Cyberbullying: Don’t be a bystander

by | Aug 9, 2021

Online Bystanders play an increasingly important role in the continuity of a safe online environment as more and more users come online. 

This article aims to shed light on the dangerous effects of cyberbullying and the importance of bystanders in keeping the online community safe.

With the rapid advancement of technology, it is now common for kids as young as 8 to own an electronic device.

Furthermore, ever since the pandemic and the roll-out of home-based learning, students have spent more time on their electronic devices than ever before. This leaves them increasingly vulnerable to cyberbullying risks. 

In addition, the effects of cyberbullying can be damaging and long-lasting. To illustrate this, we interviewed three students who were victims of cyberbullying to learn about their experiences and here’s what they shared.

Disclaimer: We are by no means an expert on Cyberbullying, this is an opinion piece. For more information, check out this resource list from Media Literacy Council.

Note: These 3 students have chosen to remain anonymous and were given pseudonyms.

Ariana’s story

Girl watch train

Ariana faced both cyberbullying and bullying in her 4 years of Secondary school.

It started when she stood up for a friend who was getting bullied, eventually becoming the victim herself.

On one occasion, the perpetrators tweeted malicious tweets about her. Instead of helping, her “friends“ even joined in the online harassment while bystanders in school laughed about it.

Despite reporting the situation to teachers, they had turned a blind eye to her situation.

Ariana also mentioned that she constantly lied to her parents about her life in school because she didn’t want them to worry for her.

The harassment Ariana experienced had impacted her mental health tremendously. She became suicidal at some point and resorted to self-harm.

Eventually, Ariana developed anxiety, low self-esteem and insomnia, with a history of abusing sleeping pills in the past.

When asked if she was still affected by the incident, she said “Even though they’ve apologised and 5 years have passed I am still not over what has happened at present.”

Ariana added that victims ought to seek professional help instead of bottling their feelings up. She also urged online bystanders to speak up and provide support for the victims.

Benny’s story

Benny first experienced cyberbullying and bullying in Secondary 2, but the harassment got worse when they were in Secondary 4.

Being a queer student, the harassment they experienced were mostly due to trans/homophobia and ignorance. Much of the harassment also stood from conservative Christian beliefs of binary gender identities.

Back then, the popular students in school would harass Benny via Direct Messages (DMs) and comments on Instagram.
Subsequently, the harassment took a huge toll on Benny’s mental health.

Furthermore, it had caused Benny to become an outcast at school, which contributed much to their social anxiety as well.

Benny even received homophobic reactions from the school’s staff. It made them feel unsafe and helpless since there was no one they could turn to for help.

When cyberbullying and discrimination has always been a constant for people who are from the LGBTQ Community, Benny encourages people in privileged positions to protect minority communities by speaking up.

They added that it should be extended to our online space to fight off cyberbullying as well.

Charlie’s story

Charlie was cyberbullied during his first year in Secondary school.

Back then, Instagram was the ‘hot-topic’. As such, he decided to download and create an account, where it was used as an online diary.

Subsequently, he started to receive hate comments from strangers. These comments severely affected his mental health.

“I didn’t do anything wrong, why was I getting attacked online”, he noted.

Consequently, the cyberbullying led to a deterioration in his academic performance as he lost focus in class. He also isolated himself from his friends and family, often had difficulty sleeping and was constantly anxious.

Fortunately, he had a concerned group of friends who Direct Messaged (DM) his harassers to back off. Eventually, the cyberbullying stopped.

Charlie hopes that just as how his friends helped, online users can do the same by speaking up for victims.

These 3 stories reveal the long-lasting & traumatic effects of Cyberbullying, with a common narrative — Online bystanders have an active role to play in contributing to a safer online community.

But how can we tackle cyberbullying if we contribute to it?

Could I be a cyberbully?

Unknowingly, there are times when our activities online can be recognised as or encourage cyberbullying.

Here are some of those things we ought to realise in this modern-day and age.

1.) Don’t exploit cancel culture

Cancel Culture

What is Cancel culture?

Cancel culture is the modern way of calling someone out for saying or doing something that is seen as objectionable or offensive. This can be described as public/group shaming and is commonly seen on social media.

It’s a tool of accountability used to combat social injustice. In fact, its root stemmed from the black empowerment movement in the 1960s.

Cancel culture is also much more common among public figures and celebrities due to their large following and wide range of audiences. Oftentimes, harming the life and reputation of the “cancelled” individual.

Is cancel culture cyberbullying?

Although the intent of cancel culture is positive in that it is used to educate individuals on and hold them accountable for their wrongful behaviour.

More often than not, when it occurs, many false narratives tend to follow with little to no fact-checking and large numbers of people get drawn into a ‘crossfire’ of negative comments hurled at the “cancelled” victim.

Consequently, getting ‘cancelled’ can also lead to harassment, cyberstalking, doxxing or further grievous actions such as death threats, boycotting and/or going after the families of the victim.

Situated in a local context, Tosh Zhang was cancelled in 2019 for homophobic and misogynistic tweets back in 2012, after he was announced as the 2019 Pink Dot ambassador.

The demeaning comments he received had a negative impact on his physical and mental health.

Even after his apology, the hate comments did not subside, causing him to take a break from social media. Make no mistake, some of these comments were abusive and are considered a form of cyberbullying.

If you find yourself participating in cancel culture, make sure to fact-check the alleged claims.

Also, express your opinions with the intent to carry a healthy conversation or dialogue, instead of directing negativity to the ‘cancelled’ individual.

Our actions can contribute to a much bigger problem if we are not conscious of how we communicate online.

Trolling and shaming will not change anything, but having an open-minded and healthy conversation can.

2.) What can liking a comment do?

Liking a comment on Instagram

Liking a comment may not be a big deal. But, it can be if the comment you liked is posted with the intent to harm and hurt the user.

Liking a comment shows support for and validates the commenter’s opinion. It also empowers other users to leave abusive comments of their own.

The number of likes on a hate comment can also exert a toll on the victim’s mental health.

Regardless of whether the content creator deserves the hate, liking a malicious or abusive comment indirectly contributes to cyberbullying.

3.) Watch your comments

Users may post comments that they deem harmless but just as how Benny and Charlie reacted negatively to the comments they received, the individual on the receiving end of those comments may react similarly.

Opinion vs personal attacks

Commenters may leave their opinions without recognising that it could also contain elements of a personal attack.

An opinion is a view or judgement formed by someone, which may not necessarily be based on fact or knowledge. It can also be an impression or personal belief.

A personal attack, on the other hand, refers to making an abusive remark to somebody. It is also often associated with someone else’s lifestyle or choices.

For instance, as shared by Benny, they received backlash from students with conservative Christian beliefs who disapproved of the LGBTQ+ community.

Although the students had an opinion, their comments involved the use of malicious language aimed at demeaning Benny.

Is my joke appropriate?

Many people enjoy using social media because of the entertainment that comes from it. However, it’s extremely crucial to know where to draw the line when pulling a joke.

If the joke is pulled with the intent to mock and cause harm to someone, then it’s not appropriate.

Jokes should be pulled at the right setting and be rid of any elements of mockery or harm.

If you’re someone who likes to joke online, it’s best to think twice before posting. It’s best to not post at all if you are unsure of the consequences.

How to help a victim whom you know personally

For those who want to help their loved ones but have no idea how-to, here are some things you can do.

1.) Check up on them

Check up on your friend

Like Charlie, victims of cyberbullying tend to suffer in silence and are too afraid to reach out for help.

Reaching out and checking up on them is one of the most important things you can do to help.

You could reach out to your friends by messaging them first to make sure that they’re okay.

Talk to them, make them feel at ease and show them that they are not alone. Be by their side, listen to them and validate their feelings.

2.) Call out the cyberbully

It’s also incredibly important to stand up for your friends who get cyberbullied.

In this case, standing up doesn’t mean responding to hate with hate on social media.

But, you can call the cyberbully out by mentioning that what they’re doing is wrong and unacceptable.

3.) Escalate and report

If cyberbullying doesn’t stop after various attempts, the situation needs to be reported.

Depending on your social media platform, you can utilise the respective anti-cyberbullying tools to report and block the online harasser.

Alternatively, you can choose to report it to the relevant legal authorities by seeking criminal or legal remedies.

How to help an online victim

Instagram report function

Photo from Instagram

Abusive comments left on somebody’s profile should be reported immediately.

If the online bully who posted said comment is seen leaving multiple abusive comments on other posts, report the individual’s profile directly.

Most importantly,

The stories of Ariana and Benny have shown the extent of the damage cyberbullying can have on individuals.

While the story of Charlie has highlighted the importance of having a supportive group of friends.

Ultimately, these stories are interwoven with a common belief don’t be a bystander.

Online users have a huge role to play in stopping cyberbullying. Being neutral defers that responsibility and does nothing to support the victim.

Thus, in order to make our online space safer, digital natives will have to take up that moral responsibility and work collectively.

This is the second article in a 2 part series that touches on cyberbullying. If you were or are being cyberbullied, find out what you can do to combat and prevent cyberbullying.

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