“I don’t like what they write about you - don’t read it”, “Just think, you can’t write anything about you”, “This is the Internet. Everyone in it writes what he wants”- such arguments are often used when it comes to cyberbullying. In recent years, bullying has been discussed more and more often, but, as a rule, only those who have encountered it offline can count on sympathy. Online bullying is still considered a minor issue. We will tell you why cyberbullying is as dangerous as “regular” bullying, and how cyberbullying differs from an ordinary joke or comment on the Internet.
You are scary
Last year, Anna removed all photos and personal information from her social media accounts. She set up her pages so that only friends can view them. “Still, sometimes I get anxious,” says Anna. "It seems to me that someone can track me down."
It all started in 2017 when Anna decided to start a YouTube channel with book reviews. “I didn't have a goal to become a popular video blogger,” says Anna. - I did it more for myself and my friends. About a hundred people signed up for me, and that was fine with me. Sometimes I just talked about literary novelties, sometimes I performed in the popular YouTube genre - bragging about my purchases from the bookstore. " Once, inspired by the series "Orange is the hit of the season" about life in a women's prison, Anna decided to read the book of the same name and talk about it in another video.
“I allowed myself to express a few of my own thoughts,” she recalls. - For example, she suggested that psychologists should work with prisoners, and after release they should be helped to adapt to life outside and socialize. I also said that in all countries, innocent people are often imprisoned. In general, I criticized the very idea of the prison system."
At first, nothing special happened with Anna's channel. But in the first months of last year, several dozen new readers suddenly subscribed to it, and threats appeared in the comments: “There are ten of us here, and our fists are itching”, “We will come to your city, hold on”, “People have watched your video, who were sitting, and they did not like it very much. " Unpleasant messages also began to appear under other entries: "What are you stupid", "You are terrible." “The fact that someone undertook to criticize my appearance and intellectual abilities did not really hurt me,” says Anna. “But the threats scared me. I'm not a very advanced internet user and I don't understand if people can track me down on a video blog. In any case, I stopped feeling safe. It seemed to me that these commentators came directly to my home, violated my personal space."
This went on for about six months. Anna blocked the offenders, but new ones appeared in their place - perhaps they were the same people, but under different names. The more threats they sent, the more terrifying she became. The imagination painted different pictures: what if these people are endowed with some kind of power? What if they are already hunting her? Anna was aware that this was unlikely. But she could not cope with the anxiety - she began to sleep badly, felt defenseless. When she told her husband about her condition, he replied: "These are just some idiots on the Internet, don't worry about such bullshit." Not finding support, Anna felt even more lonely and weak. She eventually deleted all entries from her video blog and decided to ditch any internet publicity.
The more threats they sent, the more terrifying she became. The imagination painted different pictures: what if these people are endowed with some kind of power?
“All my acquaintances said that no one needed my little channel, that no one would be looking for me on purpose,” she says. “Maybe I'm really paranoid. But I decided that my health is more important to me than video blog."
Cyberbullying, which Anna faced, is a relatively new concept for bullying in the electronic space. It is believed that the most vulnerable group to cyberbullying are teenagers. According to Microsoft, 49% of Russian schoolchildren between the ages of 8 and 17 have experienced cyberbullying to one degree or another. But for adults, the risk is not much less. According to the Pew Research Center, 40% of adult Internet users in the United States have experienced cyberbullying. 27% admit that they were given abusive nicknames, 22% recall that someone purposefully tried to make them ashamed and embarrassed, 8% received threats of physical harm, 8% were harassed, 7% suffered bullying for a long time, and 6 % received sexual insults.
Despite this evidence, many question the existence of cyberbullying as such. The most popular arguments: “You can simply not read what they write about you”, “You can leave the Internet at any time”, “Everyone has the right to write whatever he wants on the Internet”. As clinical psychologist Grigory Misyutin explains, society is still not accustomed to perceiving what is happening on the Internet as something real, “serious”. “For a long time, many did not believe that it was possible to earn money on the Internet,” says Misyutin. - Someone still has the conviction that it is impossible to get an education on the Internet. It's the same with violence. There is a certain stigma around the victims of cyberbullying, it is believed that they are being subjected to “fake” violence. This creates a vicious circle. People do not talk about bullying and threats, because they are afraid of condemnation, because they will be told that they are exaggerating, inventing problems. As a result, the victims are silent and remain under the pressure of the aggressors."
Another problem with cyberbullying is the complexity of the definition itself. Even among researchers, opinions differ on what counts as cyberbullying. One popular interpretation is "intentional and repeated harm using electronic devices." But such a description can also be misleading. “It is quite easy to confuse interpersonal conflict, a single insult and cyberbullying,” says Kirill Khlomov, Ph.D. - The main features of cyberbullying are repeatability and purposefulness. In this case, the aggressor does not necessarily have to address messages directly to the victim. He can engage in cyberbullying both on his own page and in a specially created public - sometimes such publics are called “hate groups”.
Often the aggressors claim that they are not engaged in cyberbullying at all, but are just joking. According to Khlomov, the line between joke and bullying can indeed be blurred and the criteria here are rather subjective. But ultimately, the main indicator is the psychological state of the victim. If because of a "joke" a person experiences fear, anxiety, a sense of humiliation, then this has ceased to be a joke. At the same time, it makes no sense to prove to the person who was hurt that nothing really happened.
“Imagine you work in an office,” says Khlomov. - You opened the window, and your neighbor says that he is cold. You can tell him: “Actually, it’s not cold here, you’re just cold.” In this case, it turns out that you deny him an adequate perception of reality and yourself. The same thing happens when one person convinces the other that he did not offend him, but was just joking."
I did it myself
“I used to be in a fairly large group chat on Telegram,” says Liana."During one conversation, I reasonably explained to another chat participant that, in my opinion, he was wrong." After that, the user found her Instagram account and took a screenshot of one of the pictures. “It was a photo with superimposed effects,” says Liana. "I had cat ears, round glasses, big eyes and a little wild smile." The aggressor posted this photo in a group chat and accompanied it with disapproving comments. “He wrote that I’m fat, I have a huge hanging chest, I don’t shave and stink,” recalls Liana. “Apparently, he decided that I belonged to the feminist movement, and intended to offend me with the help of stereotypes.”
Other participants joined the discussion, they posted this photo over and over again, commenting on the girl's appearance. But, according to her, this story did not cause any trauma to her. “I understood that the aggressor behaved like this out of despair and resentment,” says Liana. - I even felt sorry for him. But I behaved at ease, sarcastically commented on his behavior, did not lose my composure. " According to Liana, in this situation she managed to "maintain a dominant position."
As Kirill Khlomov explains, different people can really have different tolerances to Internet aggression. The peak of the involvement of Russian adolescents in cyberbullying falls on the fifth or sixth grade - at this age people are often psychologically vulnerable. As they get older, the percentage of people who become victims or aggressors decreases: many develop ways for themselves to cope with cyber aggression and bullying.
But if someone can ignore the insults and threats, this does not mean that everyone is capable of it. “Everyone has their own threshold of sensitivity,” says Grigory Misyutin. - For someone, losing a favorite children's toy is a tragedy. For some it is unpleasant, but not fatal. This does not mean that someone is better and someone is worse. We're just not the same. In addition, our vulnerability depends on the specific life span. A person can face cyber aggression at a difficult moment for himself. After all, even when we just have a cold, our sensitivity can grow. It also happens that a person does not pay attention to aggression from society, but the opinion of a certain acquaintance is important for him for some reason. And so, this acquaintance joins in the bullying, and the victim is hurt."
There is a certain stigma surrounding victims of cyberbullying, it is believed that they are being subjected to "fake" violence. It creates a vicious circle
Researchers Robin Kowalski, Susan Limber, Patricia Agatston write in their book Cyberbullying: Bullying in the Digital Age that bullying on the Internet is not always obvious. These may not only be outright insults, but also something that most observers may not recognize as being persecuted. Like “regular” bullying, cyberbullying involves a wide variety of actions, from subtle innuendo to overt brutality that can lead to suicide. At the same time, according to Grigory Misyutin, it is important to remember that there is no “half violence” - even if aggression from the outside does not seem destructive, this does not mean that it needs to be legitimized.
Kowalski, Limber and Agatston in their study offer a fairly broad classification of cyberbullying, starting with the most "harmless" forms. For example, flaming (from the English flame - "ignition"). This is an emotional exchange of remarks between interlocutors, who are initially on an equal footing. But due to aggression, the balance of power is shifting, besides, one of the participants can attract as many Internet users as he wants to his side. As a result, visitors to the forum or public enter into a stormy correspondence and all together attack someone with insults. However, they may not even understand the meaning of the initial conflict or perceive what is happening as a game.
Another form of cyberbullying that researchers have identified is cyberbullying. These are words or actions addressed to one person and persistently repeated. The goal of the aggressor is to irritate the victim, anxiety and stress.
“At the same time, for some,“tough”communication on the Internet is familiar, they like it,” says Misyutin. - Reaction to aggression is an individual indicator. Therefore, quite often the aggressor declares that the victim's “excessive” sensitivity is not at all his, the aggressor's, problem. In fact, such words indicate an extreme reluctance of the aggressor to take the position of another person; they indicate that he has difficulty using social intelligence. A person chooses a social model in which he maintains his status with the help of aggression. Only now this model is becoming obsolete. After the catastrophes of the 20th century, human life becomes more and more valuable, people begin to take their safety and their surroundings more seriously. The idea of violence is losing its electorate, and social intelligence is becoming an increasingly important skill for survival."
As if I had been stolen
“Once, when I was still in school, my closest girlfriends called me during the winter holidays and said that they would no longer communicate with me,” recalls Ekaterina. "They told me that I was a traitor and hung up." In the class where Yekaterina studied, episodes of bullying have already happened: schoolchildren beat each other, locked them in the toilet, pushed, hid things. Catherine immediately began to imagine how her friends would turn the whole class against her and the same thing would happen to her that had happened to other children before her eyes.
“My parents saw that I burst into tears after the phone call, and decided to ask my friends what had happened,” Ekaterina recalls. “They called one of the girls. After that, messages from my friends began to come to me: “You taunted your parents”, “Now you will get even worse.” The girls persuaded their acquaintances high school students to join the persecution, and comments began to appear under Catherine's photos: "Ugly", "Scary". “It was such an age when everyone constantly posted photos, put likes and wrote to each other: 'You are a beauty,'” says Ekaterina. - I wanted to be popular, I liked being praised. And then, under all my pictures and notes, insults began to appear. " Later, a student from a parallel class, with whom Catherine did not even communicate, began to write her personal messages: "You better not show up at school."
One day the girl discovered that there was an account on the VKontakte network that exactly copies her own page. It contained the same photos and personal information. The top post on the wall read: "This is my new page, add me." Catherine began to follow this account and found that every day more and more of her acquaintances are "friends" with him. “Once in the yard I met my neighbor, she was in a class younger than me,” says Ekaterina. - She pounced on me, began to say as if I was writing nasty things to her. I asked her to show the messages. It turned out that the creators of the fake account write insults to friends on my behalf."
As Ekaterina recalls, at school she always tried not to offend anyone, to be friendly with everyone. “Now it seemed to me as if me, my image had been stolen and distorted,” she says. “It didn't belong to me anymore. Maybe I shouldn't have gone online. But I couldn't stop following the development of events. At the same time, I twitched from each notification. I began to sleep very badly, at night I literally choked with tears. Anxiety seemed to be pressing on me all the time."
13-year-old schoolgirl from South African Pretoria committed suicide due to
that schoolchildren sent each other in the WhatsApp messenger her picture
When, after the holidays, Ekaterina returned to school, she realized that her ex-friends were not going to stop on cyberbullying - they persuaded the whole class to throw objects at her during lessons. On the very first day of school, she accidentally heard that the girls were going to lock her in the locker room and arrange a "dark" one. “Fortunately, my parents took this situation seriously from the very beginning,” says Ekaterina. - They even offered to contact the police. But in the end I just moved to another school. By the way, later I found out that my ex-girlfriends wrote messages to my new classmates - they wanted to turn them against me. But they didn’t work - everything worked out well for me at the new school.”
As Kirill Khlomov explains, cyberbullying is often associated with bullying in real life, and the number of such cases is growing. “Ten years ago, cyberbullying was associated with real only 10% of the time,” says Khlomov. “Now this figure has grown to 40% and, judging by the trend, it will continue to grow.” However, even when it does not come down to a real threat, online bullying is not harmless.
While cyberbullying is considered by many to be a “virtual” threat, the consequences of cyberbullying, as well as of “normal” bullying, are very real. It affects the risk of developing depression. A 2007 study of children in California found that 93% of cyberbullying victims complained of feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness. A 2000 study from the University of New Hampshire found that 32% of cyberbullying people experienced at least one symptom of chronic stress. These symptoms include sleep disturbances, physical weakness, and trouble concentrating. In addition, according to various studies, people who are faced with cyberbullying often begin to suffer from an increased level of social anxiety, low self-esteem, and schoolchildren and students have declining academic performance.
In the past ten years, suicides among victims of cyberbullying have increased worldwide. In one recent case, a 13-year-old schoolgirl from Pretoria, South Africa, committed suicide after schoolchildren sent a picture of her to each other via WhatsApp. What exactly was in the picture is unknown. The police managed to find out only that because of the photo her classmates were bullied and the girl was afraid to go to school. In 2016, David Molak, a 16-year-old schoolboy who had been cyberbullying for several months because of his appearance, committed suicide in Texas. After that, the state began to operate a law according to which the victim can obtain financial or legal punishment for the aggressor.
As Khlomov explains, the Internet is still a special medium of communication - more rigid, coarse. Some states are only now beginning to try to regulate what is happening there at the legislative level. The fact is that this medium for communication has appeared quite recently. Ethical norms have not yet been formed in it. “American criminologist Robert Mahaffy compares the modern Internet to the Wild West,” Khlomov says. - It seems to me that this is a completely correct comparison. Until recently, there were no generally accepted rules on the Internet at all. The administrator of each resource himself determined how users can behave. Now new rules are being worked out, the boundaries of what is permissible are being established. As the Internet becomes part of our reality, a new ethic of communication is being developed. Until a few years ago, no one would have thought that it would be possible to lose your job because of comments on social networks. And now it is already quite likely. Cyberspace is no longer a separate environment - it is a part of our life. And if earlier a person on the Internet was as if in an invisible hat and could say and do whatever he wanted, now the era of personal responsibility of everyone for their behavior on the Web is coming."
Illustrations: Anya Oreshina