It is misery for those affected by it, especially for young people: becoming the victim of online bullying. But no one is without their rights on the internet. This article tells you what cyberbullying is, what you can do about it, and how you can best prevent it.
What is cyberbullying?
The word “bully” refers to a person who deliberately abuses others. This is where the word “cyberbullying” comes from. No doubt almost everyone came across someone like this during their school days. The culprits are generally trying to make up for their own weaknesses and insecurities or gain more status in their own group. Sometimes the intent is to draw attention away from the bully’s own weaknesses or what they perceive them to be. But attacks can also be triggered by something specific arising from a relationship with a victim – for example, rejection or the end of a friendship. Envy and the feeling of being inferior to the victim can also be enough for a bully to attack their victim.
The term “cyberbullying” is used when attacks on the victim occur primarily online and use online means (email, social networks etc.). Whereas kids can at least take shelter from schoolyard bullying in their homes, cyberbullying can occur at any time around the clock.
Forms of cyberbullying
Cyberbullying takes many different forms that are not easily distinguished from one another and often overlap.
- Harassment: Huge amounts of menacing or insulting messages are sent by messenger, text, or email or are posted on social networks. Offensive or insulting pictures, photos, or videos are sent to the victim or sent to others using the victim’s name.
- Exposure: The perpetrator posts private information or even images of the victim. This can also be private stories that are posted. This is not merely embarrassing for victims – it is particularly harmful because the victim cannot dismiss the posts as faked, or they are too ashamed. For example, there could be a naked photo that a young person had sent to their then boyfriend or girlfriend but that is now being shared with everyone.
- Threats: This is a particularly aggressive form, but it does not occur as often. Threats comprise anything that could be defined as such. Causing bodily harm, destroying property, and even murder threats are possible.
- Humiliation: For the perpetrators, this generally involves getting a reaction from the victim. The “slapping video” is an example. It involves filming others beating up the victim on a smartphone, or editing nude photos and videos of the victim and posting them online (“revenge porn”). Occasionally, actual groups are set up on networks or on WhatsApp in which the perpetrator communicates with others, focusing only on the victim’s negative qualities.
- Damage to reputation: Although the statements are untrue, they are widely disseminated. Falsified messages and emails, edited photos, or even supposed statements by the victim are spread around.
Is my child affected?
The internet and social media are part of a young person’s world today. Posts on social networks are seen as a representation of their own personality and cannot be separated from the real world. This is why cyberbullying often occurs in connection with school, sports, or job training.
The following may be signs of (cyber)bullying
- The child withdraws socially and seems quieter and less outgoing. They talk less about school or their job. Their sense of humor disappears. However, this could also signal the onset of puberty.
- Often sleep disturbances, headaches, loss of appetite or physical pains occur.
- This can often develop into emotional reactions such as feeling downcast, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, feelings of inferiority, fears, or even depression.
- Because a person does not like to go to school or work, their school or work performance may decline. Their interests are focused elsewhere.
- They do not enjoy being online and get online less often. Applications close suddenly when someone comes into the room, or kids seem disturbed or anxious after they have used their smartphones.
- When they are asked about how their behavior has changed, the kids stonewall or avoid answering questions.
What you can do about cyberbullying
If parents suspect that their child is a target of cyberbullying, they should try to talk with them. It is important for the child to have the feeling that they can talk about any online experience at any time. If you want to take specific steps, it is advisable to discuss them with your child and include them in the search for a solution. It is not a good idea to ban the use of phones or the internet. Often kids do not tell their parents about incidents and observations precisely because they fear just such a ban. It may also be helpful to contact the school to get the assessment from the teaching staff.
- Documenting the incident: Information about the perpetrator (taken from posts), screenshots of insulting messages or posts, and saved mails function as evidence but also as the basis for conversations.
- After that, the first and usually most helpful step you can take is active dialog, because resorting to legal measures may escalate the situation too quickly. Trusted teachers or other similar authority figures like coaches or caregivers at youth centers are contacts for young people. Often the attacks end after this kind of person has spoken frankly with the perpetrator.
- Victims should respond to the bullying as minimally as possible, or not at all. The best thing would be to block the bully electronically. There is nothing more frustrating for a bully than not getting the desired reaction out of the victim.
- Teach your children to stay out of such attacks. Parents cannot expect a child to defend a victim of bullying. However, it is possible to stay out of it and get help.
- Report posts: Inform the operator of the platform where the disparaging posts have been posted. Often this can also be handled through built-in functions that appear with the post (“report post”).
- Contact the operator of the site: The legal information of every website will tell you how to contact and inform the operator. Most operators also respond quickly so as not to be construed legally as contributing to the bullying. If you know who is behind the cyberbullying, the first step should be to approach the person directly. Often posts can be reported to an administrator, for example in the case of groups on Facebook. If the operator does not respond, you can also contact complaints offices, such as www.jugendschutz.net in Germany.
- Ultimately, there is also the option of seeking a criminal charge. In the event of threats and gross breaches of privacy, you should arm yourself with information and verified proof before going to the police. There are also options under civil law such as warnings, cease and desist orders, and other legal instruments. However, such cases call for an attorney.
- Many companies, among them Deutsche Telekom, offer (paid) advice and help in the event of cyberbullying, for example with deleting data.
Tips for prevention
These tips apply not only to young people but to adults as well.
- Don’t overshare: Keep your address, mobile phone number, and passwords to yourself.
- Search your own name: Do frequent Google searches for yourself in order to identify attempts at cyberbullying or identity theft.
- Handle photos and images with care: If it’s on a social network or elsewhere online, it’s there forever. For this reason, with every photo you should consider whether you really want to post it and if the scene might embarrass you at some point.
- Manage your privacy on social networks. Think about who you want to “friend” on a social network and who you want to share posts and photos with. At best, only friend people whom you actually know offline. Profiles can also be stolen.
- www.juuuport.de (German only): Young people advise one another anonymously about problems online.
- www.klicksafe.de: Klicksafe has compiled important contacts and tips to combat cyberbullying.
- www.nummergegenkummer.de (German only): This portal, which also offers advice by email, is a site for anyone who is seeking guidance.