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Cyberbullying

The complexities of cyberbullying and digital abuse are often overlooked. Laura highlights the realization that there are no boundaries to who can be affected.

I think airplanes are one of the best places to think; as a matter of fact, I’m writing this – my first of hopefully many pieces for Cybersmile – while midair on my way home. Despite technologies that allow us to be a connected at all times, I rarely use Wi-Fi when I fly. Rather, I read or will just be and think. When not plugged-in, I feel the most free from the potential negativities that sometimes abound on social media. I can have an internal monologue of sorts with my thoughts, feelings, emotions and sometimes even dream.

Social Media

I use social media apps as an engagement mechanism to keep up with family and friends as they and I travel. Typically when I am home, I like to “check-in” to my favourite gym and sometimes I tag an inspirational “selfie” or photo with a witty saying. On more than a handful of occasions, what I saw as a positive life choice – which I shared via these check-ins – quickly turned negative. Certain people thought I checked-in because I had to “prove” something, that I was a show-off, or that I was trying to make myself appear better than others because I chose a healthy lifestyle. In one case, I was told I was too thin and should “go eat a burger” and that I looked “really tired and needed to get more rest”. In another, someone I’d never met posted a lewd comment about me in my workout clothes. That comment in particular was posted before I had a chance to read and delete it. All I could imagine was what my family, friends and colleagues must of thought when they had read it; it made my stomach turn. To say it made me want to shut down my account would be a gross understatement (If you are affected by any negative behaviour online, you can email help@cybersmile.org to access our 24hr Global Support Service or explore the recommended links at the end of this post).

Cyberbullying Knows No Boundaries

What I’ve learned from both traveling and growing as a person is that cyberbullying is oft a universal experience regardless of locale, gender and age. Prior to my engaging with Cybersmile, I held the false assumption that cyberbullying was just “kids’ stuff” and that I was alone in having experienced it as an adult. By reading posts from the Cybersmile ambassadors and contributors about their past and present experiences, I soon realised it’s affecting more individuals like me. According to research published in 2014, nearly 75 percent of American adults have witnessed online harassment, with 40 percent having been cyberbullied. The statistic that shocks me the most is that 50 percent of those who were cyberbullied didn’t even know the person inflicting the harm – as was the case with my cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying Vs Bullying

The difference between being bullied when I was younger and now is not just the age difference; it’s how the bullying is done. When I was young, I could tell a teacher, parent, or even older sibling who my bully was because the offence was done to my face or it was easy to figure out who started a rumour. Back then, there was no hiding behind the veil of a lit-computer screen. In my experience, the anonymity under which the aforementioned 50 percent of adult cyberbullies operate is even more detrimental than having someone stand toe-to-toe with me. Now, please do understand that I’m not advocating that one type of bullying (cyber or in-person) is less harmful than another. It seems to affect me more now than it did when I was younger. When I think why, quite plainly, it’s because when the cyberbullying happened, I didn’t know who to talk to, for fear in reaching out to friends would make me appear weak or they would question if I was overreacting. I felt my only recourse was to delete the comments from the screen, but that did not delete them from my memory or my heart.

An Important Realization

Part of what I am realising as an adult who didn’t grow up with digital tools and social media, is that my relationship with social media has to be different from the relationship I have with myself. Seems an obvious statement until you start to internalise a negative comment. That’s why I pause to consider the words and the intent behind the person writing them – and I may never discern it. But I do know that their intent needn’t be mine. I believe we all do need to occasionally unplug and disconnect for this reason – it’s so simple and easy to get caught up in the negativity we regularly see and lose sight of the positivity in ourselves, in our thoughts and dreams.

Community Helps

No, unplugging from social media isn’t going to cure cyberbullying. But it helps some of the time. Putting my mobile down after I see negativity spew forth and taking a deep breath is a fix. But at times I do need reassurance I’m not alone; sadly, there’s solace in this… that other adults are harassed or bullied online. When down and out, I know I have powerful outlets to connect with and that’s the brilliant magic in groups like Cybersmile. In this digital age, Cybersmile serves as a community where we can control not only the tone and tenor of our online conversation, but also help positively influence others so that such behaviour trickles down. This is why at least once a week, I like to scroll through the Twitter posts with the hashtag #ImACybersmiler. It’s powerful stuff.

I hope this resonates with some, if not all, who read it. Cyberbullying transcends so many boundaries: age, locale, nationality, religion, or level of self-confidence. I hope that as the fight against cyberbullying continues to evolve, more will share their stories to increase awareness. It’s that fearlessness to tell not only tell your family and friends, but also the cyber world that you won’t tolerate such actions that will bring about positive change.

Now, as someone who loves music, I wanted to share some songs from my personal #PositivePlaylist!

• Katy Tiz – Whistle (While You Work It)
• Owl City – Verge
• All You Need is Love – Beatles
• Unwritten – Natasha Bedingfield
• Someone Like You – Van Morrison

If you are affected by any type of online negativity we have help for you! Visit our cyberbullying and online abuse help center or explore the ways we can help through our total access support service. For more information about Cybersmile and the work we do, please explore the following recommendations.

If this post has got you thinking about cyberbullying and it’s effects, why not contribute a post of your own? Email info@cybersmile.org for further information.