Social Intelligence: Do you know the “Wicked Witch of the Web?”

Contributed by Amanda Anastasio, M.S.W., L.C.S.W.

Wicked witchOr, in modern lingo, a cyber-bully. In this age of cyber-communication, everyone reading this is likely to fall into one of these categories: bully, bullied, or bystander. Cyber-bullies, unlike evil witches, can hide behind the anonymity of the internet, and the impersonal ways to broadcast information to many people at once. Unfortunately, the old house-drop won’t work here to get rid of them!

Cyber-bullies cut to the core of their victim’s social life and self-image using the most essential social tools for most young people — computers and the internet. While the bullies are at ease under the cover of the internet, victims have nowhere to hide. From offensive comments, embarrassing pictures, to full-on cruel websites devoted to mocking others, victims are humiliated publicly, and it often feels like there is no escape.

Your internet profile (Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, Orkut, etc.) represents your identity, and this online identity is at risk. If you’re a woman, you are more likely to be involved. According to Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA), women are targets of cyber-bullying by other women 71 percent of the time. What is up with this, girls?

I’m here to provide you with some information that will bust through the myths – let’s clear out this smoke, and expose the man behind the curtain!

There are three categories of people on the internet: the bullies, the bullied and the bystanders.

To the bullies: You can hide, but not forever.

Right now, there is not much legislation around cyber-bullying. Laws focus on safety and proof of harm. “Cyber stalking may be every bit as troublesome and unsettling and terrifying as stalking, but there really isn’t any way to address it legally unless it comes up to the level where somebody actually hurts someone,” says Thomas Nolan, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Boston University and veteran of the Boston Police Department (Bostonia, 2009).

However, as incidents of “bullycide” (suicide as a result of bullying) spring up all over the country, more and more schools are recognizing the vital need to have a no tolerance policy when it comes to bullying. Most U.S. states now include statutes that identify bullying and cyber-bullying in the legal definition of harassment, which allows the act to be punishable by law. What this means for bullies is that there will be less tolerance and more action that can be taken in the court room as time goes on.

As colleges are making cyber-bullying more central in conversations about student issues, justice will be served, and it’s up to all students to speed up the process.

To the bullied: Don’t play the game.Cyber-bullies

A popular myth about bullies is that they have low self-esteem. Actually, studies find that bullies view themselves as superior and powerful, often having an exaggerated positive opinion of themselves. Bullies are less concerned with harming others, and more concerned about themselves and preserving the sense of superiority they have (Sutton et. al, 1999).

The best way to deal with this kind of person is to not engage. Don’t give them fuel to publicly display power over you. An angry, emotional, or even very minimal response can be twisted around and used against you.

If you feel like you are being cyber-bullied, do not respond. Instead, save as much of the information as possible (no deleting), and report the abuse to your college’s student assistance office, counseling center, or a trusted staff or faculty member. You could also report it to the police or campus police if you have one.

Cyber-bullies preserve their false sense of superiority if they can control your emotional state, or get a reaction out of you. Unfortunately, many bullies don’t have life experience needed to feel good inside; in fact, they most likely have had to struggle with power dynamics in their relationships since birth.

Don’t play the game, and there will be no record of you lashing out in an emotional state that could be used against you later. Talk, talk, talk!! Tell someone what’s going on, and don’t keep it a secret.

To the bystanders: You are not innocent.

With the internet being so vast and impersonal at times, witnessing cyber-bullying may feel light-years away from affecting your life or being your responsibility. The truth is, the only way to combat this problem is for EVERYONE to do their part.

It’s simple. If you see a fellow classmate/friend/acquaintance being ridiculed online, or you receive an email or video that mocks or degrades someone else, be the one who breaks the chain of hurt and humiliation. The next video could be of you. You want someone to stop the download and say, “This isn’t right.”

Some people might be alive if today if their fellow students backed up and called out the cyber-bully.

The myth that cyber-bullying among students is not a critical issue of life and death is slowing dying. Increased awareness, conversations, education, and courage are all to blame. Let’s all find our courage to stand up for each other and do what’s right.

What have you done to combat cyber-bullying, either personally or on campus?

References:

Sutton, J., Smith, P.K., and Setham, J. (1999) Social Cognition and bullying: social inadequacy or skilled manipulation?  British Journal of developmental Psychology, 17: 435-450.

Daniloff, Caleb. Cyber-bullying goes to college. “bu.edu” – Bostonia, April 2009 – Boston University Alumni Magazine. Access Date: 4/5/2011

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