Cyberbullying is becoming a major problem on the
internet. It is something that is not
understood by many people until they actually
come face-to-face with it. Because bullying on
the internet tends to be more psychological than
physical, many people are apt to dismiss it out
of hand. "Sticks and stones may break my bones,
but words can never hurt me" does not apply
here. Words are the very medium of the internet
and they can be used with devastating effect.
It is not limited to children bullying children,
either. Many adults have become victims of
cyberbullies as well. They're bewildered to
find themselves singled out and treated
differently from other people in their online
group. They find their posts being ignored,
marginalized or overruled on a constant basis.
They'll find that things they say are being
twisted or distorted. Their reputation gets
trashed. Often it doesn't help to quit a group,
chat or forum and walk away from the situation.
The bullies will often follow them online from
forum to forum, group to group, chat to chat.
It doesn't take much to become the victim of a
cyberbully. For children, the bullying often
starts on the playground and is taken online.
For adults, the bullying often starts online,
usually with an innocent remark that is taken
the wrong way. As internet users, our
communication with each other is truncated
because it is limited to the written word, and
possibly a few emoticons. Sometimes someone is
perceived as a cyberbully when a remark is take
out of context. Then a flame war results.
Either way it starts, cyberbullying can morph
easily into cyberstalking and even stalking in
the real world. It may get to the point where
third parties are required to become involved.
Legal intervention may also become necessary.
Even if it doesn't get that far, the bullying
can have devastating effects on it's victims.
They'll manifest physical symptoms such as
tension headaches, migraines, sleeplessness, and
nightmares. They'll suffer from stress,
irritability, poor concentration, and
depression. Cyberbullying can shatter a
person's self-confidence and lower their
self-esteem. In the long term, it may result in
the victim requiring physical and/or mental
Why do Cyberbullies Attack?
Boiled down to it's essence, bullying is about
power. A cyberbully wants to put their victim
in distress. Therefore the bully will embark
upon a series of repeated, intentionally cruel
actions against the victim. Their intent is to
hurt or humiliate the victim. Reacting to the
bully only serves to confirm their feeling of
power. Their online mission has succeeded in
their own minds.
Many cyberbullies work to convince their online
peers to exclude or reject a victim. Their
mission is to cut the victim off from their
social connections. The bully may even believe
that they are doing the members of their group
or chat room a favour by getting rid of the
victim. Once the person leaves or is "banished"
from the group, this serves to confirm the
cyberbully's sense of power.
The internet tends to provide people with a
false sense of security. Thus it makes it
easier for people to do things they think they
can "get away with." People will say things
online that they would never say to another
person face-to-face. They have a sense of being
removed from their actions and the people they
Bullies bully because they can. They've gotten
away with that type of behaviour in the pas and
so they keep repeating it. Unfortunately many
victims never speak up. Many other people are
also afraid to speak against the bully. They
are afraid that if they do, that will put them
in the cyberbully's radar and they will be the
next person to be victimized. This reinforces
the bully's belief that they are untouchable.
How to Deal with Internet Bullies
Usually the best response is no response at
all. If you react with anger, then the bully
wins the round. If you react at all, the bully
wins - they want the attention. Ignore them
long enough, quietly remove their posting from
the message boards (if possible) and then the
bully will do either one of two things:
They'll get bored and eventually go away.
They'll increase their efforts to get your
attention. Hopefully they'll get to the
point where they do something so colossally
stupid that you can report to their ISP and
get them kicked off the internet.
Don't post a long, dramatic good-bye message to
your internet friends. That is blatantly
telling the cyberbully that they've won. You
validate their actions and make them feel like
they can get away with more of the same
Document every action against you. Create a
private space online that exists solely for the
purpose of collecting their mean-spirited posts,
insults, slander, etc. If need be, you then
have evidence to back you up should you have to
go legal on them.
If you run a message board and see a cyberbully
victimizing someone on your boards, don't let
the message stay on the boards. If necessary,
moderate the cyberbully so they know they are
being watched and documented.
The Law and Cyberbullies
Different parts of the world have different
methods for dealing with cyberbullies. As with
many internet crimes, it sometimes takes the law
a while to catch up with internet society.
Unfortunately in many instances it is difficult
to get law enforcement officials and ISPs to
take cases of cyberbullying seriously. You may
have to use existing laws creatively to get the
action you need taken against internet bullies.
In Canada it is a crime to communicate
repeatedly with someone if your correspondence
causes them to fear for their own safety and the
safety of others. Many other countries and ISPs
do take communicated threats very seriously. In
one instance that I know of personally, a person
threatened to send someone's computer a virus
and then followed through on it. Even though
the incident happened across international
borders, the bully's connection to the internet
was terminated by their ISP.
In many places it is also a crime to publish
defamatory libel. In Canada, that means
publishing anything (this includes posts on
message boards) without lawful justification or
excuse that is intended to insult a person or
damage their reputation by exposing them to
hatred, contempt or ridicule. A defamatory
libel may be expressed directly or by
insinuation or irony.
A cyberbully may also be committing a Human
Rights violation if their bullying spreads hate
or discrimination based on race, national or
ethnic origin, colour, religion, age sex, sexual
orientation, marital status, family status or