Cyberbullying Vs Bullying: How To Protect Your Mental Health

The word “cyberbullying” first appeared in 1995 New York Times article, but if you google it now, you’ll find almost 23 million results. The rapid growth of the term, which describes harassing someone through electronic communication, often anonymously, reflects its devastating prevalence: As of 2019, some 37 percent of people between the ages of 12 and 17 were harassed online. online, and there is also evidence to suggest that cyberbullying affects adults as well. And while both virtual and real bullying share many of the same harmful characteristics and consequences, the online form of bullying can be especially problematic for mental well-being.

According to the psychologist Kyler Shumway, PsyDThere are three essential differences that separate cyberbullying and bullying in real life:

  1. The presence of the bully
  2. How fast and far information can spread
  3. The quality (and quantity) of the content being shared

“Cyberbullying offers the opportunity to be aggressive from a safe and anonymous distance,” he says, citing a growing body of research indicating that people are more likely to behave cruelly when their identity is hidden. A 2014 study, for example, compared non-anonymous and anonymous comments on online newspaper articles and found that nearly 54 percent of anonymous comments included language deemed vulgar, racist, hateful, or profane. By contrast, only about 29 percent of non-anonymous comments fell into one of these four “uncivil” categories.

“Cyberbullying offers the opportunity to be aggressive from a safe and anonymous distance.” —Kyler Shumway, PsyD

For a more recent example of the possible relationship between anonymity and cyberbullying, take the April 6 report from the Center to Counter Digital Hate (CCHR) outlining Instagram’s failure to act on abusive direct messages sent through the app. . The report analyzed Instagram direct messages from five public figures and found that one in 15 of the 8,717 total direct messages analyzed violated the social media app’s abuse and harassment rules. Before the age of social media, people would not have had such easy access to just anyone. And even if they did, it would be more difficult to achieve anonymity in personal interactions, which would apparently lower rates of shared feelings of hate or abuse.

Another influential factor that separates digital from analog bullying is how quickly and widely harmful language can spread, adds Dr. Shumway. “Cyberbullying sometimes uses technology in ways that amplify the effect of social bullying. In the pre-Internet era, if someone insulted you or spread rumors about you, those things could only be shared with those close to you. But now, you you can post mean and hurtful things for the world to see,” he says.

For another Instagram-based example, consider the case of a 15-year-old student named Yael. In 2018, the atlantic described his experience of amplified bullying online by a former friend. “She unfollowed me, she blocked me, unblocked me, then she texted me days in a row, paragraphs,” Yael said. “She was constantly posting about me on her account, she was mentioning me on her story and messaging me over and over for weeks.” Without the online platform, the abusive posts would likely have been contained to a small social group rather than being available for anyone with an account to view.

In addition, cyberbullying often leaves a trail that never fades, thanks to the digital permanence of the internet. (That is, even if someone deletes something harmful, there will likely be a record.) “One of the big problems with cyberbullying is that it doesn’t end,” says Lisa Ibekwe, LCSW, a Georgia-based child and adolescent therapist. “Unlike traditional bullying, kids can run away when they leave the space, but cyber bullying follows you wherever you go.”

“One of the big problems with cyberbullying is that it doesn’t end. Unlike traditional bullying, it follows you wherever you go.” —Lisa Ibekwe, LCSW

And finally, cyberbullies have a lot more content to choose from in an age where almost everyone has a camera on their phone. “Now that we all have smartphones that can capture audio and video on the go, we can catch people doing embarrassing and embarrassing things and show them to everyone on our network,” says Dr. Shumway. And the mental consequences of that rapid and effortless spread can be catastrophic.

The mental cost of cyberbullying

Much of the research on bullying and cyberbullying is intertwined, and therefore it is difficult to pin down the specific psychological differences between being bullied on your phone and being bullied in person. “All bullying causes harm to the survivor. The latest research tells us what we already know: Survivors often experience symptoms of depression, such as low self-esteem or thoughts of suicide or self-harm,” says Dr. Shumway. “In addition, many have reduced academic performance, substance use and have even become aggressive with their peers.”

Interestingly, bullying is also bad for the bullies themselves: According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, they can express more aggression, antisocial behaviors, and substance abuse as well. And, for what it’s worth, bystanders don’t get away unscathed either. Research shows that they may experience increased anxiety and depression after bullying.

Research on adult cyberbullying specifically suggests that both the prevalence and devastating health outcomes are far more when school ends. “The most likely victims of bullying are those who are different from those around them, whether in appearance, neurodiversity, or financial status,” says Dr. Shumway. “We also know that adolescents are much more likely to engage in cyberbullying, primarily due to access, and that adolescent girls may be at particularly high risk compared to boys.” One study found that 38 percent of girls reported being cyberbullied, compared to 26 percent of boys. And a 2019 report focused on LGBTQ+ bullying found that youth who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual were 26.6% more likely to experience cyberbullying than their peers who identified as straight.

What to do if you are being bullied online

If someone makes you feel powerless online, Ibekwe says your first step should always be to tell them someone. “If you are being bullied, we always recommend talking to someone. Sometimes people resist out of fear of embarrassment or retaliation from their peers, but in reality, many kids who have attempted or even committed suicide have been bullied at some point in their lives,” she says. “Sharing what’s happening It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

That said, there are a few other steps you can’t take to protect your mental well-being if someone is cyberbullying you.

  • Do not interact with “trolls”: “For those who don’t know what a ‘troll’ is, these are people who act as antagonists online who have a lot of fun drawing angry responses from others. When in doubt, don’t respond to someone who is cyberbullying you online, as this often makes things worse,” says Dr. Shumway.
  • Save the evidence: Take screenshots and record the behavior you see. Some states will allow you to take legal action against the person harassing you if that is the path you want to pursue.
  • Stay with your allies: “This will [help you] name the behavior as toxic or wrong without you getting involved and risking making things worse. And often others will join your friend in his defense. Nobody likes a bully,” says Dr. Shumway.
  • Online low grade: Block, unfriend or unfollow the person who is hurting you and turn your attention to joys offline. “Do whatever it takes to stay away from those who are trying to harm you,” says Dr. Shumway.
  • Take care of yourself: Ibekwe is a big advocate of using that time away from social media to journal, relax, or do whatever brings you peace in a time without peace.

If you or someone you know is experiencing cyberbullying, English speakers can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Spanish speakers can call 1-888-628-9454.

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