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How To Rise Above Cyberbullying And Channel It Into Something Greater

How to deal with cyberbullying
Understanding the complexities of cyberbullying and online abuse is vital in tackling the problem. Shahida explores some very important areas such as anonymity and why online abuse can hurt more than sticks and stones!

As an author, I am grateful that my advocacy work on behalf of trauma survivors has gained a lot of support over the past few years. Unfortunately, with the rise of attention to a cause also comes with it naysayers that want to silence the voices of those who are speaking out. The experience of cyberbullying and trolling is not new for me or my fellow advocates – far from it. For many years, as soon as an article of mine went viral, there would always be a few malignant cyberbullies that would come out of the woodwork, sometimes even stalking me to harass, insult and threaten me across various social media platforms (if you are affected by any kind of threats online contact your law enforcement or use our global support service for trained help).

Not too long ago, I uncovered the identity of one of my most dangerous cyberbullies, discovering that it was a much older man who had been charged with assault in the past and routinely posted pornographic photos on his public Facebook page. Just another chilling reminder that those who hide behind the anonymity of the screen hurling cruel insults can also engage in incredible violence both within and outside of online spaces.

It’s important to remember that while some cyberbullies and trolls can change their ways, not all bullies simply suffer from low self-esteem; not all are not interested in changing either. Many of the more dangerous cyberbullies, especially adult cyberbullies, lack empathy and remorse for their actions. According to a new study, online trolls demonstrate high degrees of sadism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. This should come to no surprise to anyone who has encountered trolls or cyberbullies – they are notorious for attempting to provoke, demean and belittle people in order to get a reaction.

It is a misconception that cyberbullying is somehow a less legitimate form of violence because it takes place online. Words can hurt just as much, if not more, than sticks and stones, especially when there is less potential for the culprit to be held accountable for their actions. Our current narrative that emotional and psychological battery does not hurt, especially when it is spewed across our everyday Twitter feed, Facebook posts and Instagram comments sections, is posing profound harm and invalidation to those who have suffered cyberbullying and emotional abuse on a chronic basis.

This form of stalking and threatening is unfortunately all too common in cyberspace today, even moreso for women who are routinely attacked for their appearance, their choices or who dare to challenge the status quo. Writer Jessica Valenti, for example, notes that she cannot escape cyberbullying because it is integrated into her day-to-day existence online – and that while she may try to minimize its impact, it still hurts – quite severely.

We are living in a new era where both the laws and mental health resources haven’t yet caught up with how to address the effects of severe, chronic cyberbullying. We live in a world where our lives and sometimes even our work is connected to social media in some way, and while we can certainly step away from the computer more often, we’re unable to extricate ourselves from it fully. When we wake up tormented by the words of complete strangers reverberating in our minds, potentially putting a damper on our day or even threatening our livelihood or our lives, when we walk on eggshells about the content we put online, lest anyone attack, we are unable to work and communicate authentically.

The truth is, no matter how much you may try to “ignore it,” the effects of chronic cyberbullying and trolling don’t go away without support and without change. Research indicates that cyberbullying in schools leads to a higher rate of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in victims of cyberbullying. There have been a number of suicides that were triggered by the words of anonymous sadists – the suicides of many teenagers, for example, were a direct result of cyberbullying. Adults too, bear the burden of being cyberbullied in an era where communication becomes more and more technologically driven; death threats, stalking and harassment towards marginalized people are not uncommon on platforms such as Twitter.

Chronic bullying of any form can lead to depression, anxiety, and even symptoms of PTSD depending on the extent and severity of the bullying. We have to remember that bullying doesn’t just occur in a vacuum – it also adds onto and complicates previous experiences of trauma, evoking a pervasive sense of worthlessness, fear, and the inability to express oneself in a safe space (remember our advisors are available 24/7 if you need support for any type of online negativity).

WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE BEING CYBERBULLIED

If you’re currently being cyberbullied, always take advantage of any blocking features and/or reporting options the particular platform you’re on has to offer. Always document the cyberbullying incident by screenshotting the interaction whenever possible – documentation is important, especially if you end up having to go to law enforcement. Research the laws in your state regarding cyberbullying and figure out whether going to law enforcement is a viable option for you. Be strategic about your privacy – control your privacy settings on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so that only the information you absolutely need to have out there is visible. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can also gain support from a mental health professional to help guide you to process your feelings. Get support and validation from cyberbullying organizations, advocates and trustworthy friends, family members and teachers if you’re a student.

Channel your experiences of bullying, whether in real life or online, into something greater. Know that your voice is important, as well as your mission. Continue to speak your voice, contribute to your cause, and know that the reason people are trying to silence your message in the first place is because your message is making an impact. Stay safe and take care. If you are affected by anything mentioned in this post please use our global support service or visit our total access support section to see the different ways we can help you. For further information about Cybersmile and the work we do, please explore the following suggestions.

Shahida Arabi is the bestselling author of four books and the founder of Self-Care Haven, a website that helps to support survivors of bullying and abuse.