When you hear the terms ‘bullying’ or ‘abuse’ – what do you think of? Playground teasing? Face-to-face fights? Violence? Domestic Abuse? All of these can be very serious and extremely devastating, but something we often don’t think of, which has potentially equally damaging effects, is Cyber Abuse.
What is ‘cyber abuse’, though? It covers a broad umbrella of things, including calling someone names via message or on a social media post, writing defamatory comments on blog sites or articles, threatening others, stalking and harassment, revenge pornography and any form of online hate speech, to name but a few examples. Talking from experience I increasingly often see comments on my news feed/timeline such as “she’s such a slut”, “f*** off” or “you’re ugly”, and a lot of young people today see these as completely normal, when this should not be the case, as such comments have the power to cause serious emotional and psychological harm.
In the same way that verbal abuse can affect someone, cyber abuse can leave a lasting imprint of words in your mind for a painfully long time, and with the increase in self-worth issues, anxiety and depression etc., one message can be enough to confirm the negative light in which many people already see themselves, leading them to self-harm, becoming upset/angry/depressed or even suicidal.
Something that makes online abuse very different to face-to-face bullying is the fact that it can follow victims everywhere they go. It’s unusual to find someone – especially a young person – going anywhere without a phone or communication device, so their abusers can continue tyrannising them from within their pocket at school, home and even in their bedroom. There is no ‘safe place’ away from it all – it can happen 24/7. We are part of an Internet-reliant generation: so although phones can be turned off and computers shut down, for many people this can feel like shutting out their world.
Anonymity plays a substantial part in why online abuse is so rife and ‘easy’ to carry out – on the internet you do not have to take responsibility for the things you say, as they do not have to be associated with your real name or face. And for those looking to bully and tantalise others, this invisibility cloak allows them to type what they wish, without being accountable. For victims of cyber abuse it can be frightening to receive messages from ‘anonymous’ or other pseudonyms, not knowing if their abuser is a stranger, someone they know or even a friend.
A current survey by ALL RISE, an international anti cyber abuse organisation, has found that 72% of adults and children state that they have witnessed cyber abuse happen to someone else, which shows that an absolutely HUGE number of people are both bystander and personally subjected to it. There are over 3 billion Internet users (and the number is growing by the minute) so cyber space has the potential to be one of the LARGEST audiences out there. What can easily happen is that posts of abuse can gather a following or go viral. Writing a derogatory status about someone can make them feel awful about themselves, for some like being emotionally beaten. But what is worse than this, is when others start to ‘Like’, ‘Comment’ and ‘Share’ the post… quickly the number of punches they feel can increase from 10 to 50, 60, or for those posts that gather thousands of ‘Likes’ it can feel as though a stampede is running over you and destroying any residual feelings of self worth or confidence. This may sound extreme, but for some this is reality:
‘I have been cyber abused – people would spread lies about me saying horrible things and that made others think badly of me. It hurts emotionally; it has made me attempt suicide a few times. I feel worthless.’ 15
‘When I was cyber bullied I felt upset. It was demoralising, hurtful and pointless. It aided in a spiral of depression of self-hatred and self-harm’ 15
‘I’ve been cyber abused in the past, and it’s made me feel trapped and helpless. It’s caused panic and anxiety attacks, as well as self-harm, weight/eating issues depression. I also attempted suicide’ 15
As evidenced by the above, cyber abuse can lead people to the edge, and this should not be overlooked or downplayed -it’s deadly. The severity of its affects means it is absolutely not acceptable to either execute or encourage cyber abuse, even just by being a bystander and not saying ‘NO’, you are saying ‘YES’. The way to deal with cyber abuse is not to become overwhelmed by its intimidating presence and regularity, but to individually take responsibility for your personal cyber profile and news feed. Reporting examples of online bullying and blocking cyber abusers does have a strong impact, and if we all start standing up to the abuse we see online, cyber abuse will no longer be tolerated or seen as the norm.
Have your say – ALL RISE GLOBAL Cyber Abuse Survey
Abuse is Abuse, ONLINE or OFFLINE – Video