The Devil Behind the Screen: Cyberbullying

              Have you ever felt like sinking in your chair hoping you would just disappear because everyone is laughing at you? You may have experienced this in school or in college. Getting picked on or being made fun of is part and parcel of life. It happens to everyone someday. All of us like to bask in the glory of the spotlight but when the same spotlight is controlled against our own will, we start looking for dark corners to hide.

          Imagine if this happens to you every day; every time you walk down the hallway, you can hear people talking about you. You can feel the looks being cast upon you behind your back, and you feel like disappearing every day. Imagine this and much worse, and you will feel the pain of a victim of bullying. A lot of us are well versed with what bullying means. But with the extensive digitisation around us and the kinds of Pandora boxes it has opened, bullying is not constrained to a thug physically or verbally abusing a helpless victim in the school playground but it has given birth to a new kind of bullying­ cyber bullying. It is defined as the process of using the internet, cell phones or other devices to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person. Cyber bullying ranges from sending hurtful messages to someone to posting nude pictures of them online.

         In the process of understanding bullying, it is critical to know where it stems from. Bullying behavior extends beyond humans and is found in primates too.Primates provide crucial clues in understanding the evolution of human behaviour. Primates exhibit bullying-like behaviour when someone breaks the social norms. Primates also use bullying to enhance their social status and achieve better mates. Equip these primates with efficient language communication and internet and voila! You have cyber bullying. Cyber bullying has been existing ever since people realised that internet could be used as a shield to protect themselves from the repercussions of saying whatever they feel like to whoever they feel like. The amalgamation of anonymity and infinite freedom was the chemical X for origin of cyber bullying.

          When you add this Chemical X to the already chaotic formula of our society, all you get is numerous teenage victims withemotional scars. As cyber bullying is a by-product of social media, one of the major problems faced by the victims is social anxiety. Social anxiety or social phobia is the excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations. Due to social anxiety, it becomes difficult for the victims to interact with anyone and hence approaching people for help seems like a farfetched solution.

                 “I don’t want to go to school anymore”, said Akeem Maynard, when he was bullied in the eighth grade. Akeem mentioned that there were days where he felt like giving up on school, and it was because of the help of the counsellor that he continued. The same does not hold true for a lot of other victims of cyberbullying. A study conducted by University of Virginiafound that the dropout rate was 29 percent above average in schools with high levels of teasing and bullying, and 28 percent below average in schools with lower levels of teasing and bullying. The study highlighted that one of the factors for students dropping out was that they were being bullied. We should not forget that cyberbullying is also a form of bullying.

                  The rise of social media has given birth to the rise in depression. Depression is one of the common psychological effects of cyberbullying. Depression is a very complex phenomenon which is not well understood by the common public. In the world where temporary sadness gets exaggerated into clinical depression by every Facebook, Twitter and Instagram user, it becomes very difficult for cyberbullying victims to be taken seriously. After being cut out from the social circle and having nowhere to turn to, the victims fall deeper into the pit of depression. When they see no way out of the darkness, the only solution they see is suicide. Cyber bullying is linked to suicidal ideation. When kids are supposed to worry about what to wear, or what is made for dinner, in the current scenario teenagers are finding ways to take their life. Cyber bullying may also lead to loneliness, depression, low self-esteem and hopelessness- all of which are precursors to suicidal ideation. The infamous Amanda Todd story illustrates the horrors, pain and the effects of cyber bullying. Amanda Todd died at the age of 15 after being cyber bullied and having its effects resonate years later she flashed to a stranger over the internet.

          Cyber bullying is a two edged sword. As much as it lacerates the victims, it infects the bullies too. While there are systems in place to help the victims, it still doesn’t solve the problem entirely. Understanding the bullies would provide us with great insight of the problem at hand.  Along with cyber bullying, they also tend to be engaged in substance abuse and be more violent. The aggressors show their dominance via bullying behaviour. Bullying is also used as a tool to increase the social status. Children who bully are themselves victims of some form of abuse. The impact it creates leads to children bullying others.

               The active elements (victim and bully) play a very obvious major role in this complex problem of cyberbullying. There are passive elements like bystanders that also provoke cyber bullying. A bystander is someone who sees what is happening between the bully and the victim, even in a virtual setting and doesn’t do anything about it. What they don’t realise is that they are giving social approval to the bullies by not raising any voice or concern against their actions. As cyber victims suffer from loneliness, bystanders can become an active element in supporting the victim without putting their safety at stake. Bystanders can encourage the victims to seek help or they can anonymously alert the authorities.

                  It might be slightly overwhelming for the people who are responsible for tackling it because they have never dealt with such situations before. This is the first generation where cyber culture was introduced, cyber bullying came into the picture and society is figuring out a process to tackle it. There is a lot of pressure on the parents, teachers, peers and schools but they need to know that no matter what kind of problem arises, healthy and open communication is the key to tackle it.

                In the era of innovation, where new inventions and discoveries are made every day. The problems that arise with each innovation shapes the way the society works. Cyber bullying is a recent phenomenon which demands attention. As it turns out Uncle Ben was right after all- With great power comes great responsibility.

Deepali Barapatre