Cyberbullying During the Pandemic
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Mean comments, fake rumors, threats of causing harm, stalking, these are only several examples of how cyberbullying can manifest within online platforms. Additionally, perpetrators are capable of causing direct harm towards their victims whilst maintaining anonymity and escaping any consequences for their actions.
Research has shown that cyberbullying may lead to: low self-esteem, dropping grades, depression, decrease in physical health, risk of self-harm, and suicidal inclinations. Cyberbullying has been a pervasive issue for the youth, one of the first major cases of cyberbullying reported being in 2006, when Megan Meier took her own life as a result of her peers creating a false profile to harass her. She is one of many victims of cyberbullying, and her case is able to bring one of the most negative consequences of cyberbullying.
From 2007 to 2016 alone, cyberbullying has increased within the youth. In 2007, 18% of children and teens reported having experienced being cyberbullied. This number was found to increase up to 34% less than a decade after. Despite the drastic incline, the pandemic has only managed to further increase the spread of cyberbullying and negative online activity amongst the youth. Both toxic and hateful content online has become more pervasive during the pandemic. Hate in online chats has been found to have a 70% increase, whilst toxicity within online servers such as discord has increased 40%.
Currently, due to the pandemic, children and teens have been found to have an increased dependency on the internet. With restrictions being implemented worldwide, people have been recommended to stay at home and maintain their distance from others. The young community is not excluded from these restrictions, and this has led them to become more isolated and interact less with their peers.
Apart from their limited interaction with their peers offline, the educational domain has experienced a massive shift towards online usage. Classrooms are now held online, within platforms that aim to mimic conventional classrooms such as zoom or google meets, to less conventional platforms such as Roblox or Minecraft. The youth is currently depending on the internet more than ever, whether this dependency lies within getting education or socializing.
Although cyberbullying may differ per case, several reasons have been identified to explain why cyberbullying may have increased during the pandemic.
Firstly, previous to the pandemic, on ground bullying was common amongst youth. International research done by UNESCO has shown that bullying may be as common as 7% up to 74% in countries. Individuals who previously bullied peers in school may change medium due to the lack of in-person interaction. Because of this, ‘offline’ bullies may have turned to online measures to continue harassing and disturbing other students.
Isolation and stress may as well increase the tendency to cyberbully. The drastic change of lifestyle may elicit negative emotions. In change, children who do not know how to cope with these emotions may lash out on their fellow peers as a result leading them to cyberbully. Overall, children were found to have more emotional reactions during the pandemic.
Additionally, the decrease in online supervision may as well play a role in the increase of cyberbullying. Children are now always online. Parents who previously monitored children’s online activity during children’s free time (after school, in the evenings, etc.) may not be capable of keeping up with the increase of internet usage. Constant monitoring may not be possible for many parents too since they are as well required to work online from home whilst their children are doing the same.
Lastly, boredom as well plays a major role in cyberbullying during the pandemic. Taking into consideration previously mentioned factors such as isolation, the increase of time at home, children have become increasingly bored. This has led many of them to cyberbully in aims to curb feelings of loneliness or boredom.
Along with these factors, individuals who are cyberbullied are at a risk of increased vulnerability. Not only is the increase of online usage makes them more susceptible to being victimized, but due to the pandemic support networks such as teachers, guidance counsellors, and friends may be harder to reach out to for support.
Due to this, it is important to keep a look out and be able to identify victims of cyberbullying in order to aid them. As previously mentioned, children who suffer from cyberbullying may experience symptoms such as low self-esteem, dropping grades, depression, decrease in physical health, risk of self-harm, and suicidal inclinations. Surrounding caregivers and adults should be mindful of these symptoms to be able to identify cases of cyberbullying.
To facilitate this, STOMP out Bullying has identified several strategies educators and parents can enforce to mitigate the risks of cyberbullying. A summary of these recommendations are as follows:
There should be open conversations with the youth regarding the negative effects of cyberbullying and the effects (“if you’re not going to say something to someone’s face, don’t say it to them online”)
Parents and educators should as well educate themselves more on the internet
Create open conversations with children: allow them to know it is okay to reach out for help if they are being cyberbullied or has cyberbullied in the past
Inform children to stay alert on their peers and to report any cyberbullying that they witness
Additionally, UNICEF has garnered information on common platforms that are used by the youth and has listed out different ways to be able to report or handle cyberbullying cases. Being able to identify victims and opening conversation amongst the youth are two efficient ways in order to help stop the spread of cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying has experienced a drastic increase during the pandemic due to the increase of online activity amongst the youth.
Victims of cyberbullying may experience symptoms such as: low self-esteem, dropping grades, depression, decrease in physical health, risk of self-harm, and suicidal inclinations.
Parents and educators need to maintain vigilance towards these symptoms in order to be able to identify victims of cyberbullying.
Open conversation with children may help identification and decrease risks of cyberbullying.