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Cyberbullying in College: The Facts! …and Valuable Resources

Bullying is a disease that plagues our society. Stemming from an unwanted aggressive behavior, bullying commonly torments school-aged children and even young adults. Mostly, we hear about it happening in schools and among children but the truth is, bullying exists everywhere and is manifested in many ways.

Bullying takes four forms: verbal bullying, physical bullying, social bullying, and cyberbullying which are all different from each other but nevertheless all point to usually hostile behavior with the intent to shame, dominate or overpower. As today’s millennials are technologically dependent,  it is worth taking a closer look into cyberbullying.

How easily social media account can be easily altered or faked has contributed to widespread cyberbullying. Now more than ever, demeaning others and spreading fake news has never been easier. Instead of utilizing technology for positive ends, social media has become a facilitator of evil.

If you are unsure if what you do, or what you have experienced is bullying, here is a video to help you:

The Science Behind Bullying

Since 1970, there had been over 1,500 studies conducted with the goal to analyze bullying. Researchers have devoted their time and expertise into revealing the motivation behind the aggressive behavior. The rigorous research was able to shed light on the science behind bullying.

Three Groups in Bullying

First, the typical bullies. They do not only exhibit disruptive behavior but also suffer from internal struggles such as depression. Typically they have issues blending well in a crowd or the classroom due to their negative thoughts. They are chronic negative thinkers who can’t find the good in others and themselves, hence the negative attitude. As a result, they do poorly when it comes to resolving conflicts. It is believed that the family plays a key role in shaping the character of typical bullies. Because of an absent family, many bullies view the family not as a support system but as a negative part of who they are. And while some bullies do have families, their upbringing matters, too. Impressionable kids often mimic the behavior of those around them.

Next, the victims. Unbeknownst to the bully, victims share some traits with their bullies. Like the bullies, victims also lack social skills. They live with negative thoughts about themselves and others. Most importantly, victims also come from an unloving family or community.

We are able to see a connection between the bullies and the victims. But what makes them different? Unlike the bullies, victims do not exhibit disruptive behavior and are often left out by their peers. This is exactly why they become an easy target for bullies.

Lastly, the third group, the bully-victims. These are the kids and adults who were once bullied and at some point, became the bully. They are influenced by dominant peers or influence on the lesser peers, the victims.

A common predictor of the three groups is their being socially underdeveloped. The victim lacks adequate social skills to get their point across thus making them submissive. The bully, on the other hand, is typically the aggressive one. No wonder research suggests that bullies have a higher likelihood of engaging in criminal behavior in their adult life. As all of these factors are often rooted in a negative experience or a toxic environment, one could see the red flags and the warning signs early on.

Forms of Bullying

According to the StopBullying.gov, there are four major forms of bullying. Each form is as damaging as the other. It is important that we know the facts on all the four forms of bullying. Awareness keeps us better equipped to face the fight against the perpetrators of hate and aggression.

Verbal Bullying

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“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words won’t hurt me”, right? Unfortunately, that is not the case for everyone. Words could hurt just as much as it would to have a rock thrown at you. Words have the power to destroy self-image and cause emotional or psychological damage. This type of bullying involves name-calling and nasty insults, homophobic remarks, and racist slurs. Judging from that, this is not exclusive to kids as adults get verbally abused, too. From incidents of road rage to instances when the boss makes impossible demands, verbal bullying often start offs as a playful or harmless remark and escalates to verbal attacks that cause bigger conflicts. Verbal bullying is considered the most common form because no physical interaction is involved.

Physical Bullying

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It is easy to spot physical bullying because of altercations that ensue and physical signs that are evident. We are talking about physical signs of stress on the victim’s body like cuts, bruises, and swelling. Most importantly, this type of bullying is usually done in public. Anyone can catch the action as it happens. Physical bullying does not only affect the victim; onlookers are also affected and many of them, not knowing what to do, would find themselves standing frozen with fear.

Males are often the perpetrators of physical bullying. There are obvious physical differences between the bully and the victim – weight, height, and strength. Remember, physical bullying doesn’t always involve an ostentatious display of violence. Tapping, poking or causing someone to trip to annoy them are considered as physical bullying. Similarly, the mere act of dominating or exhibit power and control over another person by causing them to be physically agitated is also bullying. Pain is not a requisite for an act to be considered physical bullying.

Social Bullying

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Social bullying or sometimes referred to as covert bullying. Fairly difficult to identify, social bullying harms someone’s reputation. It is often driven by the agenda of humiliating their prey. They go as far as destroying their relationships with others, regardless of the act being a personal vendetta or an idea of fun.

An example would be kids spreading rumors to the whole class, causing the victim to feel humiliated. Because of this, victims are isolated by their peers. This is not child’s play as it is also present in the adult work environments. A casual talk in the break room about how “easy” Betty is may lead to a damaged reputation.

Cyberbullying

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The last form and the central topic of our conversation is cyberbullying. The most recently observed form of bullying, it easy to categorize cyberbullying under social bullying but it takes an entirely different form. The key difference between the two is that cyberbullying is made possible through the use of technology.

Cyberbullying involves posting, sharing or spreading rumors or hate messages via the internet or text messages using phones, computers, and other tech devices. This one packs a nasty punch because these are seen by hundreds if not, thousands. Verbal insults may not be heard by many and physical wounds might heal but digital data, if left unchecked, stay forever in cyberspace. Most importantly, virtually anyone can access that data!

Cyberbullying can ruin someone’s life not only momentarily; the damage could extend further down the road. You can reason all you want and clear your name but the effects of cyberbullying are everything but temporary, even impacting opportunities in a negative way. Future employers who Google your name can uncover false information about you and judging by that, you can lose your chances at excelling in your career of choice.

Cyberbullying is modern society’s poison apple. It feeds the ego of the perpetrators while keeping themselves in the dark; unwittingly or intentionally posting misrepresentations against a peer.

A Closer Look into Cyberbullying

When you look at it, cyberbullying seems pretty unique. The bully does not even have to be in the same area as the victim. However, we lack an overarching research on cyberbullying. This is because the internet has only been accessible and leveraged by everyone for two decades.

Available studies are focused on the relationships between gender, age, Internet uses and bullying behavior in the cyberspace. But, it is fairly easy to search for stories and personal accounts of victims of cyberbullying. Even a means of profiling cyberbullies seems to be rather broad since it is not yet established. Anyone who could hack a computer could be potentially a cyber bully. Even YOU can be a cyberbully.

The fact that anyone is capable of getting someone’s personal information and use it for their own purpose is scary. Therefore, anyone who posts negative things on the internet about another can be considered a cyberbully.

Today’s educators and law enforcement are setting guidelines to curb cyberbullying. To dig much deeper and uncover how cyberbullying truly originated or how it can be stopped is a daunting task faced by the Internet generation. The truth is that there is a need for immediate action against this serious epidemic.

Salient Points to Remember About Cyberbullying

With the prevalence of social media platforms and online forums, commenting and posting photos is very easy. You can share your thoughts with the world. Facebook is interested to find out “What’s On Your Mind?” and Twitter wants to know “What’s Happening?”. All the contents you share online form part of the permanent public record of your life. People can deduce your behavior and habits and learn about your activities or the places you frequent by simply tapping or scrolling the screen.

Facebook homepage:

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These public posts are your online reputation. And because everyone has access to the Internet, these records are accessible to the community, future employers, and your college. It is very easy to defame a person just for the sake of ruining his or her future. At the very least, cyberbullying ruins relationships. It is vital that we know the unique concerns that cyberbullying can be:

Twitter homepage:

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Persistent

Our smartphones and laptop computers are a part of our lives. They offer immediate and continuous access to the world 24/7. As a result, it is difficult for cyberbullying victims to find solace and relief from their bullies.

Permanent

Without actively seeking for the information to be taken down, electronic communications and posts remain permanent and public. If you wish to, you can report and have it removed by the website or host. You need to make sure that negative online reputation does not mar your academic potential. Colleges today are very particular with their applicants. They are keen to research your background before admission and a negative online reputation could disqualify you from a scholarship.

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Hard to Observe

Lastly, cyberbullying is hard to notice. Parents and teachers are in the dark in this situation. Since cyberbullying takes place in a space that they are not fully acquainted with, the symptoms are difficult to recognize and persist without the family or educators noticing. This is why it is imperative for parents to be present and involved in the lives of our children.

Cyberbullying Tactics

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Cyberbullying takes many forms and cyberbullies employ different tactics. It is simpler to derive from victim’s real-life experiences for a deeper understanding of the tactics bullies use. One of the many risk-factors that bullying causes is suicide or suicidal behaviors. Cyberbullying is relentless and persistent in tormenting the victim, often leading to more cases of anxiety and depression. Some states have criminalized soliciting suicide through the use of text messaging.

Here are a few tactics taken from StopBullying.gov that cyberbullies have used to defame and dehumanize their victims:

Nude photo sharing

When a supposedly private picture sent to a partner becomes public after the relationship went south, that is cyberbullying.

A teenage girl sent a nude photo of herself to her boyfriend while they were dating. After they broke up, he shared the photo with other children, who then called her hurtful, derogatory names via text and social media.

Lies and false accusations

We all get into trouble but lying and falsely accusing an innocent person for something they did not commit is, in every sense wrong.

A group of students got into trouble at school for being drunk, and accused a girl who knew nothing about it of reporting them to school officials. They began texting her day and night, and posted hateful, derogatory messages on social media. Other students saw their messages and joined in on harassing the girl. She was bullied constantly via text, and in person at school. She eventually shut down her social media accounts and changed her phone number. Still, the bullying at school continued.

Bullied for being economically challenged

As a kid, we are taught to never make fun of other kids because they have $1 for lunch money and we have $5. But this lesson can only do so much.

Students posted mean, negative comments on another classmates’ social media account, commenting on his clothes and sneakers, which were not the more expensive name brands most of them were wearing. They ridiculed him, calling him “poor” and continued the bullying in school. The boy missed many days of school trying to avoid the harassment and embarrassment.

False identity profile, sometimes referred to as a “Sockpuppet” 

Making of fake profiles to catfish a girl who clearly has a crush on you is mean, and evil.

A girl’s classmate created a fake social media account in a boy’s name and began an online relationship with her. Though she had not met him in person, the girl divulged personal information about herself and her family to this “boy.” The classmate who created the fake account then shared the personal information with other children, who used it to bully, shame, and harass the girl.

Encouraging self-harm or suicide 

Suicide is no laughing matter. People who battle with suicidal thoughts are suffering from a form of mental illness and need help. The last thing they need is to be encouraged to “do it already!”.

A young boy with a physical disability and scars on his face was harassed on social media and via text by other students. They called him derogatory names, told him he’d be better off dead. They wrote “why don’t you die?” on his school locker and encouraged him to take his own life.

Bullied for being gay 

Members of the LGBTQIA++ are the most frequent targets of bullying in all forms. Instead of accepting them in society as this is their time to thrive, their peers are engaging in dehumanizing activities.

A teenage boy who was openly gay began receiving death threats via phone, text, and social media for being gay. Students created an anti-gay social media group to harass and post hateful messages about him.

Doxing Over Online Gaming

Gaming is a form of escape. But what do you do if it becomes harmful?

A teenage boy posted comments on a public gaming forum, expressing his dislike of certain game features and tactics. Another user disagreed with him in the forum, then searched for the boy’s information online and posted his address, email address, and social media links in another comment. The boy then received multiple emails and messages from strangers threatening to come to his home and assault him, and to block him from joining in the games.

Cyberbullying in College

Cyberbullying among college students is an indication of a continued aggressive behavior even as individuals have outgrown the behavior and know better. The irony is that in many situations, the aggressors who have matured tend to attack in a subtle way. Electronic criticisms based on sex, race, gender are the most pervasive. Cyberbullying is an aggressive behavior that is a point of concern on college campuses.

In the college environment, cyberbullying is not uncommon. The danger in this is that formative habits learned in college persists into adulthood. Bullying behaviors that target college students have a great impact on their self-image and identity formation. As college students are at a critical time in their lives where they try to make things happen for themselves, they need to be responsible for their actions–and do what they can to prevent cyberbullying. We do not want to see aggressive or isolated behavior in our future leaders.

What the Statistics Say

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Developmental researches state that the period between adolescence and adulthood is vital for the developmental transition. There is a hierarchy in school settings and entering college means entering a new hierarchy. College could be daunting to some. A new environment could potentially be a stressor and could result in having unwanted confrontations and negative social interactions. In adolescence, bullying could be the result of being motivated to maintain a social status. Although only a few researchers have looked at the presence of bullying in the college setting, awareness is still vital in the fight against this problem. One of these studies states that 21-25% of undergraduate students reported bullying by peers and that 10-15% of these fall under cyberbullying: online harassment, threats or insults via electronic communication.

 

According to a 2013 survey by the National Center for Education Statistics, one in four K-12 students will experience bullying. While college students have reported being bullied, the numbers are slightly less at about 15%. These findings may lead us to conclude that college students are bullied less. However, it is believed that the numbers are higher than that, as self-labeling was required in the study, potentially affecting the results.

The same study revealed that verbal bullying is the most common type of bullying. Cyberbullying, one the other hand, is the least common. This is probably due to the fact that cyberbullying requires the aid of technology to be committed.

National Statistics: Who have Been Cyberbullied

9% of students in grades 6–12 experienced cyberbullying.215% of high school students (grades 9–12) were electronically bullied in the past year.16
However, 55.2% of LGBTQ students experienced cyberbullying.

Bullying and Suicide

As mentioned, small fights either verbal or physical could escalate. Actually, all types of bullying could be as petty as teasing that could snowball its way to devastating results. Yes, bullying can someone to his death. This is on top of the physical and emotional trauma.

What we know is that bullying and suicide are closely related. there is a complex relationship between the two. A lot of factors are involved in this process yet the oversimplifies by throwing a headline “Teen commits suicide due to bullying”. This does not prevent the problem. Research suggests that the majority of people who are bullied does not display suicidal tendencies. We could correctly assume that bullying increases the risk of one’s suicidal tendencies. However, many risk-factors should be taken into consideration.

Yes, bullying is a significant public health problem. The correlation between bullying and suicide lies in the effect of bullying itself. Anxiety and Depression caused by bullying are the two focal points why victims of bullying choose suicide.

Seek Help

Because of the First Amendment rights, it is not illegal to use the internet to express negative things about others. Currently, there is no federal law on an anti-bullying law. However, most states have a form of anti-bullying policy but they are not far-reaching, with only a few of them focusing on the main issue. When bullying is discriminating based on gender, race, religion, disability or color, it overlaps with harassment which is yet another issue that schools are obligated to address.

State legislators are continuing the effort to provide better protection to all citizens. They have developed Key Components in State Anti-Bullying Laws that are helpful in devising a comprehensive act specifically tackling cyberbullying.

For a list of Anti-Bullying Laws per state, click here.

What You Can Do

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You are not without hope. There are ways to seek help. All you have to do is to actively ask for help. Schools, teachers, and parents are doing their part in making sure that the school environment is safe for you and your peers. By establishing rules, we take a step forward to eliminating bullying in all of its forms.

Cyberbullying requires a different approach. Learn how to communicate with your children and know the proper way to respond when they become a victim. Be an active bystander in cyberbullying episodes. Do not just sit there and wait for things to get worse. But most importantly, talk. Open a line of communication that is safe and judgment-free.

Important Hotlines

Please call 911 is there has been a crime or someone is in need of immediate help.

Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline online or at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Your call will not go unanswered. There is a 24-hour crisis counseling at your disposal. Pick up the phone and talk.

If you believe your school is not handling problems of bullying adequately, you may contact:

Remember, you have the power to stop the bullying!

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