What happens if you give a teenager with poor impulse control means to vent their dislikes or nasty opinions to the whole world without any checks or balances on their behavior? Welcome to the world of cyber bullying, a world where teens (and even adults) use the Internet as a platform to slander or bully another person.
People bully for the same reasons they always have: personal insecurity, as a way to elevate themselves or gain social leverage by putting others down, for a sense of empowerment or control, or simply because they have a mean-spirited personality. But the Internet has added another dimension and all new tools to the game. The Internet makes it possible for every mean-spirited voice to gain an easy platform to spew hatred in front of whatever audience they can muster. The perceived permanency and worldwide connectivity of the Internet also gives a bully's words staying power they didn't have before. Some teens may even use Internet bullying as a way to gain recognition or instant Internet fame. Thus, the web can serve as a proving ground of sorts for adolescents wanting to show how tough or dominant they can be.
Cyberbullying has changed the landscape of this issue in several key ways:
1. Cyber bullying extends the reach of bullies
It used to be that if a child was tormented all day at school, he could at least have some reprieve from it when he left for the day. Now the bullies can follow him home at night and invade a youth's life through cyberspace, since much of our social interaction now takes place over electronic platforms. “You’re bullied twice," says Nancy Willard, author of Cyber-Safe Kids. “You're bullied in the real world with a physical attack, and then you're bullied online with humiliation. It's very hurtful. Very, very hurtful.” (Kornblum, 7-15-2008)
2. Cyber bullies have more tools to torment with
Anti-bullying advocate Jodee Blanco states that “It’s not that bullying is any worse today. The impulse for cruelty is the same impulse. The only difference is that the tools to achieve that have become more sophisticated.” (ibid) For example, “if you have a cell phone, you can post to your entire school that a girl is a slut or a boy is a fag - and you can attach an unflattering photo or video of them to try to prove it." (Cloud, 2010, p. 62) Or with a single click, you can send an email filled with slander against a particular person to all your closest friends. There are now all kinds of tools to share information, and these tools can be used for evil as well as good.
3. Cyber bullying provides more permanence to the insult