Bullying in the workplace is very common, as well as bullying between adult friends, emotional abuse within relationships and in some instances, even taunting from strangers on the street. So what happens when bullying stretches from our outer environment into our home – into our outlet for relaxation and down-time? Cyber-bullying happens and it’s becoming more common and more normalised.
Every time you go on social media, you’re guaranteed to find at least one example of cyber bullying. Taunting of celebrities on Twitter is particularly popular, with Jimmy Kimmel’s “Celebrity’s Mean Tweets” sketch being a huge hit, with celebrities reading out mean tweets about themselves for comedic effect. It’s all in good fun – these people have far greater things to be thinking about than a stranger amongst their millions of fans slagging them off – but in a video posted by the Canadian Safe School Network (CSSN), we can see the effect that ‘mean tweets’ can have on those without the celebrity safety blanket to fall back on.
The video shows various teenagers reading tweets about themselves – everything from “is it racist that I don’t like black people because of how much I hate Sierra?” to “do everyone a favour. Kill yourself”. It shows that these messages are no laughing matter – they have real effects on real people every day.
“Adult celebrities have the maturity and confidence to overcome these hurtful words. Children don’t. For regular kids, words can cut like a knife,” said the President of the CSSN.
We in Ireland know the dangers of cyber bullying far too well. In 2012, two devastating teen suicides as a result of onlinebullying took place just weeks apart, with Erin Gallagher (13) and Ciara Pugsley (15). The girls had been the victims of taunts, insults and threats on social media, namely the anonymous site ask.fm, and ended up tragically taking their own lives as a result.
Speaking in light of Ciara Pugsley’s death, ask.fm founder Mark Terebin told RTÉ:
“Of course there is a problem with cyberbullying in social media. But, as far as we can see, we only have this situation in Ireland and the UK most of all, trust me. It seems like children are more cruel in these countries (Ireland and the UK).”
The psychology behind posting online hate comments is one of being protected by the computer screen. Young people can’t see the person they’re bullying, can’t see their reactions or their emotions and so become immune to what they are actually saying. This means that they think their words have no effect, but this clearly is not the case, with the amount of teen suicides and teen self-harming still far too high.
So what can be done? Many initiatives have been set up to alleviate the issue of cyber bullying, with education proving to be key. In a world increasingly overcome by technology, knowing how to deal with it safely and maturely is a matter for both young people and parents – something that the nonprofit organization Bully4u endorses.
Bully4u runs both student and parent workshops on bullying in schools, explaining what cyber bullying entails and how to deal with it from both ends. The organization also runs projects within residential and foster care facilities and youth services.
The legacy of the tragic suicides of 2012 still live on. Unfortunately however, cyber bullying is still at a high level and children and young people are more engrossed in technology than ever. Education and information are essential to breaking down this awful trend and ensuring that no more lives are lost to cyber bullying.