Recovery Blog

What is cyber-bullying? and how do counsellors assist bullied youth?

Bullying is the intentional use of power by one person over another. Social media and 24/7 connectivity mean bullying looks a little different than it did in the pre-digital era. Cyber-bulling can include cyberstalking, impersonation, doxxing, and more. 

Bullying

  • Can be physical, verbal, social and electronic (cyber-bullying).
  • Can have serious and lasting impacts on a child – including depression and anxiety
  • Anti-bullying programs are now being implemented in schools such as Steps to Respect (aimed at Grades 3-6)
  • Bullying is a relationship problem, impacting the victim, the bully and also bystanders

Cyber Bullying: Bullying that Happens Online

For an aggressive act to be considered bullying, three criteria need to be met. First, there needs to be a power differential. The bully has more power than the bullied, be it physical power, social power, or economic power. Second, there is an intent to harm. Bullying isn’t an act of misunderstanding, miscommunication, or an accident. Third, bullying is repeated. A shove is an assault. A shove every day is bullying. 

In an online world, each of these characteristics can look very different. For example, power in an online context can refer to somebody being more technically skilled. Cyberbullying is something that every parent worries about and it can be quite complicated.

Cyber bulling consists of the following actions by the bully:

  • Insulting: Posting or spreading false information about a person that will cause harm to that person or that person’s reputation.
  • Targeting: Singling someone out and inviting others to attack or make fun of her or him.
  • Identity theft: Pretending to be someone else to make it look like that other person said things he or she doesn’t believe or that aren’t true about him or her.
  • Uploading: Sharing images of a person, particularly in an embarrassing situation, without her or his permission, or sharing emails without the writer’s permission.
  • Excluding: Pressuring others to exclude someone from a community (either online or offline).
  • Harassment: Repeatedly sending someone nasty, mean and insulting messages.

Forms of Cyber Bullying

Impersonation

Impersonation works a few ways. A cyberbully can use a false identity (for example, on Facebook) to torment their victim, thus covering their tracks. Or, a cyberbully can impersonate someone their victim knows, perhaps to damage relationships or wheedle information out of their victim. Or the cyberbully can impersonate their victim to ruin a reputation.

Humiliation

Cyberbullies can spread rumours to embarrass or harm their victims. The 24/7 nature of social media means that the rumour mill is always running and kids don't have a 'break' from their social lives.

Cyberstalking

Cyberstalking involves following a person across social media and other Internet accounts, frequently sending harassing or aggressive message. The cyberbully will make their victims fear for their safety. The cyberbully may not even know their victim offline.

Note that in Canada, cyberstalking can be considered criminal harassment.

Flaming

Flaming is when a cyberbully makes vulgar, abusive, or aggressive comments to start a fight. Teenagers sometimes call this "drama". 

Sharing Private Images

Cyberbullies can upload or share private or embarrassing images with other cyberbullies. One so-called “sexting ring” in the US has resulted in three teenagers charged with serious crimes and a further 20 referred to a juvenile review board.

In Canada, this is called the non-consensual distribution of intimate images and is an evolving area of law.

Note that if you need help removing images from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, a peer’s phone, and more, visit NeedHelpNow.ca. 

Password Theft

Cyberbullies can attempt to figure out their victims' account passwords to manipulate their social media accounts, humiliate them, or even cyberbully others.

Website Creation

Some cyberbullies have a lot of time on their hands. How much? Enough to create entire websites devoted to torment, humiliate, or embarrass their victims. A Burlington, ON, teenager ended up leaving school after he found out about a website created specifically to bully him.

Doxxing

Doxxing is when someone researches and broadcasts private information about a person or organization. In the context of cyberbullying, it involves finding out a person's private accounts and online activities and then making them public. For example, a gay teen may post on an LGBT forum under a username they keep secret. A cyberbully could figure out the username and then publish it widely.

PC Attacks

A tech-savvy cyberbully may attempt to infect their victim’s computer with viruses, spyware, or other malware.

Proxy Attacks

A proxy attack is something only a very technologically savvy cyberbully would try. The bully installs a proxy on their victim's computer. The victim's Internet traffic travels through the proxy, which sends said information to the bully. The bully can then use whatever confidential information they glean in their bullying.

How to Deal with Cyber-Bullying?

The following are some of the proven ways to effectively deal with with cyber-bullying:

  • Encourage youth the save all the messages/communications
  • Discourage youth from participating or responding
  • If the bullying is anonymous, there may be a way of tracking the IP address of the bully – involve teachers and parents.
  • Approach the bully in person if it is safe and possible to do so (in low-risk situations).
  • Cyberbullying is against the law – if the case is severe further steps can be taken

Counselling Bullied Youth

Counsellors working with youth who are being cyber-bullied apply some of the following approaches:

  • Conduct a risk assessment – is violence escalating?
  • Help Youth develop assertiveness skills to deal with bullies in low-risk situations – have the youth practice saying "Leave me alone" in a strong, calm voice
  • Encourage youth to walk away and to involve adults – especially when there are safety concerns
  • Involve adults and school administrators
  • Help youth get involved with peers and groups – these can have a protective factor against bullying

 

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