No one would disagree with the idea that bullying of any sort is unacceptable. While traditional bullying continues to be a significant issue, another form of bullying is on the rise: cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is a “a particularly vicious form of bullying” which utilizes technology, such as social media, texts, and emails, “in order to elicit intentional harm on others” (Javier, Dillon, DaBreo, & De Mucci, 2013, p. 60). Because this form of bullying takes place in virtual environments, many regard it as less damaging. Unfortunately, cyberbullying can be just as dangerous as traditional bullying and just as fatal.
Despite occurring in a virtual environment, many of the same tactics used by bullies in the physical world are used in these virtual environments. Essentially, cyberbullying is a form of indirect bullying, a form of bullying which employs manipulation through social relationships to attack the victim; this might include gossip or the spreading of rumors (Lamb, Pepler, & Craig, 2009). This type of bullying also works through exclusionary tactics (Lamb, Pepler, & Craig, 2009). Just as bullies use cruel words against their victims, bullies in cyber environments likewise post “crude, derogatory, and often sexually exploitive comments” against their victims (Javier et al., 2013, p. 61). For example, a research project conducted at the University of Wisconsin used a computer algorithm on Twitter which discovered that “on average 15,000 bullying-related tweets are posted everyday” (Javier et al., 2013, p. 61). Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have made it much easier for bullies to post such bullying content in public places and utilize such tactics. Formspring, a service that enables users to establish webpages where other users can post questions anonymously, was the platform utilized to victimize Alexis Pilkington (Javier et al., 2013). As a result of offensive and bullying comments left on her webpage, Alexis committed suicide; even after her death, her victimizers continued to victimize Alexis by posting offensive material to a memorial website established in her memory (Javier et al., 2013).
Lamb, Pepler, & Craig (2009) observe that “it is difficult to directly compare the effects of various forms of aggression, such as physical bullying versus cyberbullying” (p. 359). In fact, the form of bullying used on a victim may as well not matter. What does matter is the “level of distress it causes the victimized child” (Lamb, Pepler, & Craig, 2009, p. 359). In other words, the form of bullying is practically irrelevant; all forms of bullying will cause distress, and it is important to address the distress, regardless of how it is caused. However, recent research has made connections between victimization through cyberbullying and negative effects on adolescent health. Nixon (2014) reports that victims of cyberbullying report depression, anxiety, loneliness, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and somatic illnesses. These mirror the health effects of victims of traditional bullying as reported by Lamb, Pepler, & Craig (2009). Additionally, Davison & Stein (2014) note that other victims of cyberbullying “were 2.5 times more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol,” as well as experiencing depression and attempting suicide (p. 596).
The media is frequently full of reports of victims of cyberbullying who have committed suicide, such as Megan Meier. Despite not involving physical attacks, cyberbullying produces many of the same effects in its victims as face-to-face bullying does. As Davison & Stein (2014) observe, “face-to-face bullying and cyberbullying share many similarities” (p. 596). Victims of cyberbullying appear to experience the same negative health effects as victims of traditional bullying. It is dangerous to assume that cyberbullying is less dangerous since it does not involve physical attacks; it is clear that the victims of cyberbullying are just as likely to depression and to attempt (and potentially succeed at) suicide.
- Davison, C. B., & Stein, C. H. (2014). The Dangers of Cyberbullying. North American Journal Of Psychology, 16(3), 595-606.
- Javier, R. A., Dillon, J., DaBreo, C., & De Mucci, J. (2013). Bullying and its consequences: In search of solutions-Part II. Journal of Social Distress & The Homeless, 22(2), 59-72.
- Lamb, J., Pepler, D. J., & Craig, W. (2009). Approach to bullying and victimization. Canadian
Family Physician Médecin De Famille Canadien, 55(4), 356-360.
- Nixon, C. L. (2014). Current perspectives: The impact of cyberbullying on adolescent health.
Adolescent Health, Medicine & Therapeutics, 5143-158.