In its traditional sense, ‘bullying’ can be defined as an aggressive intentional and repeated behavior of a group or an individual against a victim who cannot defend him or herself. Cyberbullying is an aggressive and repeated behavior carried out online, using electronic forms of contact, such as mobile phones, emails and social networks. Whereas cyberbullying can take many forms, major types of online aggressive behavior are text messages, pictures and videos, phone calls, emails, instant messaging and bullying via websites. The advent and wide spread of electronic communication technologies gave rise to new forms of bullying, which take place in cyberspace but might have serious negative consequences for victims in real life, leading even to isolation, suicides or serious psycho-social disorders. Whereas the aggressive behaviors via electronic channels might seem milder, the implications of cyberbullying for the victims can be as hard as the consequences of bullying in its traditional sense or even worse than that.
The availability of Internet and popularity of social networks along with the seeming anonymity of interactions make cyberbullying the dominant bullying form among modern youths. According to the findings of one of the recent studies conducted by Slonje and Smith (2007), 22% of students experienced cyberbullying at least once (p. 148). At the same time, about 7% of students are continually cyberbullied and they experience repetitive aggressive attacks. The responses of victims mainly depend upon their peers’ awareness of the bullying incidents. Thus, a bullying incident known to more people is more offensive than that known only to a victim. For this reason, in most cases victims tell only their best friends about the unpleasant experiences of cyberbullying in which they were victims. Thus, parents and teachers are often unaware of the bullying instances taking place in certain groups of students and thus, adults cannot help students overcome their difficulties or interfere and try to influence the situation and the behavior of all the participants of the conflict. In some cases (about 10%), students even decide not to tell anyone about being bullied. Importantly, different forms of cyberbullying can result in different levels of public awareness of the incident. For example, the bullying instances involving pictures and video clips usually become known to about 43% of a class, whereas about 37% of people know about phone calls and only29% of the group know of text messages. Taking into account the fact that there’s a direct relationship between the level of awareness of a particular incident and the victim’s perception and response to it, it can be stated that the intention to conceal cyberbullying cases is one of the coping strategies aimed at neutralizing the possible aftermath and consequences of victimization.
Along with the differences in awareness levels and implications of different forms of cyberbullying, the responses to cyberbullying in different individuals can vary, depending on their age, gender and other psychosocial characteristics. Thus, Snell and Englander (2010) stated that girls are more often get involved in cyberbullying, both as victims and actual bullies, whereas boys more often take part in physical bullying (p. 510). The main explanation for this difference is that in most cases females prefer indirect relational aggression, whereas males choose physical aggression often taking the form of fights. The major types of relational bullying chosen by girls can be successfully carried out online. The main manipulative strategies include gossiping, spreading rumors, betrayals or excluding victims, depriving them of the feel of belonging. The cyberbullying can take the form of threats, harassing or humiliation on the basis of appearance, ethnic or psycho-social characteristics. Thus, girls can be attacked for not complying with the generally accepted beauty standards or for not belonging to certain social groups and not being involved in popular social activities. Whereas bullies can easily find an excuse for attacking their peer, too shy, introvert and overweight individuals are most likely to become victims of bullying attacks. Therefore, the individual peculiarities which previously could make students objects of traditional bullying have now been transferred to cyberspace, making some individuals victims of aggressive attacks and revealing the overall lack of tolerance and empathy in modern community.
Even taking place online, cyberbullying may have serious consequences for its victims in the real world. Thus, continuous attacks and repetitive abuses may influence an individual’s self-perception, self-esteem and overall psychological wellbeing. In some cases, the abusive messages may have almost hypnotic effect on a person. A skinny girl, who is constantly called fat, can end up believing this claim and distorting her own body image under the influence of someone whose only goal is to have fun and boost their own self-esteem. Along with the unhealthy messages sent by mass media and beauty industry, cyberbullying attacks distort self-perception of modern females, having a negative impact on their eating habits and relations with others (Willard, 2007, p. 28). Anorexia nervosa and bulimia are extreme but widely spread consequences of distorted body image and cyberbullying. Therefore, repetitive aggressive attacks can have long-lasting effects on personal development and psycho-social well-being of a victim. Consequently, the new form of bullying taking place in the cyberspace requires further research and measures for increasing the students’ awareness of the potential threats of Internet use and the most effective coping strategies.
Cyberbullying is an important problem of modern education system. Taking place in cyberspace, these repetitive aggressive actions often become known to large groups of students, whereas there’s a direct link between the number of people who are aware of bullying and the victimization process. Even though girls are more likely to be involved in cyberbullying than boys, the victimization as a result of aggressive attacks in the form of offensive pictures, video clips, text messages or phone calls can have serious negative consequences for the psycho-social wellbeing of both male and female students.
Slonje, R. & Smith, P. (2007). Cyberbullying: Another main type of bullying? Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 29(2), 147 – 154.
Snell, P. & Englander, E. (2010). Cyberbullying victimization and behaviors among girls: Applying research findings in the field. Journal of Social Sciences 6(4), 510 – 514. Retrieved from http://vc.bridgew.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=marc_pubs
Willard, N. (2007). Cyberbulling and cyberthreats: Responding to the challenge of online social aggression, threats and distress. Malloy Inc.: New York, NY.