“In the past, what took the sting out of gossip was that it was impermanent, localized and would disappear with fading memories. Now gossip is everywhere and permanent because the Internet doesn’t forget.”
– Daniel Solove, Law Professor at George Washington University Law School
What happens if you give a teenager with poor impulse control means to vent their dislikes or nasty opinions to the whole world without any checks or balances on their behavior? Welcome to the world of cyber bullying, a world where teens (and even adults) use the Internet as a platform to slander or bully another person.
People bully for the same reasons they always have: personal insecurity, as a way to elevate themselves or gain social leverage by putting others down, for a sense of empowerment or control, or simply because they have a mean-spirited personality. But the Internet has added another dimension and all new tools to the game. The Internet makes it possible for every mean-spirited voice to gain an easy platform to spew hatred in front of whatever audience they can muster. The perceived permanency and worldwide connectivity of the Internet also gives a bully’s words staying power they didn’t have before. Some teens may even use Internet bullying as a way to gain recognition or instant Internet fame. Thus, the web can serve as a proving ground of sorts for adolescents wanting to show how tough or dominant they can be.
The problems with cyberbullying
1. Cyber bullying extends the reach of bullies
It used to be that if a child was tormented all day at school, he could at least have some reprieve from it when he left for the day. Now the bullies can follow him home at night and invade a youth’s life through cyberspace, since much of our social interaction now takes place over electronic platforms. “You’re bullied twice,” says Nancy Willard, author of Cyber-Safe Kids. “You’re bullied in the real world with a physical attack, and then you’re bullied online with humiliation. It’s very hurtful. Very, very hurtful.” (Kornblum, 7-15-2008)
Such widespread distribution can even happen by accident. As anti-cyberbullying activist Brad Snyder says, “The classic definition of bullying is that it’s a deliberately harmful act that gets repeated. And what the Internet does is, it makes that repetition happen almost automatically. …One hurtful text, one hurtful email, one hurtful social network post, can be forwarded and replicated almost automatically, such that the perpetrator might not have even wanted this to happen. And yet the victim is experiencing it as bullying, because it moves so quickly. So (cyberspace) has changed the landscape for sure.” (D’Andrea, 2015)
2. Cyber bullies have more tools to torment with
Anti-bullying advocate Jodee Blanco states that “It’s not that bullying is any worse today. The impulse for cruelty is the same impulse. The only difference is that the tools to achieve that have become more sophisticated.” (ibid) For example, “if you have a cell phone, you can post to your entire school that a girl is a slut or a boy is a fag – and you can attach an unflattering photo or video of them to try to prove it.” (Cloud, 2010, p. 62) Or with a single click, you can send an email filled with slander against a particular person to all your closest friends. There are now all kinds of tools to share information, and these tools can be used for evil as well as good.
3. Cyber bullying provides more permanence to the insult
When a bully verbally thrashes a child in the real world, his audience is usually limited to those in the immediate vicinity. When he or she does so online, it can potentially reach a much wider audience. Hurtful things posted on the web can also last for years, and are very hard to get rid of, so online insults can feel more pervasive, reaching more people and having a shelf-life much longer than ordinary bullying.