Cyberbullying: how to fight it

In my previous post I addressed the question whether cyberbullying can be seen as big of a problem as the other, more traditional forms of bullying.  Research has shown that however the number of victims lower is than in the other forms, it is increasing and it should be taken very seriously.{See post}

But what is cyberbullying exactly? Cyberbullying differs from ‘normal’ bullying in the difficulty to get away from it. In other forms, the bullying usually stops at the school doors, but with cyberbullying the harassment continues. Being in the same room isn’t a requirement anymore. This creates a sort of invisibility: cyberbullying can easily be done anonymously and without any personal contact. This goes hand in hand with the lack of supervision. On the internet there is no one to tell you want you can and cannot do. Another difference is that the audience in cases of cyberbullying can be way bigger. You can have a worldwide audience on the internet. According to the EU commission these aspects make cyberbullying more harmful than the traditional forms. Another important point the Commission makes is that in cyberbullying the question of intentionality and responsibility is less clear. Are you partaking in bullying if you watch sensitive pictures of someone who did not want those pictures online. Or are you only responsible if you share those pictures?

So it is clear that there are a lot of differences between cyberbullying and the other forms. This made me question the sufficiency of existing ways of tackling bullying.

Schools remain the main actor in tackling cyberbullying. This is logical, as the bullies are often the same online and offline, and schools have the most experience with addressing these problems. However, with cyberbullying the problem doesn’t end at the school doors. So the efforts in tackling it shouldn’t either. Vandenbosch suggest a combination of preventive and reactive actions that need to be taken. Not only schools need to react to cases of bullying, also the police, internet service providers and websites themselves need to be engaged in fighting cyberbullying. Next to this, there is also a need for informing pupils, parents and teachers about the social mechanisms that are at work in an online environment. She gives the following graph to show all the actors who should be involved in tackling cyberbulling amongst youngsters and on which level their actions should be.

Overview of stakeholders needed to address cyberbullying

Patchin, J. W., & Hinduja, S. (2006). Bullies move beyond the schoolyard a preliminary look at cyberbullying. Youth violence and juvenile justice, 4(2), 148-169.

Slonje, R., & Smith, P. K. (2008). Cyberbullying: Another main type of bullying?. Scandinavian journal of psychology, 49(2), 147-154

Vandebosch, H. (2014). Addressing cyberbullying using a multi-stakeholder approach: The Flemish case. In Minding Minors Wandering the Web: Regulating Online Child Safety (pp. 245-262). TMC Asser Press.


One response to “Cyberbullying: how to fight it

  1. I strongly believe, that cyberbullying is a huge problem already, and is becoming bigger every day.

    I think the main problem with cyberbullying is the anonymity, as you mentioned, of the “online existence”. It is way easier to attack someone, if nobody knows who the attacker was. If I bully someone in school, there is always the possibility, that I get caught and subsequentially run into problems with teachers and parents or even the police in extreme cases, Online there are virtually (no pun intended) no consequences for my behaviour.

    Also you can’t really escape online bullying once it started. Like you said, bullying in school stops at the school doors. Online bullying continues. The only way to escape it is to not use certain platforms anymore or the get off the internet completly. Something that is getting more and more difficult in our times. When I look at the organization of my universtity courses, there is actually not a way anymore do be a student and not be online at least once in a while.

    Cyberbullying also doesn’t stop once you’re out of school or out of college, it can continue into adulthood (as can “traditional” bullying). I have seen multiple cases where adults were attacked by other supposedly mature people on twitter over their sexual orientation, beliefs or personal preferences. Also there are already new forms of online bullying emerging like doxxing – publishing personal documents of a person, like credit card information or phone bills, online – or swatting – ie. calling the police and pretending there is a hostage situation at someones home, resulting in a police raid on the house – that can have far reaching effects on someones life.

    But how to tackle the problem? I think right now, nobody really has a conclusive answer to that. I believe the most important actors are the parents and teachers who have to teach the children, the bullys as well as the bullied, how to engage with the internet responsibly.
    The role of the media itself, like Twitter or Facebook is also still unclear. Do they have the responsibility to moderate every post? This would mean a huge assignement of staff and would take away the instant character of most online services – I click “post” now and a second later everyone in the world can read it. Also where does it stop? Strong moderation can quickly become censorship.
    On the other end of the spectrum, there are politics and legislation who struggle to respond to the problem. When Angela Merkel said that the internet is a new country that we don’t quite know yet (I don’t know who to translate “Neuland” properly), it quickly became an online joke because most people on our/my generation have lived with the internet for several years or maybe half their lives. Still it gives a clear picture on how the german politic leaders perceive the internet. They don’t quite know yet and I think there is a lot of work still to be done.


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