One of the major issues many young people face in their lives is cyber bullying. Bullying is no longer just something kids experience at school, it’s also online on social media and other websites too. Trolling and antisocial behaviour on the internet can cause great misery for victims.
It’s such a pervasive issue, and some Blue Banana readers have probably suffered from a form of cyber bullying at some stages. Because of this, we’ve decided to speak to an expert, Zoe Brownlie, head of BeatBullying.org, a charity website dedicated to helping victims of online abuse, in order to find out more about the issue and what sufferers or their friends and family can do to stop it.
Q. Can you explain, to those unaware, what cyber bullying is?
Q. What are the effects of cyber bullying on a young person’s life?
Zoe: Our research has shown that young people who are victims of cyber bullying feel isolated and live in fear of their bullies. It can have serious long-term effects on a young person’s well-being, and can result in anxiety, depression, self-harm and tragically, in severe cases, leaving them feeling like there is no escape other than taking their own lives.
Q. How can you tell if you or a friend is being cyber bullied?
Zoe: Cyber bullying can include things like sending nasty text messages or emails, or posting abusive messages online. It could also mean setting up a hate site or hate group on a social networking site, posting embarrassing pictures and videos, or taking on someone’s identity online to try and upset them. If any of these things are happening to you or a friend, it is cyber bullying.
If the cyber bullying is not public, you may notice a change in a friend who is being bullied online, like mood swings. They may seem withdrawn, or be hostile and defensive as a result of the feelings of anger that can come from being bullied. It’s always worth asking your friend if they need someone to talk to, and reassuring them that you are there to help.
Q. What can be done to prevent or avoid bullying online?
Zoe: To protect yourself from cyber bullying, it is important to set strict privacy and security settings to make sure that only your friends can see what you post. You should also make sure you know how to report, block and delete anyone that does something to upset you online. If you do experience any cyber bullying, you should never respond or retaliate. Always report anything abusive, and keep a record of the messages as well as the bully’s user ID and the URL.
Make sure you also change your settings to block people from messaging you anonymously, since this makes it easy for cyber bullies to send threats and abuse. You should also think very carefully before posting photos of yourself online and what kinds of things you post. Once something is online, anyone can download it and share it or even change it.
Q. How can young people and adults better educate themselves about cyber bullying and its effects?
Zoe: There are plenty of resources at BeatBullying.org for both adults and young people that will tell you all you need to know about bullying, both online and offline.
For parents, it is also a good idea to familiarise yourself with the sites and apps that your children use, and even sign up for them yourself. By understanding what a social network or app is for, and how it works, you can be better aware of the potential dangers and how cyber bullying might occur, as well as how best to deal with it.
Q. What’s your response to those that say victims should just “deal with it” when it comes to receiving abuse online?
Zoe: Often people might think that victims of cyber bullying should just switch off the phone or stop using the site, but it’s human nature to be curious about what other people are saying about you. It can also be especially difficult to actively avoid cyber bullies for teenagers who live out their social lives online. One young person who was severely cyber bullied on Formspring told us that she felt that as a teenager her life was carved out by the opinions of others, and that if she knew one person’s view, she wanted to know them all, no matter how negative.
Q. What are charities like BeatBullying doing to help victims?
Zoe: BeatBullying is an international bullying prevention charity which provides young people aged 11-17 with a safe place to access real-time online support from trained mentors, who are young people their own age they can talk to. The mentors offer support and advice, and professional counsellors can also provide more in depth therapeutic support. We raise awareness of bullying in all its forms, and work to shape public policy to protect children and young people. We campaign for real change that will protect children at home, in the playground and in their communities, at a local, national and international level.
Q. If a young person is being bullied online, who can they talk to, to help make it stop?
Zoe: At BeatBullying.org, we have trained mentors your own age for you to talk to. They can support you and help you to deal with the bullying that you’re experiencing, and refer you to one of our qualified counsellors if needed, who are online from 8am to 2am every day. It is still important to speak to a parent, teacher, or other trusted adult about bullying of any kind, but if you don’t quite feel ready to do this, a BeatBullying mentor can help.
Q. Can you give an example of where someone was receiving abuse online and then was able to stop it and move on with their lives, and have normal and happy interactions on the internet with their friends?
Zoe: One teenager we worked with was being severely and relentlessly bullied offline and also online. The bullying started at school, where fellow students would call her abusive names due to her weight, spit at her and even try to cut her hair whilst she was in class. It then also followed her home when she started to receive anonymous, abusive messages and comments on a social networking site. She would receive comments saying things such as she was fat, ugly and that she should die. Going home after school used to be an escape, but the cyber bullying made it feel like the exact opposite. The bullying became so bad that at one stage she even considered taking her own life. At that point, she felt she had to speak out and talk to her parents. She also turned to BeatBullying where she could speak with her peers. Now, she volunteers for BeatBullying and speaks out on this issue both in her community and nationally, encouraging other young people to stand up to bullies. Helping others to deal with online bullying helped her regain her own sense of self-esteem and confidence.
If you or anyone you know is being targeted by trolls and bullies online, please don’t hesitate to find help. There are plenty of charities like BeatBullying.org out there to assist you. You should feel free to express yourself individually online without receiving abuse and only by speaking out can you help to prevent cyber bullying.