Cyberbullying has become a serious problem in the digital age and the impacts can be devastating.
The story of Amanda Todd shows that cyberbullying can be fatal. Amanda was chatting with a man online who asked her to flash him. She did, but she didn’t know that he snapped a picture of her breasts. When she refused to flash him again, he sent the picture to her Facebook friends, and the vicious online harassment began. Her peers cut her out. In her isolation, she began drinking heavily and using drugs.
Eventually, she killed herself.
She was only 15.
The story shares many elements with the tragic story of Tyler Clementi, one of the first widely publicized cases of suicide as a result of cyberbullying. Tyler’s roommate turned on the webcam in their dorm room and captured video of Tyler being intimate with another man. His roommate then invited others to watch the video and shared it on Twitter. Tyler immediately became a target for harassment on campus and endured brutal cyberbullying for the last weeks of his life.
He threw himself off the George Washington Bridge. He was only 18.
The wildly popular Netflix Original series “13 Reasons Why” also sheds light on the problem of online harassment. The main character, Hannah, has misleading pictures of her sent to the whole school. Rumors spread quickly, also mainly through digital means, and her reputation quickly suffers. This sets in motion a series of events that lead to her suicide.
These are extreme examples, but cyberbullying has everyday impacts as well.
A recent study found that girls who have been victims of or engage in cyberbullying are less engaged in school. The study found that girls who have encountered online harassment feel less accepted by their peers, which makes it difficult for them to be in a school environment.
I don’t take the impacts of cyberbullying lightly, mostly because I have been a victim.
When I was in middle school the cool thing to do when we got home from school was hop on the computer, sign in to AIM, and chat with our friends. We all traded screen names, which we created and recreated every other day so we’d have ‘cool’ screen names, and spent hours gossiping and sharing secrets.
One day, I received a message request from a screen name I didn’t recognize, but it was connected to a fandom I was really in to, so I accepted the request. I ended up chatting with the person for a while and became pretty comfortable with them.
I ended up sharing things with this person that I was embarrassed to share with my friends.
Then, out of the blue, my friends knew these things that I was too embarrassed to share and they teased me relentlessly. I was devastated and I couldn’t figure out how they could have figured out the secrets I was keeping. After a few weeks, someone let it slip that my ‘best friend’ had created the screen name and was pretending to be someone else in order to get me to share information.
She had shared the information she’d manipulated out of me with my other friends. They all thought it was a big joke.
In the realm of cyberbullying, this is a pretty mild experience. No nude photos of me were shared, The secrets I was embarrassed to share were run of the mill middle school things. But the experience made it really difficult for me to trust my friends and it really hurt my feelings.
When teens experience cyberbullying they experience overwhelming emotions that are hard for them to process. Victims of cyberbullying reported feeling angry, embarrassed, and hurt.
They are forced to relive these feelings every time the harassment occurs.
Messages that constitute cyberbullying are often passed from one student to another and travel quickly through social networks and school systems. This forces the teen to relive the experience multiple times.
Unfortunately, cyberbullying is a relatively common occurrence for teens. Statistics show that about half of teens surveyed have been the victim of cyberbullying. About a quarter of the teens surveyed had experienced persistent cyberbullying. This is not something that’s happening to a few teens.
It’s happening with alarming frequency and a lot of teens are getting hurt.
Cyberbullying isn’t limited to teens either. It’s extremely common for adults, particularly women, to experience cyberbullying on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Twitter especially is a nexus of online harassment. The women being harassed are often from marginalized groups. They are often speaking out about women’s issues. They are often speaking out about problematic structures and how they need to be changed. They are often speaking out against men.
When my first article was published just over a year ago, I experienced cyberbullying again. The article was about going shopping for the first time after gaining weight in recovery from an eating disorder. It included pictures of my plus size body in shorts and tank tops.
In the comments, I encountered cyberbullying for the first time since middle school.
People called me a fat-ass. They told me that they would want to die if they looked like me. They suggested that I try to diet and just not have an eating disorder.
Why did they think I deserved this harassment? Simply because I was comfortable in my plus size body. That’s when I learned not to read the comments on my articles.
Cyberbullying is a serious problem for both teens and adults, especially girls and women. The consequences of cyberbullying are always serious. People who experience online harassment experience intense feelings, that can sometimes feel so overwhelming that suicide seems like the only way out.
We need to address cyberbullying head on.
We need to talk about how harmful it is and we need to fight to put systems in place that will prevent it from occurring.
And we need to confront cyberbullies and shut them down.