Scientists warn that the phenomenon of cyberbullying is at this point on the rise, affecting an estimated 10 percent of all children between the seventh and ninth grades. Unlike conventional bullying, which only takes place at school, this form of aggression never leaves its targets alone, not even when at home during the night. This is part of what makes it so dangerous, and so likely to cause more significant damage in the children that are being picked on for no good reason, ScienceDail
“This type of bullying can be more serious than conventional bullying. At least with conventional bullying the victim is left alone on evenings and weekends,” explains University of Gothenburg psychology professor Ann Frisen. “Victims of Internet bullying – or cyberbullying – have no refuge. Victims may be harassed continuously via SMS and websites, and the information spreads very quickly and may be difficult to remove. In addition, it is often difficult to identify the perpetrator,” she adds.
Frisen is a part of a network of researchers based in the European Union that is concerned with studying how cyberbullying damages body images and identity development in children targeted by this behavior. “Cyberbullying occurs when new technologies such as computers and mobile phones are used to harass or bully somebody. The perpetrators often use SMS, e-mail, chat rooms and Facebook to spread their message,” she adds, citing a very good example for this. A particular Facebook group was set up with the express purpose of promoting hatred against a single individual.
In this instance, the group was called “Those of us who hate Stina Johansson” (Vi som hatar Stina Johansson). “This Facebook group was very difficult to remove. It took Stina's parents almost one whole month,” the research scientist says. She adds that, most often, both the aggressor and the victim are based at the same school. But cyberbullying also exhibits another paradigm shift from conventional bullying. It is now possible for weaker students, covered in anonymity, to pick on stronger ones, which is unheard of in “classical” bullying.
“Adults shouldn't be so naive about what they put out about themselves on the Internet, for example pictures. Kids get inspired by what adults do. In addition, it's good if parents show interest and ask their children to show them which sites they like to visit. But it's usually not a good idea to forbid them from visiting certain websites; they should instead teach them how to act when they are there. It is also important not to blame victimized children, since it's really not their fault. Our job is instead to help them end the harassment,” Frisen adds of the possible actions that could mitigate this phenomenon.
She also gives Sweden the example of the United Kingdom. “All school children in the UK are taught to 'zip it, block it and flag it' – don't share information, block contacts and tell an adult!” she concludes.