When I was in junior high school, I was cyberbullied. Classmates got online and said less than pleasant things about me with the intentions of upsetting me. The joke was on them, of course: I wasn’t yet allowed to be on the Internet in the places they were posting, so I had no idea that I was even the target of bullies. I only found out when people would approach me in school and ask me about things they had seen online. When it came down to it, though, that kind of behavior was going to exist regardless of whether or not my friends had access to the internet. Based on that, I don’t think online services caused an increase in bullying and harassment. Rather, I believe that the bullying is exactly the same as it would be offline; it’s just less subtle and contained.
The fact of the matter is that grade school children are mean. There is nothing that can be done about that. The fact that they have taken to cyberspace to be nasty, in my opinion, is just a natural progression of the same toxic behavior. Websites and open forums online don’t condone bullying, but they are also not responsible for inhibiting it. Legally, it is not necessarily their place. That is where projects like Delete Cyberbullying come into play. The homepage of this project’s website immediately fronts a list of things people can do to protect themselves as well as to “join the wider fight” against cyberbullying. Projects and organizations like this are not uncommon and they suggest that it is up to individuals to protect themselves online from bullies and harassment.
Younger and younger people are becoming internet savvy, but they are not getting more mature any faster than before. Because of this, their rather cruel behavior has been adapted to the internet in a very unexceptional way. Putting grade school attitudes online doesn’t make more bullying possible. It merely makes bullying possible in a different way. The real concern is that thanks to the internet, people who should have grown past saying unkind things have an added veil of protection from the feelings that they hurt in the internet. Where as I could not approach a coworker and say harsh things to their face without facing repercussions, I could easily get online and post something negative about them. While it theoretically put my career in jeopardy, the simplicity is overwhelming. I need not deal with the pain my words cause because I am hiding safely behind a screen. However, the screen did not change my sentiments. It merely gave me a new vehicle with which to convey them to people.
People can do a host of things to protect themselves and others from cyberbullying and cyber harassment. According to the Delete Cyberbullying project, people can “make the most of privacy settings,” “think before [they] post,” “keep personal information personal,” “educate [themselves],” “educate others” and “speak out” against cyberbullying deletecyberbullying.org. All that is fine and good, but it doesn’t change the fact that people will always have some kind of questionable and harsh things to say. Adding the internet into the mix didn’t make people nastier or more vocal as bullies. All it did was change the way bullies work. Now, they are free to say whatever things they feel without having to worry about seeing their victims’ faces. If we blame online services for an increase in bullying, we are missing the point. We should instead be looking at the people with access to the internet and asking if they wouldn’t be exhibiting this kind of behavior anyway.