Pixels Can Hurt (More Than Actions)

“You can’t physically hurt somebody through cyber bullying , but you can definitely hurt your feelings. You can say many hurtful things and make you feel really sad, because you’re in your own safe place. You’re in your home.”(a 10 year old boy quoted by Mishna, Saini and Solomon) [1].

 

It is a well known fact that the widespread success of online technologies has transformed the way we communicate and seek entertainment. Through the use of a wide variety of communication tools, such as e-mail, social networking sites and blogs, we can keep in touch with our friends and acquaintances even if we are thousand miles away from each other.

Brettwilsonllp on online harassment

Brettwilsonllp on online harassment

However, the increasing usage of social media platforms has also provided a breeding ground for the flourishing of activities which were mostly associated with the offline world. One of those activities is online harassment. According to Bossler, Holt and May online harassment can be described as a series of threatening, hurtful or sexual messages delivered in a variety of electronic forms, with the purpose  to hurt the receiver of the message [2]. As it might be expected, students are more prone to this behaviour and they are the ones in need for psychological support.

In this blog post, I will try to summarize some of the most significant data that has been presented in recent studies regarding online harassment, and specifically cyber-bullying.

Profile of the victim

What makes some people more vulnerable to online attacks than others? In an effort to give an answer to this question, several researchers have tried to sketch the profile of the potential victim.

Sengupta and Chaudhuri point out that being female, posting pictures of yourself online, chatting  and flirting online, are factors that can increase the likelihood of being harassed [3]. In addition, according to another research study, low school performance, being online, and socialize with students who have the tendency to harass others, increase the probabilities of online harassment [2]. Finally, a different sexual orientation or alternative lifestyle can lead to online labeling and bullying [4].

Psychological Implications

Most people overlook the impact that online harassment can have on the life of victims, especially to a sensitive population such as children. Many students who were cyber-bullied report feelings of sadness, anxiety, fear and inability to concentrate. Moreover, students who have been harassed are more likely to underperform in their studies, skip school, face detention, and even carry weapons at school [1]. The most concerning finding comes from a research study on students between the ages 11 and 15 in Canada. When they were asked how they feel about being harassed online, several reported having suicidal thoughts [5].

An interesting finding comes from a research study on 1,368 students in one US and two Canadian universities. According to this research, students who were cyber-harassed in high school were more likely to be cyber-victimized again in university. An explanation for this continuation of harassment is that in their early years, students adopt the role of the victim which has been ascribed to them. As a result, they end up carrying this self-reflection for the rest of their lives [6].

Refusal to Report

Several of the studies presented here have made the same observation that although a significant amount of their sample had been cyber-harassed in the past, only a small portion had reported the incident.

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Online-harassment example from YouTube

According to Mishna, Saini and Solomon, many students are reluctant to report an incident of cyber-bullying because they believe that it is impossible to prove the incident or identify the attacker [1]. It should be noted here, that their data contradicted the student’s statements regarding the anonymity of the attacker. In most cases, cyber-bullying occurred within the social circle of the students.

Additional reasons to not report an incident of cyber-harassment are fear of retribution by the bully, the idea that school staff won’t be able to help, fear of getting their friends in trouble, fear that their parents will restrict their internet access, and the potential labeling as informers or rats [5].

SNS: The Source of the Evil?

But, should the social networking sites (SNS) be held accountable for the rise in the numbers of cyber-harassment among teenagers?

For Sengupta and Chaudhuri the answer is no [3]. According to their study, the common belief that social networking sites serve as nest for sex offenders and cyber-bullies is weak. The fact that someone has  a profile on a SNS does not imply that he or she is more likely to fall victim to online harassment. However, online attitudes and behaviors on these sites play a crucial role in determining whether someone will eventually get targeted by cyber-attackers [3]. Thus, SNS users are advised to be cautious with the amount of information they disclose online and the way they interact with  people.

Prevention & Solution

Although the amount of cyber-harassment has significantly increased during the past few years, only a few baby steps have been taken towards the solution of this problem [3]. Moreover, school psychologists might be acknowledging the problem, but when it comes to the implementation of their preventive strategies, they face many challenges [6].

Online anti-bullying campaign

Online anti-bullying campaign

For Cassidy, Jackson and Brown, the best solution is to listen to what the students suggest. When presented with ten solutions to cyber-bullying students, picked the following: setting up an anonymous phone-in line, developing educational programs for students and parents, and punishment of students  who participate in cyber-bullying. In addition, students requested the creation of a webpage where they could report an incident anonymously, without the fear of reprisal from the bully [5].

One thing’s for sure, people should be educated about the significance of cyber-harassment and it’s consequences. And most importantly, you should remember that next time you disclose something online, someone might be lurking in the shadows of the cyberspace, ready to use this information against you. Don’t give him or her a chance.

_______________________

1. Mishna, F., Saini, M., & Solomon, S. (2009). Ongoing and online: Children and youth’s perceptions of cyber bullying. Children and Youth Services Review, 31(12), 1222–1228. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2009.05.004

2. Bossler, a. M., Holt, T. J., & May, D. C. (2011). Predicting Online Harassment Victimization Among a Juvenile Population. Youth & Society, 44(4), 500–523. doi:10.1177/0044118X11407525

3. Sengupta, A., & Chaudhuri, A. (2011). Are social networking sites a source of online harassment for teens? Evidence from survey data. Children and Youth Services Review, 33(2), 284–290. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2010.09.011

4. Finn, J. (2004). A survey of online harassment at a university campus. Journal of interpersonal violence, 19(4), 468–83. doi:10.1177/0886260503262083

5. Cassidy, W., Jackson, M., & Brown, K. N. (2009). Sticks and Stones Can Break My Bones, But How Can Pixels Hurt Me?: Students’ Experiences with Cyber-Bullying. School Psychology International, 30(4), 383–402. doi:10.1177/0143034309106948

6. Beran, T. N., Rinaldi, C., Bickham, D. S., & Rich, M. (2012). Evidence for the need to support adolescents dealing with harassment and cyber-harassment: Prevalence, progression, and impact. School Psychology International, 33(5), 562–576. doi:10.1177/0143034312446976

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