Cyberbullying and its Impact

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Cyberbullying is both hard to stop and hard to prevent. But there are things everyone — including a potential victim — can do to mitigate the risks and deal with the effects.

Only a few week ago, an 18-year-old girl, a model student with a bright future ahead of her, took her own life in front of her horrified parents because she could no longer bear the pain of being bullied online. She’d been called every vile name one can think of and had had many rumors spread about her for months on end by her enemies on social media. One person even created a fake page under the victim’s name, fashioning an unflattering profile, posting made-up stories, and making false admissions in the name of the victim, all in a concerted attempt to demean her character. Before she determined she’d had enough, the victim of this relentless cyberbullying showed many of the typical signs of the adverse effects of this modern vehicle of psychological abuse. These signs are well worth highlighting:

Avoiding school and usual activities
Fearing they’ll be taunted or placed in potentially embarrassing scenarios, school-aged cyberbullying victims often skip class or refuse to go to school. They also stay away from activities they once enjoyed.
Declining grades
In accordance with the depression they typically experience, victims often lose their motivation to achieve. They fail to find the usual joy that came along with doing well in their life pursuits. They simply stop trying.
Alcohol or drug use
Cyberbullying victims can experience tremendous anxiety as well as depression and other mood disturbances. And they can be tempted to seek some solace and temporary escape from their emotional pain in alcohol and drug use.
Feeling both worthless and hopeless
Being subjected to bullying and social isolation can deal a serious blow to a person’s self-esteem. Experiencing these things repeatedly and regardless of the efforts they might make to stop them from happening can lead to feelings of helplessness, and eventually hopelessness.

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Victims of cyberbullying often experience in-person bullying as well. But cyberbullying is different (and in a way, more potent) because it can go on 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Victims can easily feel completely overwhelmed. They can also feel particularly vulnerable — like there’s no refuge or escape. Because the social “reach” of the cyberbullies is so great, the level of embarrassment victims experience can be equally overwhelming. Victims can also feel powerless to stop the abuse or to undo damage that’s been done. Once material finds its way to the internet, it’s pretty hard to remove it. For various reasons, it’s often not easy to locate the source of offensive material, so in addition to feeling overwhelmed, victims can easily feel helpless. It’s those feelings of powerlessness, helplessness, and hopelessness that cause so many victims to succumb to depression. Those feelings are also one of the major reasons why some victims sometimes come to believe that the only way out of their predicament and their pain is to put an end to their life.

Cyberbullying isn’t just damaging to those who are victimized by it. The perpetrators of the bullying do damage to themselves, too, even though they might not appreciate all the damage they’re doing. They particularly do damage to their character formation, especially their development of empathy. Those who bully allow themselves to become desensitized not only to the horrific things they do but also to the effects of those things on others. As a result, they can even become so callous and jaded that they come to find some “sport” or amusement in the emotional torture they heap on their victims. Developing such callousness increases a perpetrator’s risk of engaging in more serious and more heartless antisocial behavior down the road. Research shows that cyberbullies are more prone to drop out of school early, to commit crimes, and to engage in acts of physical violence.

Cyberbullying is both hard to stop and hard to prevent. But there are things everyone — including a potential victim — can do to mitigate the risks and deal with the effects:

Report all instances of cyber abuse or suspected abuse to authorities at school, in law enforcement, and at social media companies and internet service providers.
Don’t play along
Don’t respond to offensive posts and tweets, simply report them. You don’t want to encourage bullies or play into their hands.
Interrupt the chain of communication
Change your accounts (or passwords, or if necessary) and disconnect yourself from any platform that’s carried offensive material.
Seek professional counsel and guidance
It really helps to feel like you’re not alone, and having someone to talk to can help you sort out and work through your feelings.

Today, more than ever, young folks spend a lot of time online, and at some point almost all youngsters will encounter offensive and abusive material directed toward someone. Research suggests that they’re often afraid to report such things to their parents or others for fear their electronic devices will be taken away or they’ll be forbidden to go online. If youngsters know that neither they nor their computers, tablets, or phones are to blame and that they’ll be applauded for bringing a bad situation to light, they’re much more likely to bring an instance of cyberbullying to the attention of authorities before things get out of hand. And who knows, in doing so they might even end up saving a life.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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