by Maurice John Ramos
"Stick and stones may break my bone but names will really hurt me.”
For communication scholars, this aphorism captures the idea that apart from creating and maintaining relationships, words have the ability to publicly shame individuals if they are not used properly.
Like many others, I had experienced both being bullied and being the bully when I was young. I remember one hide-and-seek game in our neighborhood in which I was “it” (or in Filipino, taya). In this game, the it needs to close his eyes for a brief period (often counting one to ten) while the other players hide. The first one found is the next seeker while the others are the winners of the round. As one of the youngest kids playing the game, I managed to end my turn only after so many hisses, taunts, and jeers.
I don’t think that situation will even happen again, not because I’m old or very few kids play hide-and-seek these days, but because bullying has taken a different form. Similar to video games online that children enjoy playing these days, bullying has also moved to cyberspace, with ominous effects.
CYBERBULLYING, WHAT IS IT?
There are three reasons why cyberbullying is more effective and damaging to most of its victims.
First, for students who get bullied at school, bullying ends as soon as they’ve taken the ride home. Today, what makes bullying worse is that it can happen at any time of the day or night through a computer and twenty-four-hour Internet connectivity. Most people including parents and teachers may suggest that the students affected can simply deactivate their accounts in social media. But in this age where Internet means a lot—from communicating with friends to playing video games—the mere act of having to deactivate one’s account is already part of the damage done.
Second, the Internet landscape makes it much easier for people to say hurtful words, not just because they are protected by inconspicuousness and distance, but because they don’t get to see the emotional toll they inflict on the people they are bullying. In school, if someone is screaming or on the verge of tears, the bullies will usually hold their punches. The problem with social media, however, is that bullies don’t often realize that the damage they’re doing.
Finally, because cyberbullying is totally exposed to so many people in the social media landscape, teenagers are embarrassed to tell their friends and parents that they are being bullied. Surely, it can get too much for any person to handle.
LONG-TERM EFFECTS OF CYBERBULLYING
Research suggests that students are more likely affected by cyberbullying compared to adults since they are still growing physically and mentally. Furthermore, students that are cyberbullied are more likely to experience negative psychological effects such as lack of self-confidence, low academic performance, and even depression.
If no preventive actions are taken, students will feel lonelier and lose interest in their daily activities. These changes will then affect their personal development as they grow older.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
Here are some tips we can take to let social media work to our advantage and to prevent cyberbullying from happening:
Look for Signs of Bullying
Be on the lookout for hateful activity online. Name-calling, misinformation, as well as various forms of blackmail are some things to watch out for. If you happen to see them in social media, seek advice from your friends, parents, and teachers regarding the situation. You can usually report these posts on the social media network you found it so the administration may take action.
Think Before you Post
At times online communication can be misinterpreted by your classmate. Be mindful of respecting your peers with whom you communicate online to avoid making enemies. Also, keep emotions in check. If you feel overwhelmed by emotion at the moment, it is best to back away from the keyboard for some time. It’s rarely ever helpful to vent out emotions online, and such posts often end up regretted, if not deleted.
Overcome Social Influence
Popular opinion can never make something wrong, right. The same is true for cyberbullying. Cyberbullying attacks are often so damaging because people choose to go along, thinking its “cool” and trying to be “in.” This encourages bullies. But the opposite is just as true: making a stand discourages this behavior. Remember that you can influence other people’s actions; make it clear that you are against cyberbullying by not joining their wrongful activities.
Don’t Be a Mere Spectator
Advise your classmates and friends firmly to be smart about what they say or post online. Tell them to never share anything that could hurt or embarrass others. Students needs to remember that the bullying can be viral in a matter of days. Even a day of experiencing hate is one day too many.
This December, let’s make it a habit to use social media not to sensationalize false information and hate campaigns against our enemies to just to become popular or because we don’t think it matters. Rather, let’s commit to justice and peace by sharing appropriate and truthful information to others and standing up against those who would like to turn our online communities into hateful playgrounds. After all, if it becomes toxic, everyone suffers.