Cyberbullying is when harassment, ridicule and bullying occur online. It can happen in a variety of online settings such as on social media platforms, during or after social networking events, and even online dating profiles. Cyberbullying can lead to depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and even more permanent and severe problems, such as suicidal ideation.
The effects of cyberbullying can leave you feeling isolated and unsure on how to ask for help, but talking about your experiences with a loved one or therapist can be a great way to start the healing process.
What Is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying includes sharing or sending false, harmful, or nasty content about someone online. It can include shaming someone else by sharing their personal information, and can cross the line into becoming unlawful.1 The intention of cyberbullying is malicious and threatening in nature and has the intention to do emotional, psychological, and sometimes even physical harm.
A common misconception about cyberbullying is that it is easy to escape or ignore, but often the opposite is experienced. Since people have online access 24 hours a day, the bullying can become persistent.1 Additionally, cyberbullying is most commonly thought to occur in middle school and high school, but it can also occur in adulthood, and can cause severe damage to someone’s reputation.
Types of Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying can take on many forms and impact people in various ways. It can be as simple as harassing someone online or as malicious as hacking into their account.
Here are ten types of cyberbullying that you might encounter:
This is the most common form of cyberbullying, and is when someone (or a group of people) repeatedly sends messages, calls, or emails directly to you with a malicious or threatening intent. This harassment can occur on multiple social media platforms and mobile devices.
When personal information, such as phone numbers, home and work addresses, etc. are shared on social media or public forums without permission, with the intent to “take action” or “make a statement.” Doxing can often leave the victim feeling extremely anxious and avoidant.
Cyberstalking is similar to harassment, as there is persistence in the perpetrator’s behaviors to attempt to reach their victim. The difference lies in the likelihood of cyberstalking to become more aggressive, and may possibly lead to stalking in-person. In some cases, there is also a stronger interest in the victim, whether positive or negative, which is not always the case in harassment.
4. Revenge porn
There are websites dedicated to revenge porn, encouraging people to upload and share sexually explicit content without permission to do so. Revenge porn is often posted by ex-partner(s) with the intention to cause humiliation and damage to the victim’s reputation.
Swatting occurs when emergency personnel respond to claims of dangerous events taking place at an address. This is with the intention to increase panic, paranoia, and fear when emergency responders arrive at their address. Swatting commonly occurs in the online gaming community.
6. Corporate attacks
Corporate attacks happen when someone intentionally defames or spreads false information about a company online, usually resulting in their website being taken down. These attacks can affect a business’s reputation, public trust and confidence in the company, or worse, force a corporation to collapse entirely.
7. Account hacking
One of the most common cyberbullying examples is account hacking, such as on social media profiles and accounts. If an account is hacked, abusive or damaging messages may be shared publicly or in direct messages, therefore further damaging a person or company’s reputation.
8. False profiles
False profiles are similar to account hacking due to the intention of possibly damaging a person or a company’s reputation by impersonating them online. Additionally, creating false profiles can be done rather quickly and may make it difficult to identify the perpetrator.
9. Slut shaming
Slut shaming often occurs when private messages are exchanged when “sexting” becomes public. This is common among young people and adolescents, but anyone at any age can be subjected to being slut shamed.
10. Body shaming
Body shaming refers to negative remarks made about someone’s body image, shape, weight or size, and is intended to humiliate the person who is perceived to be physically unattractive. Anyone can be a target of body or fat-shaming, especially when comments are made online on social media accounts for other users to see.
Signs of Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying, depending on the circumstance, may be difficult to stop and hard to notice by others. On the other hand, it can make it easy to keep a record of images, texts, and messages that can be compiled to make a case against the bully. Unfortunately, due to “trolls” or anonymous accounts, it can be difficult to address a cyberbully. As with other forms of abuse, signs and symptoms of cyberbullying should not be ignored.
Signs someone you know is being cyber bullied include:
- Becoming worried or stressed about engaging in online activities
- Isolating from others (online community, video games, etc.)
- A child being scared of going to school
- Adults avoiding and being fearful of going to work
- Severe attachment to phone/computers/tablets and often becoming distressed or panicked
What Are the Effects of Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying leaves a digital footprint and often leaves a record of the bullying.3 Along with being permanent, it can be persistent and hard to notice.1 There can be criminal charges and permanent damage to public records for school, college, or work. Online profiles may become deactivated or deleted entirely, losing any and all access to your followers, images, and content. Aside from direct effects of cyberbullying, there can be a major impact on someone’s mental health and physical health.
With any forms of abuse, cyberbullying can impact your mental health in a variety of ways. As with other forms of abuse, signs and symptoms should not be ignored.
The effects of cyberbullying might include:
- Depression: It can feel extremely isolating and oftentimes the messages received are intended to isolate you and even threaten you if you tell anyone else about it. Depression can often show up in a “why me?” mentality of being targeted for cyberbullying.
- Anxiety: You can become avoidant and nervous to interact with any type of online or technology-based platforms. You may resist answering phone calls, opening text messages or emails, or delete social media altogether. The anxiety often leaves you with a pit in your stomach, dreading each notification you receive.
- Low Self-Esteem: You may begin to believe the hurtful messages that are being sent to you and you may even begin telling yourself that you are deserving of cyberbullying. This creates a narrative and cycle of low self-esteem and not feeling “enough.” You may also feel like people won’t believe your experience, which results in not having the confidence or self-esteem to speak up and advocate for yourself.
- Hypervigilance and Paranoia: Hypervigilance and paranoia can manifest as repeatedly checking your message inboxes, or feeling that “pit in your stomach” at the next ping or alert. You may also notice when you’re around others who are texting and using social media, and you may begin to think they are exchanging messages about you.
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Some victims of cyberbullying may experience PTSD and may have a really difficult time in engaging with any social media or technology outside of their close friends and family. With any abuse or traumatic experience, you could be at risk of suffering from PTSD.
- Suicidal Thoughts: The experience of suicidal thoughts can be common, as there is often a desire to “end it all” in efforts to stop, erase, or reverse the experience of cyberbullying. Know that you are not alone and there is support available.
- Disordered Eating: Disordered eating, whether limiting or increasing your intake of food, can be used as a way to cope with an increase in stressors in your life. Depending on the type of cyberbullying experienced, you may use food restriction as a means of self-punishment.
- Sleep Disturbances: Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep are common effects of cyberbullying. The increase in anxiety can cause a lot of tossing and turning, or checking your phone in the middle of the night.
- Self-Harm: Self-harm can link back to the feelings of low self-esteem, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Not feeling like you have a place to turn to while handling cyberbullying can be extremely isolating. Self-harm can also come from a place of not feeling like you’re enough and having the desire to “feel something.” Self-harm can be dangerous, but support is available.
How to Deal With Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is a form of abuse, and can be a punishable crime. For your safety and the safety of others, it is important to report these occurrences. The first thing you want to do is save any records of abuse, through screenshots, printing, or saving them digitally on your phone or computer. The more information you have compiled, the easier it will be to make a report.
Then try to reach out to someone you trust, whether it is a teacher, principal, counselor, boss, or a trusted friend. Being able to tell someone what you are going through will help ease some of the stress, while also helping you think a little more clearly about what steps to take next.
Some additional steps may include calling 911 or contacting a 24/7 victim hotline, such as VictimConnect, especially in situations where you or someone you love is being threatened or harmed.
Depending on the nature of the cyberbullying, you can contact websites and social media customer support for assistance in removing as much content related to the cyberbullying as possible. Even if you are feeling hopeless that any action can be taken, having a written record will help support you in the future if needed. If you aren’t connected to a therapist or mental health professional already, consider scheduling an appointment. There may be lingering effects both on your physical and mental health that a therapist can help you work through and learn some effective coping strategies.
How Therapy Can Help People Impacted by Cyberbullying
Therapy can help people impacted by cyberbullying because it can help reduce symptoms of all of the mental health effects mentioned earlier. Therapy can help you reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, hypervigilance and paranoia, and support you in navigating suicidal thoughts. Additionally, therapy can help increase your self-esteem and confidence and regain the ability to return to the “online world” as well as help you find ways to be an advocate for yourself.
How Individual Therapy Can Help
Finding a therapist can help ease the emotional burden and stress that is associated with being a victim of cyberbullying. Individual therapy can act as an outlet of all of the things that you wish you could say or do about the bully, as well as admitting to some of the more private thoughts and feelings that you may not be comfortable sharing with friends and family. An individual therapist can create a safe, supportive environment, where there is no judgment or shame. An online therapist directory can be a great place to find a therapist licensed in your state who specializes in your specific concerns.
How Group Therapy Can Help
Sharing experiences of cyberbullying in a safe, confidential space can be really therapeutic. As a victim of cyberbullying, there are some residual effects and fear that may come up when you think about sharing your experiences online or in-person. There are also some thoughts and feelings that are only understood and expressed by victims of cyberbullying. Being able to share and process those thoughts and feelings in a group therapy setting allows you to learn additional ways to cope.
Final Thoughts on Cyberbullying
If you are dealing with cyberbullying, talking to a therapist or reaching out to a loved one can make a big difference in how you feel. Know that there are ways to put an end to cyberbullying and you shouldn’t have to experience it alone