A key difference between traditional bullying, which is most commonly seen among children in schools, and cyberbullying is that in the latter you may not necessarily know the identities of the culprits and this can sometimes make it worse for those being bullied.
Cyberbullying has emerged with the advent of social media, which has enabled people to hide behind fake names and profiles in order to lash out at others without being discovered. Even though there are cyberbullying laws in many countries, it’s still not easy to trace someone who might be hiding behind a fake profile and a private network to do their dirty work. In Guyana, we have seen a few arrests of persons who would have engaged in cyberbullying of some kind, whether it was slander, defamation of a person’s character or threats to the life of high officials. Still, this has not been enough of a deterrent. So, the laws in place seem to be largely there to scare people away from engaging in online bullying.
There are many dynamics which should be examined when looking at cyberbullying and we should start by looking at the “demands of social media.”
Social media has become a double-edged sword. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter keep us connected to friends around the world but can also serve to nurture resentment. We see pictures and posts of lavish lifestyles, fancy vacations, luxury attire and dining in expensive restaurants. In some ways, this feeds envy in others who could never afford these luxuries. So, we become addicted to viewing images of lives we could never have, while gradually depleting our own self-worth because social media has ingrained into our psyche that in order to be “cool” and “popular,” we too must flaunt our material wealth.
For example, imagine a young professional in their early 20s, who is bombarded by “friends” who showcase their material wealth. And it just so happens that this young person could never fit into that world because they could never afford the carefully curated lifestyle they have been shown. Comments could be made both directly and indirectly that make that person feel like they are not good enough unless they are also able to show off their wealth.
Now let’s look at the other side of this scenario: Your having so many posts of your luxury lifestyle invariably means that you have a lot of “friends” and “followers.” Because you have such a fan base, it means that you’re the centre of attention and you have to constantly “live up to the hype” because if you don’t, you simply become irrelevant. Now because people want what you have and probably could never get it, they find ways of slandering you in an effort to break you. Not everyone who claims to be a “friend” is and people love nothing more than to see someone fall, especially if that somebody is extremely “popular.” Today’s culture seems caught up with gaining pleasure from someone’s downfall rather than praising their successes.
So what causes cyberbullying? While there is no simple answer, one may surmise that it boils down to low self-esteem and low self-confidence. No one who is confident in themselves and in their abilities will feel intimidated and threatened by what other people do, say or post on social media. A confident person will be comfortable in their own skin and with what they have. In summary, persons who engage in cyberbullying likely suffer from low self-esteem and self-confidence, which in turn manifests themselves in the forms of envy, jealousy and the need to bring others down in order for them to feel better about themselves.
Another important factor in fuelling cyberbullying is what is known in psychology as
“groupthink,” which is where we are likely to follow a trend if there is a group of people who feel the same way or are doing the same thing even if we don’t necessarily agree with it. In simple terms, and in the case of cyberbullying, seeing others making negative comments about others fuel us to do the same because we have the support of others within “the group.”
How cyberbullying affects mental health: It’s important to remember that everyone is designed differently and this means that we have different capacities for handling stressful situations. While some of us may have “thick skin” and can handle a little bullying, others cannot and it ultimately affects their mental health. Cyberbullying has been proven to cause anxiety, depression and, in some cases, suicidal ideation and suicide. Being cognisant that cyberbullying can have such harmful psychological effects should encourage us to be cautious with our “opinions“ about others.
We ought to remember that we should be constantly working on improving ourselves and seeking to be decent human beings. People who are fulfilled and contented with who they are have very little time to be minding others people’s business and resorting to gossiping and bullying. As the saying goes, “If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.”