Statistics Canada reported that around 36% of teenagers experienced some form of cyberbullying in their life (1). Unknown to most, the effects of cyberbullying and physical bullying are about the same: both result in negative impacts towards an individual’s physical/mental health. According to Statistics Canada, cyberbullying can be defined as one of the following: messages received through the internet that seem to be aggressive or threatening in nature, images received or posted that make an individual uncomfortable or feel threatened, and information being posted or sent out from another person’s identity which is embarrassing or threatening (1). If you see what I see, you may notice a common theme: feeling threatened.
Being physically bullied for a majority of my elementary school experience, I never believed that it could get worse. Feeling physically threatened was a horrible and scary feeling that I would never wish upon anyone, but while experiencing these threats there were still places I could feel safe from harm’s way. It wasn’t until high school when I realized the dangers of the internet, and I truly dove into the scary world of cyberbullying/cyberstalking. That safe place I was talking about before, well it disappeared. The great thing about the internet is it follows you everywhere, home, school, EVERYWHERE.
As a kid, posting stuff on Facebook (that was all the rage when I was young) was in, and most times people never thought twice about what they said or who it was about. You know that thing parents say about the internet and things staying there forever? I didn’t realize how TRUE that was until I got Facebook at a very late age and was able to see all the comments my old school mates made about me in old posts they had made (they tagged me after I joined Facebook). I would be lying if I said I didn’t carry my experiences with me from then on, but I would like to think it makes me a better person, or rather just more aware.
This post is not meant to make you feel sorry for me. It happened, and I am still dealing with the negative effects to this day, but I am better. For this reason, I wrote this post as a kind reminder of the negative effects the internet can have on individuals. Even if you don’t think this applies to you, ask yourself if you have ever gossiped about someone else in messages. The funny thing about gossiping in person and gossiping online is, while both are never okay, one stays forever.
With so many social media apps, it is so easy to pick and choose people to make group chats with, but once you deliberately exclude is when cyberbullying comes into play (2). I’m not blaming anyone; in fact, I have partaken in forms of cyberbullying, and I am not proud of it. Whether directly intending to harm, or indirectly partaking in this behaviour, there are always other parties who may be affected (3). Because of this, I want to bring attention to this specific type of bullying (I am in no way saying other forms are not as important). Once we as a community truly understand the dangers of cyberbullying, and how we as individuals choose to act on social media platforms, we have the ability to change the game.
However, there is no way we can prevent other people from acting in a threatening or harmful manner, so it is important to know the signs of someone experiencing mental health troubles, and how to go about helping them without putting yourself in a harmful position. If you notice that a friend or a loved one appears to be distancing themselves, acting out, and partaking in activities uncommon to their usual behaviour (ex. substance abuse), or feeling trapped, reach out (4). These are just some indicators, but I have listed the link to the Canadian Mental Health Association site below. They may not want to talk, but it is important to remind them that you are there, and if they do talk LISTEN! However, if at any time you feel that you cannot deal or it is beyond your scope of abilities, you can direct your friend or loved one to get help from a professional.
The main take away that I want everyone to gain from reading this post is that even if unintentional, your words can harm, and words on the internet can be there forever. So rather than competing, as seems to be the common trend in today’s society, let’s choose to support and love. Thank you.
Written by: Maja Menegotto