In the digital age in which we live there are so many things to be grateful for. Positive actions like instant communication with friends through social media, a wealth of online resources, or endless hours of multimedia entertainment can be enjoyed with minimal fuss.
However, unfortunately, the advent of technology has also opened up the doors for a whole host of negative behaviours and actions, making internet safety a huge issue. These actions include spreading malware, compromising user’s personal information, and the relatively recent trend of cyber bullying.
In this article we’re going to tackle some of the best ways you can help someone on the receiving end of cyberbullying, and what you can do to prevent it happening in future.
What is Cyber Bullying?
First things first though, what exactly is cyber bullying?
A term which is bandied about more and more these days, cyber bullying is what you might imagine it is, in that it refers to malicious acts or verbal abuse through technology.
Cyber bullying can take place through any and all digital platforms, and isn’t just limited to social media, though social media safety shouldn’t be ignored. In fact, it isn’t just limited to the internet, but can also extend to texting through mobile phones.
The main forms of cyberbullying are sharing damaging content against the victim’s will, and sending hurtful messages or unsolicited photos/videos.
This online form of bullying can be especially cruel and scary for the victim since it can seem impossible to escape from. Unlike being bullied at school for example, with cyber bullying the victim can feel trapped, since they are most likely always near some form of technology.
To make things worse, a lot of cyberbullying can go unnoticed, since a lot of interactions online or through text are private, and anonymous. The anonymity in particular is a troubling element of cyberbullying, giving the bully free license to say whatever they want without fear of repercussions.
Don’t worry though, if you know someone who is being cyber bullied, then there are plenty of things you can do to help. Even if you haven’t experienced it before, it’s useful to know how to act in case you have to deal with it one day.
Signs that Someone is being Cyberbullied
A good place to start before taking drastic action is to make sure the person you are concerned about is suffering from cyberbullying.
Keep an eye out for the following signs, and you might even be able to spot cyberbullying before it’s too late.
While these signs aren’t definitive, if you notice a few of them in your friend or loved one, then you shouldn’t rule cyberbullying out.
- Dominance of Negative Emotions
One of the first signs that the person could be experiencing cyber bullying, is that they demonstrate an array of negative emotions, often.
These can include: anxiety, fear, stress, embarrassment, or shame. While these emotions are experienced by most people at one point or another, if they seem to consistently show up, then something might be up.
A telltale sign of cyberbullying would be that the person in question seems to feel these strong negative emotions always after using technology. In which case, you would be right to suspect something might be up.
- Physical Symptoms
Along with the aforementioned negative emotions, you might also observe physical symptoms such as nausea, or frequent headaches show up.
They might also show signs of being especially tired, which could possibly be a result of excessive worrying over cyberbullying.
- Behavioural Changes
In terms of behaviour, someone who is being cyberbullied might mention wanting to run away, or express great discomfort each day.
If the person in question is a student at a school, then cyberbullying can lead them to express a strong desire to stay away from school.
Socially, the person might withdraw into themselves, rejecting the opportunity to talk to people or hang out with friends. They might also stop doing things that they previously loved, such as their favourite hobby.
Lastly, focus can be affected, leaving the person restless in class, possibly ruminating over exchanges they’ve recently had online, or through text.
- A Change in Online Habits
The last type of sign is a change in online habits. The person you suspect is being cyber bullied might seem to check their phone or tablet every few seconds, or cease all activity with the device all of a sudden.
Phone safety is important for this reason, so make sure you’re informed on the risks and things you can do.
A reluctance to share their online activity, or a deletion of a social media profile can also be signs that there is something the person doesn’t want you, or others, to know.
How Can You Help?
Now that we’ve given you some tools to help identify if someone is being cyber bullied, let’s take a look at some of the options available to you to help the person in question.
Be There for Them
Just like with regular bullying, comfort and feeling safe are critical for the victim. As such, you should do your best to create a safe environment for them, and one in which they feel comfortable to express themselves and open up, should they wish to.
By being a source of positive energy, you can help shift their focus away from the negativity they are suffering as a result of cyberbullying.
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to convince them that the bullying doesn’t matter or is insignificant, so the best you can do at times is to be the light in their lives and provide them with some hope.
Another thing you can do if you know for sure the person is being cyber bullied, is to ask them if they need help dealing with it. By offering your support they will feel less alone in their struggle, and sometimes that’s all that’s needed.
Invite them to change their internet privacy settings, to secure their personal information, then suggest that they block or delete the bully. If that doesn’t work, and the bullying persists, then should consider taking further action.
Despite the fact that it seems at times like the internet is an ungoverned place, there are several authorities which can help deal with cyberbullying.
If you decide that the best course of action is to report the bully, then you’ll want to work with your friend to gather evidence of the bullying.
From text messages to photos, all you need to do is take screenshots of the interactions, so that the authorities have something concrete to go on.
Once you have this evidence, depending on the platform, you should be able to report it to the appropriate authority. For example, forums will have forum administrators who have the power to remove users, social media platforms have ‘report’ functions, and if it’s serious enough (physical threats for example) you also have the option to take it up with the police.
If the cyberbullying involves another student at the victim’s school, then the proper option would be to take it up with the headteacher.
Use Online Resources
There are a few websites you can go to online which will help you deal with cyberbullying, and some even provide a helpline which the person being bullied can call whenever they need.
One such website is stopbullying, an excellent source of in-depth information on everything concerning cyberbullying, provided by the US government. The website covers common cyberbullying tactics, effective ways to prevent it, and even has a guide for dealing with the increasingly common ‘haters’ and ‘trolls’ of the internet.
Another incredibly useful tool is the eSafety website, which has been designed to help children, and parents alike, deal with cyberbullying. The website has a ‘report abuse’ feature, a helpline, and an e-mail contact, in case the person being bullied prefers to stay anonymous.
You should try to consult these websites before taking action since they can give you really helpful advice on how to proceed depending on the particular issue.
What Not To Do
Now that we’ve covered the main things you can do to help your friend who is being cyberbullied, let’s take a quick look at some of the things not to do. You can also take a look at our guide on how to stay safe online to get a better idea of how to deal with issues like this one.
- Stay Quiet
While it’s uncomfortable to get involved sometimes, and many of us freeze and suffer from the Bystander effect in situations such as bullying, staying quiet is one of the worst things you can do.
If you don’t speak up against bullying, or say something to support your friend, they may take your silence as you approving of the bullying, which will make them feel worse.
Even just reaching out to them to say that what just happened was not ok can make a world of difference.
The longer you wait to address a case of cyberbullying, the more likely it is that it will get worse for the person being bullied, and the last thing you want is for them to come to any harm.
Take a stand and stick up for your friend, even if it feels like it isn’t your place since bullying can have an extremely adverse effect on some, which can stick with them through life, or lead to terrible consequences.
- Make Light of the Situation
While humour can definitely help alleviate tension at times, bullying is a serious issue, and should be treated as such.
If you try to make light of the bullying to the person being bullied, they might not see the good intention behind it and may feel even less inclined to talk to you if they feel you aren’t.