredom or Trying Out a New Persona
It has been suggested that some people engage in cyberbullying due to boredom or the desire to try out a new persona on the Internet.9 This is more likely among young adults or teenagers who are still developing their sense of identity. This type of cyberbullying would typically be anonymous.
Loneliness or Isolation
Cyberbullies may also be people who struggle with feeling isolated or lonely in society.10 If they feel ignored by others, they may lash out as a way to get attention and feel better, or vent their rage at society.
Why People Become Cyberbullies
While some people are bullies both in real life and online, there are others who only become bullies in the digital space. Why is this the case? Why would someone bully others online when they would never do that in their everyday life? There are multiple possible explanations for this behavior.
Non-Confrontational & Anonymous
The first reason why people may become bullies online when they would not bully in their everyday life has to do with the nature of the Internet. A person can bully others online and remain completely anonymous. Clearly, this is not possible with traditional bullying.
In addition, online bullying can be done in a non-confrontational way, particularly if it is anonymous. This means that a cyberbully may skip about the Internet leaving nasty comments and not stick around to hear the replies.
No Need for Popularity or Physical Dominance
In order to be a bully in real life, you typically need to have some advantage over your victim. This might mean that you are physically larger than them. It might mean that you are more popular than them. Or, it might mean that you have some sort of power imbalance over them.
In contrast, anyone can be a cyberbully. There is no need to have physical dominance or popularity. This means that people who want to bully can easily do it on the Internet regardless of their status in their real life.
No Barrier to Entry
Similar to the concept of there being no need to be dominant or popular, there is also a very low barrier to entry to becoming a cyberbully. Anyone with access to the Internet can get started. Friends are defined loosely online, which creates a situation that makes it very easy to bully others.
No Feedback From Victim
Finally, the last reason why people who do not bully in real life may engage in cyberbullying has to do with a lack of feedback from their victim. Cyberbullies usually engage in bullying over an extended period of time, largely because there is generally less personal feedback from the victim and less retaliation compared to face-to-face interaction. Someone, who in real life would see the impact on their victim and back off, may not do the same in the case of cyberbullying.
How Cyberbullying Differs From In-Person Bullying
In the case of cyberbullying, the victim generally has no escape from the abuse and harassment. Unlike real life encounters, online bullying and the Internet never really shut down and bullying may be unrelenting.
This can make victims feel as though they have no escape, particularly if the bullying involves sharing of their personal information or when something posted about them goes viral. This type of bullying can go on for an extended period of time.
Effects of Cyberbullying
There are numerous effects that may be seen in those who are dealing with cyberbullying. It can be helpful to know what to expect to see in a victim, as this can be one way to identify when someone is being bullied online.
Some of these effects are even stronger than what is seen with traditional bullying, as the victim often cannot escape the abusive situation. They may include:11
- Feelings of distress and anxiety about the bullying
- Increased feelings of depression and mood swings
- Problems falling asleep or staying asleep (e.g., insomnia)
- Increased feelings of fearfulness
- Feelings of low self-esteem or self-worth
- Social isolation, withdrawing from friend groups, or spending a lot of time alone
- Avoiding doing things that they used to enjoy
- Increased feelings of anger, irritability, or angry outbursts
- Poor academic performance
- Problems in relationships with family members and friends
- Symptoms of post-traumatic stress
- Self-harm (e.g., cutting, hitting yourself, headbanging)
- Suicidal ideation or suicide attempt
- Substance abuse
Characteristics of Victims
There are indeed some common aspects of the victim that tend to repeat themselves including the following characteristics:2
- Teens and young adults are the most at risk.
- In the case of spreading false rumors and being the recipient of explicit images, girls are more likely to be victims.
- People who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender may be victims more often.
- Those who are shy, socially awkward, or don’t fit in easily may become victims.
- People from lower-income households are more likely to be victims.
- People who use the Internet constantly are more likely to be victims of online bullies.
Anyone can become a victim of cyberbullying, even people who are considered public figures. People who have large followings on social media often tend to become targets for cyberbullies.
How to Deal with a Cyber Bully
There are many ways to deal with a cyberbully as a child, an adult, or a parent of a child being bullied on the Internet. Let’s take a look at each of these issues separately.
As a Child or Teen
Cyberbullying can come from classmates, people in chatrooms, gamers, family members, or anonymous internet trolls. It can be mildly annoying to severely threatening. If you are being harassed, bullied, stalked, or threatened, here are a few things we recommend.
- Talk to an adult that you trust for assistance (parents, a teacher, the principal, or another adult you can rely on). If the bully is making threats, the police may need to get involved.
- Save every form of communication that the bully is sending to you (emails, pictures, texts, links, documents, etc.) and take screenshots if needed.
- Do not feed the lions. Your response can be like “food” for the bully and makes them want to harass you even more.
- Do not give any personal information, such as your address, birthday, phone number, social security number, bank account information, etc.
- Even if you willingly participated in a conversation with someone online, you did not ask to be bullied. Don’t let guilt or embarrassment stop you from getting help. It is not your fault.
As a Parent
If your child is being bullied online, the best course of action is to instruct them not to respond to the Internet bully. In addition, tell them to document each instance of cyberbullying by saving text messages, emails, photos, and any other forms of communication. This can be done using screenshots if necessary. Ask your child to forward this information to you so that you have records of everything.
Next, if the bullying originates from a school contact, report the instances of cyberbullying to the teacher, principal, or administrative staff at your school. In the case of extreme bullying or threats, you should also report the bullying behavior to the police.
Finally, it’s important to reassure your child that they are not to blame for the bullying online. Some victims may feel that their behavior created the problem or that they are somehow to blame. For this reason, it’s important to make sure your child knows that what happened is not their fault.
As an Adult
Many of the same principles as above will apply to your situation as an adult dealing with a cyberbully.
First of all, be sure to keep records of all instances of bullying, whether they come through your text messages, messenger chats, in Facebook groups, Instagram DMs, or other online sources. Take screenshots and keep folders on your computer with evidence of the cyberbullying.
Next, if you know the source of the cyberbullying, determine whether there is a course of action you can take with regard to that person. For example, if it is a work colleague or supervisor, is there someone in HR at work that you can speak to? If it is a family member, is there a way to bring up this issue to other family members to ask for their support? Finally, if it is someone you only know online, can you block and delete them from all your social media?
The best course of action will be to ignore the cyberbullying as much as possible. However, if you are receiving threats, then you will want to report this to the police, along with the evidence that you have collected.
As a Community
It is not enough for victims of cyberbullying to deal with their bullies and try to find solutions. Oftentimes, these victims are emotionally distraught and unable to find help.
It is our job as a community to work toward establishing systems that prevent cyberbullying from taking place at all. Some potential ideas for initiatives are listed below.
Kids and teens who are cyberbullied are still learning how to regulate emotions and deal with social situations. Cyberbullying at this age could have lasting permanent effects. Mental health resources should be put in place to help victims of cyberbullying manage their mental health.
Cyberbullying thrives on status and approval. Cyberbullies will stop when social rejection of cyberbullying becomes so widespread and prevalent that they no longer have anything to gain. This means that every instance of online bullying that is witnessed (especially in the case of troll comments) should be ignored. In addition, there should be awareness campaigns that online bullying is not only not acceptable, but that it is a sign of weak social status.
Schools are the point of contact for parents trying to help their children who are being cyberbullied. For this reason, schools should have programs and protocols in place to immediately and swiftly deal with cyberbullying. Parents should not have to ask multiple times for help without receiving it.
What If You Are the Cyberbully?
What happens if you are the cyberbully yourself? If you are engaging in cyberbullying and want to stop, you’ll need to take stock of your reasons for engaging in the bullying, as this will inform your best course of action. Let’s consider each of these and what you could do.
You Are Struggling With a Mental Health Issue
If you feel as though your mental health is not in good shape and this might be contributing to your cyberbullying behavior, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your options. For example, if you struggle with anger or aggression, you might benefit from an anger management program.
If you have low empathy for others or identify with the traits of psychopathy, then it may be harder for you to find insight and desire to change. However, you could try to channel your energy into different pursuits.
For example, if you are cyberbullying someone because it gives you a thrill, is there a hobby you could take up or business that you could start that would give you a thrill without consequences for another person?
You Were a Victim Yourself
If you were once a victim yourself of cyberbullying, and that is the reason why you are now engaging in cyberbullying yourself, it’s time to take a look at your options for change. It could be that you have unresolved anger that needs to be taken out in a different way.
You may also feel more powerful when you bully, which helps you to stop feeling like a victim. In that case, you may need to work on other ways to improve your sense of self so that you can stop feeling helpless and out of control. After all, you were once a victim yourself, and you know how that feels.
Rather than continue a cycle of bullying and victimhood, you have a chance to break the cycle and rise above your past. You’ll likely need help to do that, most likely in the form of professional assistance to work through your past.
You Had a Conflict or Breakup
If you are cyberstalking someone because of a conflict you had with them or a bad breakup, it’s time to re-evaluate your behavior. What do you hope to achieve from your cyberstalking? Again, you may need the help of a professional to work through your feelings that have led to this behavior.
You Are Lonely or Isolated
What if you are just lonely, and this is the reason you have resorted to cyberbullying? This type of bullying falls into the arena of people who may feel like the world has passed them by. Or that everyone else is out there enjoying life while you are alone.
In this case, find ways to start building up your in-person social connections. Join a club, volunteer somewhere, or take up a hobby to meet other people like yourself.
You Are Bored
If you are cyberbullying because you are bored (and you’re not a psychopath), then you’ll want to consider why you think it is acceptable to hurt someone else in exchange for making yourself less bored.
Certainly, lots of people are bored in the world but they never cyberbully. Take up a hobby, learn a second language, or find something to do.
A Word From Verywell
If you are a victim of cyberbullying, know that you are not alone and there are options to help. If you are struggling, you can visit the following.
Finally, if you are a cyberbully yourself, it’s never too late to change. Examine your reasons for being a bully, and see if you can find some alternatives to stop the behavior.