Cyberbullying - A contemporary threat to diversity and inclusivity

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Cyberbullying has been identified as an important problem amongst youth in the last decade. Some reviews of cyberbullying already exist, but the area is developing very rapidly, as new technologies develop and new trends and social networks appear.1 As such, cyberbullying has become a major threat to diversity and inclusivity, due to the high adoption rate of smartphones, personal computer, and other information technology that are channels for cyberbullying . But what exactly is cyberbullying and how can we deal with it?

What is cyberbullying?

Bullying is generally seen as intentional behavior to harm another, repeatedly, where it is difficult for the victim to defend himself or herself; it is based on an imbalance of power; and can be defined as a systematic abuse of power.

By extending the definition from traditional bullying, cyberbullying has been defined as an aggressive act or behavior that is carried out using electronic means by a group or an individual repeatedly and over time against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation (1).

Cyberbullying and intersectionality

Why should we, as allies, care more about cyberbullying? Start by thinking about intersectionality - some people might be facing a higher risk of in injustice, bullying or other harmful behaviors because of their gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, and class. Research has shown adolescence and early adulthood are peak periods for involvement in cyberbullying. Compared to traditional bullying, girls may be relatively more involved, but gender differences remain inconsistent across studies (1).

A well replicated finding is a large overlap between involvement in traditional bullying and cyberbullying. One aspect of this is that there is a quite strong link between those who are involved as cyberbullies and traditional bullies, perhaps more so in boys. Regarding cybervictims, research found that the biggest risk factor of being bullied online was to bully others online. They concluded that being bullied online may be seen as two-way interaction where children bully others and are bullied themselves. This was especially seen between girls. Little is known about the sequence of events that may lead up to cyberbullying. Also, some cyberbullies may be traditional victims who, being unable to retaliate face-to-face, may do so by electronic means as a form of retaliation (1). The harrassment one faces online can affect them day-to-day, and the lasting comments and derogatory posts made over the Internet can be seen by others into the future.

Why should we care about cyberbullying?

With the prevalence of social media and digital forums, comments, photos, posts, and content shared by individuals can often be viewed by strangers as well as acquaintances. The content an individual shares online – both their personal content as well as any negative, mean, or hurtful content – creates a kind of permanent public record of their views, activities, and behavior. This public record can be thought of as an online reputation, which may be accessible to schools, employers, colleges, clubs, and others who may be researching an individual now or in the future. Cyberbullying can harm the online reputations of everyone involved – not just the person being bullied, but those doing the bullying or participating in it.

In addition to online bullying, controversial posts through online medias can surface in these searches. Out of context or without background understanding of the person that you are, this content can work negatively towards your image. Being cognizant of the image you create online, in relation to other people as well as your personal ideals and beliefs, is important for your future self.

But, how can we deal with cyberbullying?

To prevent cyberbullying, and bullying on campus in general, students use a variety of tools and strategies to better identify and act upon threats. If you or someone you know is a victim of a cyberbullying attack, consider implementing one or all of the following methods to prevent continued threats for yourself or others.

1. Tell Someone

Whether it’s a roommate, professor or the police, victims of bullying need to speak up. Because many cyberbullying attacks are targeted and not seen by others, these attacks can go unnoticed by others. If you feel as though someone is threatening, harassing or mocking you over text, social media, email or other digital medium, don’t hesitate to tell someone you trust.

2. Don’t Retaliate

Often, cyberbullies thrive off the attention and frustration they receive from their victims. Instead of responding with aggressive or threatening messages, talk to someone you trust and don’t retaliate.

3. Store Information

Collect information surrounding the cyberbullying attempt or issue, including text messages, social media posts, date and time, and any other applicable information. In the event that it becomes part of an investigation or larger, ongoing issue, this information can be helpful to identify and apprehend the instigator.

4. Make Timely Reports

Whether you report the person on social media or call your phone company to block a number, the method used by cyberbullies is always a good starting point. If the initiator doesn’t have access to you via text messages or social media outlets, he or she may decide to abandon cyberbullying.

5. Seek Counseling

Both Western and Ivey offer counseling resources to students who are victims of bullying on campus. Because they are often more likely to develop mental health issues from the traumatic experience, students should continue to talk with professionals to ensure they properly recover (2).

To help prevent these situations from occurring, “Be proactive and ensure that there are clear policies in place to protect employees from bullying. But most importantly, if anyone comes to you with a complaint, listen carefully, take it seriously, and investigate the situation quickly and thoroughly,”

“One person really can make a difference. Be that person.” - Teresa Daniel, Dean of the Human Resource Leadership Program at Sullivan University in Louisville (4).

Finally, please remember, if you or anyone around you have any concerns about diversity and inclusivity, Ally@Ivey is always here for you!

By Joe Li