Investigation 04 January 2016 7 548
Talented and promising teenagers from around the world have committed suicide. On the surface, they seemed to have everything going for them but their sudden deaths raised the alarm for psychologists and lawmakers over cyberbullying. It’s a form of psychological abuse that causes symptoms similar to PTSD and it’s almost impossible to avoid in our modern, connected world.
When it comes to cyberbullying, safety at home is an illusion, so-called “internet trolls” operate through social networks and e-mail, even mobile phones, means of communication in which most first world teenagers are experts these days. The danger can come from anywhere, an extension of school bullying or from a bored stranger. Whatever the source, the anonymity of the internet gives offenders a sense of impunity, so no level of psychological harassment is considered off limits.
The victims of cyberbullying often feel isolated and unable to tell friends and family what they are going through. The attackers’ intention is to undermine self-esteem, making teenagers particularly vulnerable to psychological abuse and manipulation. The trolls themselves often fail to realise the extent of the damage they can cause, or the legal consequences of their actions. With ever more cases of cyberbullying related suicide attempts though; the laws against it are getting tougher, with longer jail sentences for online harassment.
At the same time, cyberbullying survivors are getting together to turn their negative experiences into a positive message, they organise support groups for victims and educate schoolchildren about the harm cyberbullying can cause, as well as give tips on dealing with internet trolls. Celebrities who have experienced online bullying often support these events, offering advice on how to fight it.
It may be impossible to ignore the internet, the primary channel for the serious danger of cyberbullying but there are still effective defence strategies that victims can employ: including disconnecting from social media and reporting abuse to the police. The important message though is, however a young person choses to deal with the torment of cyberbullying, they should never keep the problem to themselves; seeking help is half the battle.