Since the 1990s, several interventions and laws have been proposed to protect from cyberbullying, a menace that has affected several internet users since the use of social media platforms was popularised. However, what exactly is cyberbullying and how can we prevent it?
The term “cyberbullying” is one that everyone knows but no one really knows how to define. Several terminologies like cyber-harassment and online abuse have been used to describe cyberbullying. Cyberbullying refers to any type of harassing, threatening, or demeaning language often connected with appearance, race, sexuality, and/or academic achievement, religion, financial or socio-economic status, etc., done online to an unsuspecting victim.
Cyberbullying may be defined as the act of willfully and repeatedly inflicting harm or hurt, in the form of visual or auditory harassment on an individual through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices, often done anonymously over the internet. Cyberbullying can make an enormous impact on the victim in the real world in ways that may supersede the level of harm caused by conventionally physical bullying.
Over the years, the problem of cyberbullying has persisted on social media platforms. In 2007, a 13-year-old Megan Meier tragically committed suicide following cyber-harassment on Facebook. In July 2008, the 18-year-old Jessica Logan committed suicide in her closet after months of alleged cyberbullying by her classmates in Ohio; her boyfriend disseminated a nude photo of her that she sent to him while they were dating. In 2010, CNN also reported another suicide case by Hope Sitwell, a 13-year-old girl whose nude photo was also disseminated on the internet. These show the huge impact of cyberbullying and why it needs to be stopped or prevented.
Blasting unwanting private emails or messages to a victim, just to mention but a few.
Among these, mean comments on social media have been reported to be the commonest type of cyberbullying among US students in 2022.
Who Cyberbullying Victims Are
Cyberbullying victims include just about anyone. Even though it is commoner among children and young adults, many adults experience cyberbullying themselves.
It has been shown that girls are more likely to be victims and perpetrators of cyberbullying than boys. In a survey done in the US in 2022, only 6% of boys reported being bullied online while up to 15% of girls were comparably reported. Over 41% of girls aged 12-17 years reported to have experienced some form of online harassment in the survey.
The following were reported from a survey conducted by Comparitech on over 1011 parents of children above 5 years;
7% of parents with children ages 6-10 reported their children were bullied
4% of parents with children ages 11-13 reported their children were bullied
9% of parents with children ages 14-18 reported their children were bullied
3% of parents with children ages 19 and older reported their children were bullied
Members of the LGBTQ community are also being worst-hit targets by cyberbullies. A statistics report published by Netsanity showed that more LGBT teens are more likely to be cyberbullied than heterosexual teens. More than 12% of LGBT teens were reported to have been cyberbullied, 58% of these going through hate speech, and 35% receiving online threats.
Social media platforms have become the dominant platforms for cyberbullying. A recent survey shows that of all the social media platforms, Instagram has the highest proportion of cyberbullying accounting for 42%, closely followed by Facebook and Snapchat at 37% and 31% respectively. Fewer cases of cyberbullying were observed on WhatsApp (12%), YouTube (12%), and Twitter (9%).
Technically speaking, some form of cyberbullying can be noticed in reality shows too. We notice a pattern in almost all the reality shows; gather a bunch of people who desire to have a taste of the celebrity limelight and put them up against each other until we get a winner or few, and even more losers. In the end, the winner(s) goes home with not just some cash prize, but also a host of other benefits and of course, a celebrity status.
If you’d ask, reality shows can be very entertaining to viewers. However, in the show, we see several forms of behaviours that may portray bullying; they create a villain, they misconstrue comments, they sometimes call names and sometimes put up bitchy attitudes and blackmail just to get to be the most preferred contestant for the viewing masses.
In the 2019 edition of Love Island, a popular reality show in the United Kingdom, Ovie Soko (M) who was the people’s favourite contestant lost his friend, George Rains (M), to the Tuesday night’s eviction. It was a painful moment for Ovie but not for Anna Vakili (F), another contestant. Thereafter, Anna was brutally criticised on social media platforms for being heartless and not sharing in the pains of the people’s favourite.
Though there are quite a few rules in most reality shows, they are not always as effective in preventing bullying. The 2018 edition of Love Island received over 4,100 official complaints about issues related to a public show of some abusive ways contestants treated one another. Are reality shows promoting a culture of cyberbullying or it’s just innocent fun?
Effects of Cyberbullying in Reality Shows
Some contestants have had explicit images of them posted online and others have received death threats. Caroline Flack, the many-time Love Island host committed suicide at her home in North East London shortly after leaving the Love Island in December. Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis, who were contestants on Love Island, also died of suicide within 20 months after leaving the reality show. Before her death, Gradon had shared publicly the attacks she received from online trolls as a result of being on Love Island.
Flack’s death was the fourth suicide linked to the programme and attention was drawn to the possible link between Love Island and cyberbullying. Shortly before Flack’s death, The Jeremy Kyle Show, a British Chat Show, had been cancelled after the suicide of a participant and social media. However, the elements of cyberbullying have been seen in almost all other reality show programs across the world.
The increasing rates of suicide among participants in reality shows should alert everyone to the increasing cyberbullying in reality shows. Reality shows precipitate careless banter on social media and other platforms where fans can interact. The entertaining nature of reality shows makes almost everyone overlook the likely consequences of cyberbullying activities that are permissible by them. As a matter of fact, over 65% of people think that banter, including those allowed by reality shows, is a valid excuse for bullying.
Reality shows are aired publicly and comments about them are also visible publicly. And so, by triggering cyberbullying or permitting mean comments, invasion of individuals’ privacy and so on, reality shows might be promoting a culture of cyberbullying, even though they are fun to watch. Publicly displaying such permissible actions might represent a bad influence on the younger generation.
Dismissal of Cyberbullying
Some reality shows across the world have been able to control the impact of cyberbullying on their participants by temporarily restricting their use of social media throughout their stay in the show. This way, participants don’t get to see the mean comments, the trolling, body shaming, and other forms of cyberbullying as much. This has been effective in reducing the rates of suicides in some of the countries where reality shows adopt this strategy.
It is easy to dismiss cyberbullying as unreal or blame it entirely on the victim while exonerating the bully but that’s a sad reality. In 2012, a Twitter celebrity named Tyler the Creator, made a viral tweet about cyberbullying that highlighted the divide between those who think cyberbullying is a real threat and those who think it is a made-up concept. Here is the tweet:
Hahahahahahahaha How The Fuck Is Cyber Bullying Real Hahahaha Nigga Just Walk Away From The Screen Like Nigga Close Your Eyes Haha
The trending tweet was republished to several other social media platforms including Reddit, where a user captioned it “I think Tyler had great insights on cyberbullying”. In the comments on Twitter, several people pointed out that is not easy to simply turn a blind eye to cyberbullying as Tyler suggested. Countless people have died as a result of cyberbullying and its sequelae and many more have been left incapacitated by it. To emphasize how much cyberbullying is being dismissed, The Cybersmile Foundation has had to tweet as follows:
Cyberbullying and online abuse can lead to depression, eating disorders, self-harm and suicide – still think it’s a joke? #AntiBullyingWeek
This takes us to some important ways to prevent cyberbullying.
How to Prevent Cyberbullying
Establishing cyberbullying laws in all countries, especially in those with high cases of cyberbullying
Social media platforms should implement features to block cyberbullies when they need to
There should be a feature to report malicious criticism and mean comments on social media
So far, many of these steps have been taken by the governments and social media administrators but the issue of cyberbullying still persists. There should be a way to protect yourself against cyberbullying.
How to Protect Yourself From Cyberbullying
Protecting yourself from cyberbullying requires a great deal of anonymity from the public. You don’t want a potential bully to get hold of your private information because they can trail you with them even when you make attempt to block them.
ExpressVPN has summarised the key ways you can protect yourself from cyberbullying with the infographic below.
Cyberbullying is a real threat despite the dismissal it has received over the years. Reality shows have directly or indirectly promoted a culture of cyberbullying and steps must be taken to stop this. Preventing cyberbullying begins with the realization of governments and individuals to the priority of addressing cyberbullying through making and enforcing cyberbullying laws and embedding into the consciousness of every individual that there is a need to look out for each other as far as cyberbullying is concerned.
Finally, keeping anonymity on social media will always be an important step in protecting yourself against cyberbullying.
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