Cyberbullying is the act of using the Internet, cellphones or other digital devices to harass, humiliate or threaten others. Cyberbullies may pretend to be someone else to trick others into revealing information; post pictures or videos of victims; spread rumors and lies; release victims' private information; or send hurtful or threatening messages. Cyberbullies may exploit social networks, message boards, instant messaging, email and text messaging. Cyberbullying affects both children and adults.
They Think It's Funny
In a study by the National Crime Prevention Council, 81 per cent of teenagers polled expressed the belief that bullies think cyberbullying is funny. Schaudenfreude, the pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others, is reported as a motivating factor by the bullies themselves. Some perpetrators of Internet-based harassment claim that they "did it for the laughs."
The Web has made it much easier to interact with others anonymously. This has positive aspects, but the downside is a lack of personal accountability for bullying or harassment. Via the Internet, bullying can take place with a greatly reduced fear of consequences. Cyberbullies can be tracked down, however, and may be disciplined or prosecuted.
Disregard for Other's Feelings
As well as being protected from punishment, cyberbullies may also be insulated from the negative consequences of their actions. Acts of spite or cruelty which might seem unthinkable in a face-to-face context can seem much more acceptable when both victim and bully are on different sides of a wall of text.
Encouragement and Attention
Cyberbullies are often encouraged in their activities by friends or onlookers. Victimizing another person can be a way for an attacker to generate positive attention. Some cyberbullies are not really capable of distinguishing between positive and negative attention; being encouraged or chastised for their activities are both experienced as positive by such people, making them hard to discourage.
Cyberbullying in the workplace can have similar motivations to cyberbullying amongst children and teens, but workplace cyberbullies may have a more sophisticated agenda. Workplace cyberbullying can be used as a way of undermining a rival, by spreading negative rumours or causing them to under-perform due to stress. Cyberbullying by superiors can be used to drive employees to resign; or to under-perform such that they can be dismissed.
When Adults Bully Children
In 2007, 13-year-old Megan Meier committed suicide after receiving harassing messages from her online "boyfriend." These messages originated with the mother of one of Meier's school friends, Lori Drew. Drew claimed that she was motivated by a desire to elicit information regarding gossip about her own daughter.
- The Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC); Cyberbullying & Bullying in Massachusetts: Frequency & Motivations; Elizabeth Englander; July 31, 2008
- National Crime Prevention Council: Cyberbullying
- Personnel Today: One in 10 Workers Experiences Cyber-bullying in the Workplace; Greg Pitcher; 26 July 2007
- The New York Times; The Trolls Among Us; Mattathias Schwartz; August 3, 2008
- The New York Times; The Trolls Among Us, page 2; Mattathias Schwartz; August 3, 2008
- Photo Credit BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images