Bullying is a serious, long-standing social problem that now occurs in digital spaces as well as physical ones. But, contrary to what you might have heard or read, it isn’t just a youth problem, it isn’t getting worse, and it isn’t more of a problem online than offline. Because of the rise of social media in the middle of the last decade, bullying and peer harassment have been getting a lot of news coverage, so – rather than increased bullying – what we’re really seeing is increased attention to it and a lot more concern about it.
Thanks to increased research, we know more about the problem and what will help, and we’re more motivated as a society to address it. We also know that the problem isn’t the technology people use. Technology can help amplify it and create another “place” where it happens, but – just like bullying – cyberbullying is rooted in relationships, in how people interact in everyday life. As for young people, since they spend a lot of time in social media, their interaction – good, bad or neutral – happens in apps, texts, games and sites too.
Even though it has been around for ages, experts still haven’t completely agreed on a definition of “bullying,” much less cyberbullying, the digital version. There are elements that keep popping up in definitions, though, so that we’re pretty clear on what it is not. It’s not social drama, an argument, mean gossip, an impulsive expression of anger or a prank that’s gone wrong but wasn’t meant to. Any of these can be hurtful and sometimes they can turn into bullying, but cyberbullying is not just any form of mean behavior any more than bullying is in offline life.
Most experts agree that bullying and cyberbullying are forms of serious aggression, usually targeted and repeated. With cyberbullying, the repetition can be less personal but just as hurtful when shared widely, or even virally, by anonymous posters. By most definitions, both involve a real or perceived power imbalance that’s physical, psychological and/or social. Although cyberbullying occurs in digital spaces and can be anonymous, there’s usually a connection to offline life – for kids, school life.
Anonymity is more of a factor in cyberbullying than in traditional bullying. Targets may believe that more people are witness to the abuse than actually are, which can compound the pain. And since online socializing can occur 24/7, home, weekends and vacation can’t be havens from the hurt.
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