With the advancement of communication technology over the past two decades, bullying by use of technology and social media, referred to as cyberbullying, has become increasingly prevalent in schools, particularly among adolescents. This essay will cover the reasons for the prevalence of the virtual environment as a platform for bullying, the long-term negative effects to social, emotional and cognitive development suffered by both victims and perpetrators of cyberbullying and the responsibility of adults in the prevention of cyberbullying, highlighting their important role in mediating student’s online activities.
Cyberbullying is defined as the use of electronic media by groups or by individuals to inflict deliberate and repeated harm or discomfort on others. (Patchin and Hinduja, 2006), (Tokunaga 2010). Research into online behaviour trends has found that people tend to act differently on the internet than they do in person, often engaging in behaviour they would be significantly less likely to engage in offline. This phenomenon has been referred to as “disinhibition”. Perpetrator’s disinhibition, perceived anonymity and perceived lack of consequence are the primary factors leading to the prevalence of the use of social media as a bullying platform. From self-report data researchers have found that almost half of cyberbullying victims have reported that they did not know who was bullying them.
Those most at risk of becoming cyberbullying victims are those students who spend more time online and are more lenient with sharing passwords to their social media and email accounts with friends. Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have been reported by students to be the most frequent platforms used for cyberbullying. The bullying itself takes many forms but some common examples include the hacking of social media accounts and impersonating the victim, sharing pictures and information sent in confidence on a wide platform. Studies have found that a significant amount of online bullying incidents are drawn from events that occurred offline, most frequently at school. Conversely, discourse online can lead to incidents of traditional bullying at school. The act of seeking revenge appears to be at the core of the prevalence of cyberbullying. The ability to attack others and seemingly remain anonymous has been found to influence more socially reserved teenagers who are frequent victims of traditional bullying to retaliate by targeting their in-person bullies in online attacks.
Importantly, the physical barrier of the online world to directly witnessing a person’s emotions when interacting online bypasses processes of affective empathy, also referred to as emotional empathy, phenomenon mainly triggered by social contagion. This divide often leaves bullies unconvinced they have truly harmed their victim as they haven’t witnessed their distress personally. Many perpetrators are then able to justify their actions to themselves, arguing they did no real harm. A study published in 2010 found that adolescents who scored low on tests for both cognitive (or conscious) empathy and affective empathy also had higher scores on a test identifying them as perpetrators of online bullying.
In light of the prevalence of cyberbullying outlined here, the data on the long-term detrimental effect of cyberbullying on the development of adolescents is particularly disturbing. Cyberbullying has been found to affect student’s learning capacity and overall academic achievement, as well as damage their self-esteem and mental health. Adolescent cyber-victims have an increased risk of depression and social and general anxiety, as well as self-harming behaviours such as eating disorders, as well as suicidal ideation, sometimes leading to suicide. These effects, particularly development of social anxiety and depression, can also lead adolescents to become more withdrawn, affecting healthy social development. The effects of cyberbullying are often comparable to those of traditional face-to-face bullying, studies finding that both have a significant impact on emotional adjustment, relationships and academic focus.
However, some studies indicate that the impact of cyberbullying may be more severe than that of traditional bullying due to social media’s wider audience for public humiliation or embarrassment and the increased level of invasiveness to privacy. The main concern for victims of cyberbullying is that victims can be targeted at any time. With traditional bullying, once the student leaves the school they are no longer in the presence of the bully, creating a safe space at home and extracurricular activities where the bully isn’t present. With cyberbullying, the means of harassment is carried by the child everywhere meaning there’s no escape or safe space.
As cyberbullying in schools tends to affect a similar pool of students in a similar way to traditional bullying, much of the responsibility to keep adolescents safe in a rapidly expanding online social environment has fallen to Educators. However, the digital nature of cyberbullying means that the majority of cyberbullying behaviour occurs outside of school hours, primarily in the home. This means the responsibility to keep students safe online should be shared if not dominated by the parents. Students have been found to be unlikely to report incidences of cyberbullying when they occur. A web-based survey of 12 to 17 year-olds found that only 17% of students reported their experience to a teacher with only 30% of reported cases acted upon by the school, indicating that reactive measures from schools are generally ineffective, absent, or inappropriate.