Digital technology has ushered us into an era of unparalleled knowledge. The internet is as vast as it is useful, and most of us cannot imagine our lives without it.
While presenting us with endless opportunities, the digital revolution has also opened the gates to a new type of threat: cyberbullying.
Unfortunately, during the COVID-19 pandemic cyberbullying has become even more common due to the increase in time spent online.
This threat is very real, and potentially devastating. However, there are ways to combat it. The first step is understanding the problem.
What Is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is the use of digital communication to bully someone, in most cases by sending private and/or public messages that are intimidating, shaming or threatening. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent among children and teens who use social media and messaging apps.
Whether bullying happens in person or online, it is profoundly harmful.
It can lead to social exclusion, depression and anxiety, academic difficulties, family problems, violence, self-harm, and in extreme cases even suicide.
Although cyberbullying is not necessarily more dangerous than in-person bullying it has some unique characteristics:
- Unlike in-person bullying, cyberbullying can be anonymous, which makes it more difficult to stop.
- Cyberbullying can have a massive audience. Offensive posts may be seen and shared across the web. In some cases they can go viral.
- It does not end when the school bell rings. Cyberbullying can occur during any time of day or night.
- It can be difficult to make it go away. Due to the nature of the web, the digital footprint of hurtful content can be hard to delete, especially if it has been extensively shared.
It’s a Big Problem and It’s Getting Bigger
Let’s take a look at some numbers. According to research conducted by Hinduja & Patchin for the Cyberbullying Research Center in 2015, roughly 34% students in the US have experienced cyberbullying, and more than 60% of students who were cyberbullied felt that the experience significantly affected their sense of safety and ability to learn.
In 2018 Pew Research Center for Internet & Technology reported that 59% of US teenagers have been bullied online, and that over 90% of US teens see cyberbullying as a major problem for people their age.
A 2019 study by the Cyberbullying Research Center indicates that students spend more than an hour a day online when school is out and that online entertainment and social platforms are the first places they go when bored. Take into account that these numbers were self-reported, so time spent online may be much longer than the study shows. Furthermore, with lockdowns becoming a part of our daily lives, online activity has drastically increased among children and adults alike. Unfortunately, more time and people online means more opportunities for cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying on the Rise During COVID Times
For many children and teens, social distancing means that their only social interaction is through social media and digital communication platforms like TikTok, WhatsApp, and Zoom.
These platforms give them a much-needed connection with the outside world, a way to communicate easily and creatively with their peers, and an outlet for their fears and worries. At the same time, the lack of a framework coupled with pandemic related stressors have led to a dramatic rise in cyberbullying.
According to a recent survey by L1ght, an organization that monitors online harassment, cyberbullying has increased by 70% during lockdown periods. This is happening because of a combination of factors.
Even before COVID, leisure time spent online was on an upward trajectory. Put that together with high stress levels, social distancing, and increased use of technology, and it seems all but surprising that more children and youths are lashing out and instigating conflict online.
Furthermore, since our children’s social world has now become almost entirely virtual, acts of online bullying have not only increased in quantity, but also in impact.
What Can be Done About Cyberbullying?
Here are some tips I collected that can help parents help their children deal with cyberbullying:
- If possible, station your child’s computer in a common household area so that you can monitor their use and online activity. It would also be good to set time limits and decide on internet usage rules together.
- Show ongoing interest in the online platforms they use, ask them to teach you about them and show you their profiles. Make it an accessible and positive topic of conversation, giving them the opportunity to turn to you with any questions or problems.
- Be supportive and understanding. Make sure they know that they are not to blame for being bullied.
- Advise your child not to retaliate with a quick angry response. Instead, encourage them to tell the bully in a calm and strong manner to stop.
- If possible, get in touch with the bully’s parents and firmly state that their actions are hurtful and have to stop.
- Document every incident. Take screenshots of any posts and save emails, messages, photos or texts. In extreme cases, you may need them to fight the bully.
- Reach out to your child’s school. Ask about their policies related to bullying. Ask for support, collaboration, and guidance. The school guidance counselor can often be very helpful in these situations.
- Contact technology providers and ask if it is possible to block harassing content, and if your child is in physical danger, contact the police or an attorney.
While cyberbullying is a serious threat, there is a lot we can do about it.
Parents, educators, and entrepreneurs can work together to make the online arena safer for our children. In fact, many are already developing empowering tools and solutions.
About Gilles Berdugo
Gilles Berdugo is a tech investor with a special interest in disruptive startups that bring about positive change in the world. His investment in Bridgit stems from a deep belief in the company, the people behind it, and the work they are doing to empower students and ensure their safety and wellbeing.