I. What is cyberbullying?
Who are the persons involved in cyberbullying?
Key channels for cyberbullying:
Types and tactics of cyberbullying
Sharing embarrassing content. Posting a status or a comment on social media, disseminating gossip, a photo or video or creating a website that causes embarrassment to a person or a group of persons;
Possible consequences of cyberbullying
- Emotional and psychological: depression, embarrassment, sorrow, anxiety, frustration, anger, aggression, loss of self-confidence, low self-esteem, fear. Such emotional and psychological condition on the other hand causes rejection, locking away, problems with family, school and friends, low academic performance. In some cases a teenager might become aggressive and even violent.
- Physical: Inflicting self-harm or self-casualties, suicidal thoughts, attempted suicide and death.
In some countries cyberbullying is a criminal offence. Georgian legislation does not cover this specific crime but an act of cyberbullying might be qualified as threat, stalking or incitement to suicide.
How to recognise cyberbullying
- Suddenly stops using a phone, computer, social media or is anxious during this process;
- Displays anger, frustration, depression or locks himself/herself in after using a messenger, chat or social media;
- Loses interest in attending classes or going outdoors;
- Refuses to talk, especially about online activities.
A teenager might be a cyberbully if he/she:
- Suddenly shuts down a desktop or hides a cell phone/tablet;
- Uses a computer/cell phone/tablet overnight;
- Is very irritated if he/she can’t use a computer/cell phone/tablet for some reason;
- Refuses to discuss online activities;
- Creates and uses multiple social media accounts or uses another person’s identity.
How to defend yourself from cyberbullying?
- Follow cybersecurity rules (see. Cybersecurity).
- Be careful whenever you publicly share your persona data (names of family members, school, telephone number, address, immediate location, etc).
- Chose privacy settings on your phone, tablet, application, social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat), in such a way that you will be able to control who can get in touch with you, or leave a post or comment on your timeline or share your content. Also, carefully choose the audience that has access to your photos, videos and other content.
- Beware of who you become friends with online. Add only those people to your friendlist who you personally know and trust.
- Be thoughtful before you post or leave a comment. Bear in mind that nothing goes without a trace on the internet. Once posted or commented, it stays for good and it might be seen by an undesirable person.
- To avoid cyberbullying, refrain from sharing your location. Share posts and photos about travelling, attending concerts, etc. later, preferably after you return home. Turn off GPS location service and camera when you don't use them.
Responding to cyberbullying
- Never share or like a cyberbullying post, photo, video, comment, etc. This makes you a bystander or maybe even an accomplice.
- If you encounter or read anything unacceptable on the internet, report it.
- Do not respond to a cyberbully. When it comes to a relatively mild forms of cyberbullying, such as calling funny names, mild insult, bitter joke, attempt of a light mockery, it’s better if you try to ignore such messages. A cyberbully goal is to insult you and cause you emotional damage. And your answer will be a demonstration that cyberbully’s goal has been reached, while ignoring cyberbullying attempts makes the offender to lose the desire to continue such behaviour.
- Do not delete cyberbullying messages and save their screenshots. It is also important to document the timeline and sequence of posts, comments and messages as it will assist investigation in determining the truth and identifying the offender and will help a web-site’s administration to block the account or take another measure.
- Use ‘block contact’ feature in your phone, social media account or in the so-called chat spaces.
- Report a problem. Service providers, social networks and web-pages have special communication channels for reporting these issues.
- If you are victim of cyberbullying, tell you parent, school administration, school security service or police.
How can we counter cyberbullying?
Role of parents. Often parents assume that banning a child from using internet and a strict control are a solution and preventive measure. In reality, it is neither possible nor justified to keep modern teenagers away from using internet or control them for 24 hours. The best solution to this problem is an open communication and atmosphere of trust in a parent-child relationship. A parent can better understand a child’s problems if the child openly tells about his/her online communications. Parents on the other hand must do their best to find time for a communication with the child, listen to him/her and display unconditional love and support. A teenager must always remember that a parent will help and not aggravate the situation. If a child’s physical security is visibly at a risk, with a child’s consent a parent alerts the police to request relevant security measures.
Whenever a parent/school expose a teenager’s cyberbullying behaviour, first thing to keep in mind is that the teenager is not a sociopath or abusive. Rather, some children lack a sense of compassion and make mistakes. Firstly, a parent, school or friend must remind a cyberbully that it is equally possible to cause another person pain and damage online as much as in real life and that responsibility for consequences are the same as in real life.
Role of school. Elaboration and implementation of a policy and strategy against any forms of bullying, including cyberbullying, should be a school's responsibility. A school must have a distinct zero tolerance policy against bullying and high school teenagers must be actively engaged in elaboration and implementation of the policy. As soon as a school has a strict anti-bullying policy, every student will know that apart from moral responsibility, cyberbullying will result in disciplinary sanctions against them.
Teaching safe use of the internet is part of anti-cyberbullying action. It is also important that students are engaged in awareness raising activities, such as painting anti-cyberbullying posters, creating and sharing key communication messages.
II. Online games and cyberbullying threats
User of a video game might be anonymous, register with an avatar/alter ego, that represents a teenager’s alternative “imaginary character”. This is partly fun, but this gives teenagers an opportunity to mock, insult or threaten other teenage users anonymously. Anything can be a trigger for an insult, for example, if a player failed to do something or lost a game. Oftentimes, insulting one teenager turns into a mass cyberbullying that might end up in kicking the player out of the game or cyberbullying might continue on social media and other channels of communication. Anonymity of players and cyberbullies makes identification of an offender difficult. That is why online games are a platform for predators and pedophyles to seek new victims or communicate with them. During a video game a cyber offender might spread a link that if clicked will give the offender a chance to hack into a player's computer and manipulate the data.
Online challenge games
In terms of cyberbullying threat, challenges are a heavier form of online games. They were developed in the last decade and resulted in self-harm and suicides in children. Such challenging games are:
- Blue Whale
- Salt and ice challenge
- Cinnamon challenge, etc.
Some of these games intentionally incite or force teenagers to self-harm and/or suicide, while others simply cause these consequences. For example, according to the data collected from Russia, USA, China, India and some of European and South American countries, a total of 170 teenagers became the victims of the Blue Whale, a game that emerged online in 2013. Since August 2018 online game Momo gained popularity among teenagers. Initially, the victim is contacted through social media or messenger and is offered to start a game. The game has several challenges, including self-harm and suicide (by hanging). Notably, games like this spread easily and unite countries with different level of development.
Challenging games can be identified by the following features:
- they are not typical online games that are sold on media carriers or spread online;
- signing-up is not mandatory and therefore, a player is anonymous;
- the game has no established rules;
- the game has a mysterious mission and ideology;
players are recruited through social media;
- in the process of selecting potential victims, information about them is processed beforehand, paying particular attention to emotional background, such as a feeling of loneliness, suicidal thoughts, depression, low self-esteem, quest for something interesting and mysterious, nihilism…All of these are easily identifiable in the victim's social media profile.
- in the process of the game a victim and the offender might develop a friendly relationship, that creates the possibility of receiving additional personal and sensitive information and later using it against the victim.
- once the victim gets engaged in the game, he/she are misled into believing that the platform used for the game is infected with malware (which in some cases maybe even true) and the administrator has access to the victim's sensitive files. The victim feels as a hostage and hopes that if the assignments are completed, the sensitive materials will not be published.
- administrator of the game gives assignments to the player on a regular basis; in the beginning, these are easy tasks, like listening to a certain music genre or watching a horror movie, but gradually they become more difficult and consist of challenges that teenagers are attracted to and helps strengthening their faith in self. the main focus is on staying awake overnight, watching horror movies and other factors with a destructive effect on a teenager psyche.
- if a teenager refuses a difficult challenge, the victim is blackmailed with disclosure of sensitive personal information, to which an administrator allegedly has access; or a victim is threatened by killing a family member or a loved one. In Momo’s case cursing messages have been exposed.
- on the last stage of the game these assignments turn into self-harm or other dangerous actions, possibly resulting in a suicide.
How should we protect ourselves from challenging games?
III. Cyberbullying against journalists
Often journalists too are targeted by cyberbullies.
Cyberbullying against journalists has various forms:
- Providing false information. To undermine their reputation journalists are often provided with false facts to trick them into sharing fake news.
- Cyber threats. Journalistes are prone to cyber threats (online surveillance, viruses, cyberattacks, etc) directed against the confidentiality of journalistic sources, their personal information or unpublished materials.
- Harassment and psychological violence. Internet often becomes a platform for a targeted campaign against journalists in the form of spreading false information about them or threat of harm.