While you are reading this, countless people around the world are being cyber bullied. This may include your child, your friend, your neighbour, someone you work with… or even you.

Bullying is not a new phenomenon. Unfortunately, it has been around (in one insidious form or another) since the dawn of time.

Our understanding of what constitutes bullying, its effects and how to deal with it have had to evolve continuously in line with social and technological developments.

It seems as though when action is taken to deal with one form of bullying, another one pops up in its place like “Whack a Mole”.

Cyber bullying is the latest form of bullying to metastasize – a nasty by-product of the advent of technology such as social media, which has developed in recent years.

Although our understanding of cyber bullying is still evolving and the way in which it takes form seems to be constantly metamorphosing, it is important to know what signs to look out for and what to do about it to stop the spread of harm.

What is Cyber Bullying?

Cyber bullying and/or abuse is behaviour that uses technology to threaten, intimidate, harass or humiliate someone with the intention of hurting them socially, psychologically or physically.

Cyberbullying can include:

  • Abusive, hurtful or obscene texts, emails, images or videos.
  • Sharing intimate or sexual photos or videos of a person without their consent.
  • Posting digitally manipulated explicit mages or footage of a person online.
  • Imitating (‘catfishing’), excluding or humiliating others online.
  • Creating fake accounts to trick or humiliate someone.
  • Spreading nasty gossip online or via text.
  • Threatening violence.
  • Cyberstalking or hacking into someone’s online accounts.
  • Encouraging someone to self-harm or suicide.

Other patterns of behaviour that ‘scaffold’ a culture of cyber bullying (but are not necessarily ‘abusive’ on their own) include sarcastic comments, insults, sharing strong opposing views and making off-topic statements that deliberately derail conversations.

Cyber bullying can occur via phone, email, social media, chat forums, message boards and online gaming.

Statistics on Cyber Bullying

The Australian E-Safety Commissioner reports that 1 in 5 young people in Australia have being socially excluded, threatened or abused online. While 24% of teenagers and 15% of children admitted to engaging in this behaviour. (More than 90% of which had also experienced cyber bullying, in a vicious cycle.)

Unfortunately, cyber bullying doesn’t seem to be something that children ‘grow out of’. The Sunday Morning Herald reports that around 10% of adults have also been the victim of cyber bullying or abuse.

Why Do People Cyber Bully?

Cyber bullying occurs for the same reasons as other bullying: due to the flaws, dissatisfaction and insecurities that lie within the bullies themselves.

However, because it can be done anonymously, perpetrators may feel a heightened sense of justification or entitlement, as they do not have to face their victims in person and see the effects of their behaviour. This anonymity may also make them feel ‘untouchable’ – that they will not get caught and/or face any consequences.

The two kinds of people most likely to bully include those who are ‘popular’ (they bully in order to stay popular or feel powerful) and those who are social ‘outsiders’ (they bully as a maladaptive coping mechanism or to fit in).

The main ‘reasons’ people cite being cyber bullied are about their appearance, intelligence, race, sexuality, financial status and religion.

What are the signs that someone is being Cyber Bullied?

Other people (especially children and teenagers) may not always speak up about cyber bullying for fear of making the situation worse or a variety of other reasons.

Although others may not come right out and tell you “I’m being cyber bullied”, there are signs you can look out for including:

  • Becoming upset or secretive after using technology.
  • Personality changes (e.g. becoming more withdrawn, anxious, sad or angry).
  • Appearing more lonely and/or unexpected changes in friendship groups.
  • A decline in school or work performance and avoidance of these settings.
  • Changes in sleep patterns.
  • A decline in physical health.

If someone you care about is exhibiting any of the above signs, it is always appropriate (and important) to ask, “Are U OK?”

Even if the problem is not cyber bullying, starting this conversation and creating a safe, judgement-free space for the person to speak openly is vitally important for their wellbeing.

What Can You Do?

It may feel as though cyber bullying is ubiquitous and that it can be impossible to avoid without going completely off the grid.

However, it is possible to co-exist harmoniously with technology and protect yourself and your family from the harmful effects of cyber bullying.

Bullying should never be accepted as ‘part of life’. We ALL need to become ‘upstanders’ and not ‘bystanders’. That means speaking up and/or reporting any bullying behaviour we become aware of, even if it does not directly involve us.

The old adage that “snitches get stitches” is outdated, immature and simply idiotic.

Other strategies to avoid cyber bullying include resisting the urge to respond/retaliate to nasty comments (bullies want a reaction); minimising your online exposure (have regular ‘digital detoxes’); saving/documenting any evidence of cyber bullying that you may need to make a report; blocking the perpetrator/s from making contact with you; and reporting the abusive behaviour to the appropriate authorities.

Getting Help

The effects of cyber bullying MUST be taken seriously. They can include a long lasting impact on a person’s mental health and self-worth and can even be fatal.

If you or someone you know is the victim of cyber bullying, please speak up, ask for help from a trusted friend, parent, teacher, supervisor and/or mental health professional. You are NOT alone.

If you are the perpetrator of cyber bullying and are struggling to understand why you are behaving this way but would like to stop, it is a brave and commendable step to seek help to change your behaviour.

In a school or work setting, cyber bullying can dramatically affect academic or work performance. Putting measures in place to prevent and manage the impact of cyber bullying is one of the best investments that can be made towards long term productivity and wellbeing.

I offer a range of modalities including Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Hypnosis, Time Line Therapy®, Access Bars® and Life Coaching to support anyone who has been affected by cyber bullying and can work together with you and your support team to maintain continuity of support.

I also offer support for groups in workplace, school and club/team settings.

For more information please visit www.purposefullife.com.au. To make an appointment, please phone on 0481 877 860 or email hello@purposefullife.com.au.