Cyber Bullying

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Cyber Bullying

When researching this subject, I was shocked to see the number of people who had taken their lives due to cyber bullying and sextortion. Between March 2019 and March 2020 19% or one in five children between the age of 10 and 15 in England and Wales experienced at least one form of cyber bullying. (Ditch the Label, antibullying charity)

Cyber bullying and sextortion are increasingly common forms of online abuse. Let’s look at them in turn.

Cyber Bullying and Kids

Cyberbullying is an umbrella term for all forms of bullying online. It’s especially common with teenagers. I know of many cases where school kids gang up on and target, a particular child online. The targeted child becomes highly anxious and stressed and often refuses to go back to school. 

As in most social media issues the anonymity of the internet gives some people courage to behave more aggressively than they would face to face. So, the bully at school can garner support from others to publicly humiliate the target online.

Cyber Bullying and Adults

However, cyber bullying doesn’t just affect young people, there are increasingly tragic stories of adults who take their life due to the trolling and bullying they receive on social media. Particularly, but not exclusively if their celebrity status means the media glare is already on them, for example, the tragic case of Caroline Flack, the presenter of the hugely popular ‘Love Island’ at the time of her suicide.

There is also the fear of people not being who they really are online. There are numerous cases of people hiding behind a false persona online. A common example is online dating, I remember years ago meeting someone who looked a lot older than his photo on his profile. However, this was nothing compared to the scams and extortion that are now everyday occurrences. A recent radio 4 programme interviewed a woman who had been scammed out of hundreds of thousands of pounds by falling for the advances of a fake persona.

What is Sextortion?

Sextortion is also an increasingly scary crime. My preferred definition of sextortion is sexual images being shared without consent. 

This is another term covering many scenarios. It can be the revenge style posting of intimate photos one partner has of the other after they break up, or more explicit sexual video footage. The moral and legal context of the situation is clear. If permission is not given from the person in the images, a boundary has been crossed.

Consent is key

As we know, consent is key in all sexual encounters and relationships no matter how old we are or how under the influence of alcohol or substances. 

Even more sinister types of bullying behaviour are when sexual images are shared online without permission to blackmail the target. This is now a crime.

The law is gradually changing to give a voice and rights to the target and accountability and punishment to the bully. Society is also shifting and there is now more of a culture of respect. An example is the increasing use of intimacy coaches in the film industry who help the actors feel more comfortable in sex scenes they shoot and helping them have a say in the direction.

Deepfakes and Cyber Bullying

As technology develops, so does the potential for cyber bullying. Deepfakes are now adding another layer of bullying on social media. Genuine headshot photos from social media profiles are spliced with pornographic images and then shared online. The technology is so good the new images are utterly believable. There have been some high-profile cases of this form of abuse of celebrities but it also extends to school girls. In a village in Spain, their male classmates created new intimate photos of them and shared the pictures on social media. Some of the girls were as young as 12. It had a devastating effect on the girls, and it was only when one of the mothers spoke out about it that action was taken.

I think speaking out about this is key. Even though these manipulated images are either not real or not given consent to share, there is a massive effect on the targets. A huge amount of anxiety, panic and shame is felt. This public sharing of something deeply personal and/or totally fake but realistic was never intended. 

Shame is a crippling feeling, and it is incredibly hard to talk about something which feels shameful. It can hold a very strong power over us. 

How To Recover From Cyber Bullying

The key to recovery from bullying of any type is for the target to understand that it is not their fault. Talking about it can help process what has happened, as hard as that is. The target needs to confide in someone who can help them find the increasing support that’s available.  

Once the bullying is out in the open it loses power over the individual. Support and hopefully justice can follow. It’s not ok that the perpetrators get away with it and changes in the law show that cyber bullying of all kinds is taken seriously and has legal repercussions.

There is a lot of support online if you or someone you know has been affected by cyber bullying. 

Some links you may find useful are:

Internet Watch Foundation

Cybercrew

National Bullying Helpline 

NSPCC