Most of us have faced the bully at school. We have cringed at the sight of an advancing bully looking for ways to escape. Now, here’s another one — and you can find him/her online.
Let’s face it. The Internet is everywhere, marching sure-footedly into every aspect of our lives, whether it is while connecting with friends, watching movies, or shopping. However, it is important to remember that a fine line exists between being social and being foolish while you are online.
First off, let’s look at two important issues of cyberspace:
Cyber-bullying: How does it differ from regular bullying, apart from, of course, the nasty physical violence?
Can we put a stop to cyber-bullying? If yes, how?
If you ever feel uncomfortable about embarrassing or harassing content received by you electronically, whether on e-mail/Facebook/Twitter/Whatsapp etc., you should count yourself a victim of cyber-bullying.
Cocktail of 24x7 Trauma, Anonymity, Permanence of Posts
Posts have the potential to spread beyond one’s control — to ‘go viral’, as they say — since it has a way of spreading to anybody, to any online place and at any time. Even online harassment/aggression ‘profits’ from this amplified scope leading to hugely increased trauma in the victim. This 24x7 impact is one glaring difference between cyber-bullying and regular bullying.
It is a frightening prospect, knowing that private details are potentially visible to the eyes of literally anybody with an Internet connection! This includes criminals, abusers, stalkers and so on, who sometimes use quite complex technology to ensure that their real identities cannot be tracked. These anonymous entities, even faceless impostors do exist online!
A fundamental rule on the internet is permanence of posts. Anything you put into cyberspace is permanently accessible in some server or other. Ensure that NO personal information is available on your public page, as somebody might take advantage of your appearance/number/location to intimidate or threaten you.
Social or foolishly social?
Sometimes, cyber-bullying happens due to no fault of the victim, such as when name-calling pranks move into cyberspace and go completely out of control, damaging the victim’s psyche.
But sometimes, attention-mongering actions can attract the wrong kind of attention which can lead to being troubled and bullied online.
Imagine that you enter a room full of complete strangers. Strangers of different ages, shapes, sizes. Strangers who could harbour wrong intentions, perhaps contact you against your will. Or, imagine if a perfect stranger shares photos of you and your friends with other persons unknown to you. Wouldn’t you be uncomfortable? Unnerved? This is simply a real-world depiction of an outcome of foolish and reckless sharing by teens in the online world.
The writer is a volunteer with JaagoTeens, a society working on Internet Safety.
Four phases of fighting back
If somebody tries to approach or harass you, your first mechanism of defence should be to absolutely ignore them.
If they persist in bothering you, block them on the relevant social media website/Messenger that you are using. Visit social media Safety Centres to learn how to block users and change settings to control who can contact you. For instance, Facebook now has a convenient shortcut that helps you exactly filter your privacy settings.
If you feel that the matter has gone out of your hands, don’t hesitate to speak to an elder sibling, parent, or teacher! But be sure to capture evidence of the bullying by taking a screenshot. The method is different for various computers but any Windows PC will generate this using Alt and PrtScr (Print Screen) at the same time.
Help is always round the corner but it is your responsibility to seek it. Help can even be sought from the police who have special methods to track wrongdoers and punish them.
Spread the word about spammers/ bullies to your friends so that they can also avoid the trauma.
Suffering silently is almost as bad as committing the crime. Stand up and assert yourself in your quest for safe online citizenship!