Cyberbullying: The Dangers and How it Should Be Addressed

Think before you type.

The saying used to be “think before you speak.” But in the age of the Internet, speaking to others has taken on different forms: texting, Facebook messaging, emails and other types of online communications. While the technology makes it possible for people to keep in touch with one another, it also gives people the chance to post unkind comments about others, an action known as cyberbullying.

The rise of social media and smartphones has contributed to an increase of cyberbullying. The trend is most common among teenagers, where 71 percent of them say they use social media, while 94 percent use a smartphone or mobile device to access it. And over half have experienced cyberbullying.

One of the dangers of cyberbullying is the uncertainty of not knowing who is on the other end. Unlike real life interactions where the physical person is seen, an online bully is someone who is behind a screen, but there’s no way of knowing who the actual person is typing the words. It could be a friend, or someone using their profile. A lot of times online bullying can come from a complete stranger, someone who lives across the country or even across the world.

Another danger is the fact that once a post is online, it’s out there for the world to see. As soon as someone posts on Facebook or Twitter, it’s immediately seen by all their friends and followers, who can then share it with others. The things said about someone might not even be true, an even if it’s deleted, there’s still the chance for it to later resurface.

Cyberbullying can have a major impact on mental health. StopBullying.gov links online bullying to depression, poor school grades and drug and alcohol issues. In some cases, it has even lead to suicide, with the cases of college student Tyler Clementi and high schooler Jamey Rodemeyer as notable examples. Some cases have led to the introduction of legislation that would prosecute those behind the online bullying. While there’s no federal law on cyberbullying, each state and the District of Columbia have separate anti-bullying laws, and almost all of them include online harassment within the conditions.

One major factor affecting legal cases is pinpointing the culprit. Many crimes have a physical perpetrator, but unpleasant comments and messages on a resource accessed by millions of people worldwide can make it difficult to find the person behind it. If someone is implicated, they could claim that another person was doing the typing or that their profile was hacked.

The phenomenon of cyberbullying has been addressed by the media numerous times. News stations such as ABC News and CBS news have aired specials focused on raising awareness of the kind of effect online bullying can have. Films such as 2011’s Cyberbully portray the difficult experiences teens can have when faced with online rumors.

There are also awareness programs run by government agencies. The Department of Homeland Security’s Think. Stop. Connect. website contains resources available to the public: statistics, fact sheets and the latest information on overall safety of being online.

Though these resources do exist, the best way to combat cyberbullying is to encourage people to think before they act. It only takes a minute to think about the effect typing those words could have on somebody.

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