Social media and 24/7 connectivity means bullying looks a little different than it did in the pre-digital era. The forms of cyberbullying are many these days, and include cyberstalking, impersonation, doxxing, and more.
But before we get into that, let’s define bullying. For an aggressive act to be considered bullying, three criteria need to be met. First, there needs to be a power differential. The bully has more power than the bullied, be it physical power, social power, or economic power. Second, there is an intent to harm. Bullying isn’t an act of misunderstanding, miscommunication, or an accident. Third, bullying is repeated. A shove is an assault. A shove every day is bullying.
In an online world, each of these characteristics can look very different. For example, power in an online context can refer to somebody being more technically skilled. Cyberbullying is something that every parent worries about and it can be quite complicated.
So, what are the forms of cyberbullying in 2018?
Impersonation works a few ways. A cyberbully can use a false identity (for example, on Facebook) to torment their victim, thus covering their own tracks. Or, a cyberbully can impersonate someone their victim knows, perhaps to damage relationships or wheedle information out of their victim. Or the cyberbully can impersonate their victim in order to ruin a reputation.
Cyberbullies can spread rumours to embarrass or harm their victims. The 24/7 nature of social media means that the rumour mill is always running and kids don’t really have a ‘break’ from their social lives.
Cyberstalking involves following a person across social media and other Internet accounts, frequently sending harassing or aggressive message. The cyberbully will make their victim fear for their safety. The cyberbully may not even know their victim offline.
Note that in Canada, cyberstalking can be considered criminal harassment.
Flaming is when a cyberbully makes vulgar, abusive, or aggressive comments in order to start a fight. Teenagers sometimes call this “drama”.
Sharing Private Images
Cyberbullies can upload or share private or embarrassing images with other cyberbullies. One so-called “sexting ring” in the US has resulted in three teenagers charged with serious crimes and a further 20 referred to a juvenile review board.
In Canada, this is called non-consensual distribution of intimate images and is an evolving area of law.
Note that if you need help removing images from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, a peer’s phone, and more, visit NeedHelpNow.ca.
Cyberbullies can attempt to figure out their victims account passwords to manipulate their social media accounts, humiliate them, or even cyberbully others.
Some cyberbullies have a lot of time on their hands. How much? Enough to create entire websites devoted to torment, humiliate, or embarrass their victims. A Burlington, ON, teenager ended up leaving school after he found out about a website created specifically to bully him.
Doxxing is when someone researches and broadcasts private information about a person or organisation. In the context of cyberbullying, it involves finding out a person’s private accounts and online activities and then making them public. For example, a gay teen may post on an LGBT forum under a username they keep secret. A cyberbully could figure out the username and then publish it widely.
A tech-savvy cyberbully may attempt to infect their victim’s computer with viruses, spyware, or other malware.
A proxy attack is something only a very technologically savvy cyberbully would try. Basically, the bully installs a proxy on their victim’s computer. The victim’s Internet traffic travels through the proxy, which sends said information to the bully. The bully can then use whatever confidential information they glean in their bullying.
The Bottom Line
The forms of cyberbullying have certainly changed. However, the first step to fighting cyberbullying is knowledge. By understanding the forms of cyberbullying and how bullies operate online, you can help your child or teen take steps to stop cyberbullying.