The Evolution of Bullying in the Digital Age

bullying in the digital age

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Since there have been human beings on the Earth, there has been bullying. It’s a fact of life for millions of children around the globe, and millions of adults, too. But with the development of the internet, it has taken on terrifying new forms in the younger generations. Cyberbullying may not cause physical pain or injury to its victims, but the ease with which it can be accomplished means that it can be even more harmful to children than its face-to-face counterparts from the past.

What is bullying?

At first glance, you might think that bullying is easy to define. A common version you might imagine is a school student being physically intimidated in the schoolyard, or one child shoving another in the hallway. However, it’s important to remember that bullying can be much more complex and varied than the stereotypes we have grown up with. It can be quiet and covert, including cases of gossip, rumour-spreading, sexual harassment, verbal bullying, and more.

These behaviours are defined as bullying when they hurt, harm, or humiliate another person, either physically or emotionally, and the victim struggles to defend themselves due to an imbalance of power. Such an imbalance comes in many forms – for example, the imbalance of power between the genders, differences in physical strength and size, and differences in social status. And while most cases of bullying are repetitive patterns of behaviour, even a single instance can be classified as bullying as well.

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How the internet has changed the bullying game

With today’s teens and children, in particular, the real world and the digital world are more intertwined than ever before – and sadly, too many parents are unaware of just what today’s technologies can do, and what their kids are using it for.

 

While physical bullying is still a problem, the issue of cyberbullying continues to make headlines, with children suffering from extreme anxiety, depression, isolation, shame, and even resorting to suicide, as a result of being bullied in the “invisible” online world.

 

The type of bullying that today’s teens experience online is more covert, which is one reason that parents are often unaware until the problem has spiraled out of control. Online bullying tactics can include intimidation and threats, gossip and rumors, and exposure to harmful content. Then, there are more extreme cases such as hacking of sensitive information, blackmail, and even revenge porn.

 

And though the worlds of real-life bullying and online bullying can and often do overlap and coincide, the key distinction between the two is the tools used by the bully. Not all online harassment meets the specific criteria to be labelled cyberbullying, but all instances of cyberbullying are also examples of online harassment. “Trolling” and “flaming” are common in digital forums like Reddit and social media channels like Facebook and Instagram, particularly those that give the bully a certain amount of anonymity. These involve the use of fruitless arguments and hostile expressions toward others, but can only really be considered cyberbullying if a repeated pattern of this behavior is apparent. Other behaviors like gossiping and spreading rumors, teasing, defamation and other computer-mediated communications are all considered cyberbullying.

 

Often unseen and unheard by anyone but the victim, online bullying can and does cause irreversible emotional damage, particularly in the formative teenage years. And while blame is often placed at the doorstep of the devices and social media networks than enable these behaviours, the truth is that preventing cyberbullying is everybody’s responsibility. Creating safe spaces online will take the cooperation (and certainly, a good amount of education) of parents and teachers, as well as perpetrators and their potential victims.

With today’s teens and children, in particular, the real world and the digital world are more intertwined than ever before – and sadly, too many parents are unaware of just what today’s technologies can do, and what their kids are using it for.

 

While physical bullying is still a problem, the issue of cyberbullying continues to make headlines, with children suffering from extreme anxiety, depression, isolation, shame, and even resorting to suicide, as a result of being bullied in the “invisible” online world.

 

The type of bullying that today’s teens experience online is more covert, which is one reason that parents are often unaware until the problem has spiraled out of control. Online bullying tactics can include intimidation and threats, gossip and rumors, and exposure to harmful content. Then, there are more extreme cases such as hacking of sensitive information, blackmail, and even revenge porn.

 

And though the worlds of real-life bullying and online bullying can and often do overlap and coincide, the key distinction between the two is the tools used by the bully. Not all online harassment meets the specific criteria to be labelled cyberbullying, but all instances of cyberbullying are also examples of online harassment. “Trolling” and “flaming” are common in digital forums like Reddit and social media channels like Facebook and Instagram, particularly those that give the bully a certain amount of anonymity. These involve the use of fruitless arguments and hostile expressions toward others, but can only really be considered cyberbullying if a repeated pattern of this behavior is apparent. Other behaviors like gossiping and spreading rumors, teasing, defamation and other computer-mediated communications are all considered cyberbullying.

 

Often unseen and unheard by anyone but the victim, online bullying can and does cause irreversible emotional damage, particularly in the formative teenage years. And while blame is often placed at the doorstep of the devices and social media networks than enable these behaviours, the truth is that preventing cyberbullying is everybody’s responsibility. Creating safe spaces online will take the cooperation (and certainly, a good amount of education) of parents and teachers, as well as perpetrators and their potential victims.

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