Don’t just stand up to cyberbullying, sit down and be empowered
Respect others online and don't be a bystander.
This is an opinion of a young person and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of SpunOut.ie. It is one person's experience and may be different for you. If you'd like to write something for SpunOut.ie please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
"If you must, you can log proof of harmful bullying easily (by taking screenshots or saving messages)"
Michael J. Fox once said “one’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalised and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered”. When it comes to bullying or oppression in any form, we can fight back by always being in control.
Our world is online. Our In Real Life (IRL) identities and our online identities are one in the same. We socialise through instant messaging apps, social networks and comment threads. Online social media has copied our real world social networks and pasted them to the Internet. I’m not even sure when this happened. It didn’t occur immediately, but gradually over almost a decade it happened right before my eyes! Our communities are no longer limited to our one village, town or city, they have expanded to include thousands and even millions of villages, towns and cities. Young adults have become the tech savvy warriors of this digital revolution - but caution should be taken.
As internet connections improve and wonderful, speedy and instant methods of communication online are developed, a sinister side to the internet has also developed. Some people have hijacked the freedom and connectivity of our online world to spread messages of hate and bully others. Cyberbullying can consist of spreading rumours through messages, videos or social media platforms. In a digital land where freedom of speech, self-expression and communication roams wild - where does safety come into play? The troll runs rampant, and people who we would never engage in this kind of behaviour IRL, can take advantage of online platforms to bully us, and spit nasty remarks at us. Even people we know can use their keyboard to destroy our self-esteem and hurt us badly.
Cyberbullying can contribute to depression, self-harm or worse; suicide. Vulnerable young people are susceptible to these painful experiences of unprovoked abuse. Passive comments like “go kill yourself” or tormenting and supposed “light hearted jokes” can mean something different to everyone. We must remember that our words carry weight, and comments can be upsetting; so think before you type!
Is it possible to introduce a social media sheriff or some kind of online police to monitor abusive interactions? No it is not. There are times when jeers might not appear to be cyberbullying to the bully, but it is up to everyone to make people aware that they are responsible for their behaviour online just as much as if they are offline. We can’t call upon a higher authority to arrest cyberbullies but we can deal with the issue in the real world by being in control and empowered.
The need to become empowered and protect ourselves from cyberbullying comes with the rise of technology. How many of us have smartphones in our pockets? The Eircom Household Sentiment Survey highlighted that 86% of adults in Ireland now have access to a potential online device which can be used on-the-go. The highest access to these devices at home is those between 16 to 24 years of age and 81% of them own a smartphone. Cyberbullying can now happen more frequently and to young people than ever before. We must provide services and awareness where monitoring and supports lack.
With no comprehensive and reliable, virtual monitoring available to prevent cyberbullying we must take power and stand up. If it is someone you know IRL, don’t hesitate to tell them they are engaging in cyberbullying. Take control of the situation. If you must, you can log proof of harmful bullying easily (by taking screenshots or saving messages) and tell an adult or authority. Messages or e-mails can even be forwarded or abusive text messages can be shown as evidence of bullying behaviour.
If the bullying is being perpetrated from unknown sources, social media have extensive methods to prevent further activity. Reporting abuse to the social network or to a moderator will see action taken to remove the individual and stop their activity. The online colloquial “don’t feed the trolls” holds truth: do not engage with abusive behaviour geared to provoke a response. Simply step away from the keyboard or log off. Be empowered. Block the bully and relish in being the one who is in control.
Always remember that the lines are blurred between the real world and offline world. Behaviours and attitudes can even be amplified online but that is no excuse. Be responsible for what you say, who you say it to and how you say it. We must be powerful enough to protect our mental health when no one else can.