The development of the Internet and the widespread use of social media has given the schoolyard bully a new weapon to use against a victim. Unlike the face-to-face taunting, threats, intimidation and injury associated with bullying, cyberbullying can be more traumatic for a victim because it can be viewed by more people. Once posted online, the threats and taunts frequently cannot be removed, making the consequences of cyberbully that much more devastating for the victim.
Bullying and Cyberbullying
According to the American Psychological Association, bullying involves aggressive behavior intended to cause another person to suffer injury or discomfort. Those engaging in such conduct repeatedly use words, actions or direct physical contact with the victim to achieve their intended goal.
Cyberbullying uses such electronic technology as computers, tablets and cell phones to access social media, websites, text messages and chat rooms where the offender can attack the victim. Commonly used methods of cyberbullying include:
• Derogatory or threatening emails and text messages
• Using social media sites to spread rumors
• Posting embarrassing pictures or videos of the victim
• Creating fake profiles to post false or damaging information
The potential harm done by cyberbullying can be greater than with other forms of bullying. The number of people that a cyberbully can reach is so much greater than with traditional forms of bullying that might be witnessed by the victim and only a few people, if any. Social media sites make it easy for a cyberbully anonymously post derogatory information that reaches a wide audience with little risk of it being traced back to its source.
Consequences of Cyberbullying for the Victim
Victims of cyberbullying are more likely than their peers to abuse alcohol and drugs, have physical and emotional health issues, and may suffer from low self-esteem. Poor grades in school is another consequence of cyberbullying that can also be accompanied by an attempt by the victim to avoid other children by refusing to go to school.
Consequences to the Offender
Efforts by state and federal lawmakers to stop cyberbullying by making it a criminal act have met with legal challenges. A cyberbullying law in New York was recently ruled to be unconstitutional on freedom of speech grounds.
Fourteen states impose criminal penalties including jail and fines on individuals convicted of cyberbullying. Penalties can range up to $2,500 in fines and up to a year in jail. Laws in most states require school districts to establish policies against bullying. Penalties usually involve the suspension of a child from school.