Yesterday when my hairdresser asked what I do for a living, she unwittingly opened a door to her past. As I started to explain that I run an anti-bullying movement that empowers young people to stand up to bullying in and out of school, I saw a cloud sweep over her face. She blurted, “I was bullied really badly when I was younger.” As her story unravelled, I could see the lasting impact of her experiences, that a seed of distrust had been planted when she was cyberbullied that continue to contaminate her offline relationships to this day.
Since my sister and I launched PROJECT ROCKIT in 2006, I have had many similar conversations with hairdressers, dentists, taxi drivers, and randoms at parties. The project itself has reached over 100,000 young people in schools, but we are always hearing about the enduring effects of bullying into adulthood, as well as the persistence of bullying behaviour itself. Despite what popular media would have you believe, bullying is not a problem that only affects young people, rather it occurs across all ages and walks of life. Since bullying relies on a drive to attain power, it thrives in environments that have hierarchical social or leadership structures—schools, workplaces, political systems, and of course, social media.
As bullying spills into the digital world, we are tempted to rely on the sites and apps through which we connect to protect us. But cyberbullying is a social issue that we play out with technological props, so digital safeguards and reporting tools are often inadequate when used alone. Ultimately, although there are a wide range of ways to deal with cyberbullying, I’m yet to come across a superior one-size-fits-all approach. With that in mind, I’ve put together my five hot tips for getting through these brutal situations with strength and integrity.
1. Screenshot evidence
2. Find an ally
Appeal to friends or witnesses to show visible online support for you. This does not mean that they need to intervene or confront the person who is cyberbullying you. Instead, it could simply involve interrupting the stream of abuse with something off topic, or contributing comments or affirmations that frame you more positively. If your online adversary knows that you have strong support, they are less likely to continue hating on you.
3. Block and report
Most platforms and apps have a function that enables you to block certain users from contacting you online. Basically, you’re cutting off their access to you, they will no longer be able to see you or follow your interactions. You can then use your established allies to monitor whether other party continues to make disparaging comments about you once you are invisible to them. Then you can anonymously report the offensive content to the site administrators and encourage your friends to do the same.
4. Resist the urge to retaliate
There is no sense in repaying hate with hate. Retaliation only further perpetuates the cycle of abuse. In addition, keep in mind that those who bully hide behind the screen, but are never truly anonymous in the digital age. Neither are you! You definitely don’t want to provide them with ammunition that they can use against you later. Plus, being cyberbullied is nasty enough let alone allowing it to contaminate you with their malice. If you remain steadfast in treating others online as you would offline, you will find it much easier to remain connected to who you really are, even in the face of extreme cruelty.
5. Take it offline
Cyberbullying often has the effect of isolating a person to the point that it seems like the whole world is against them. That’s why the most helpful thing you can do if you’re being bullied online is to reconnect offline. Remember that the isolation you are experiencing is an illusion created by your technological prosthetic, which creates a literal and metaphorical screen between you and the world. As soon as you get some face time (real face-to-face time, not Apple FaceTime™), you will be able to hear the tone of concern in a friend’s voice or see the care in their eyes. You will probably also find that the weight has been lifted and you are no longer alone.