“When they put it on the Internet, it’s like they took everything and multiplied it by an astronomical number. It’s one thing if it’s a mean thing that somebody put in my school paper because that’s contained within a small area. Only a certain number of people will see that. But when you put it on the Internet, you are opening it up to everyone in the world.”
– Cyberbullied teen (Quoted from Kornblum, 7-15-2008)
Victims of cyberbullying face some unique challenges when it comes to coping. The broader scope of cyberbullying, whether real or imagined, can make the taunting cut deeper and result in greater pain and psychological turmoil for those who endure it. So in addition to the broader information we provide about helping bullied children, follow these guidelines for offering comfort to victims of cyberbullying:
1. Cyberbullying doesn’t fool everyone
Help your kid understand that most people who view such a posting will recognize it for what it is, and many are likely to view the poster of a malicious message in much worse light than they will you. In fact, the Internet even invented a word for such hate speech: flaming. Such online bullying or “flaming” is generally pretty easy to spot, and most intelligent people can see right through it. Aside from a few grumpy souls, most of the world really doesn’t care much for flamers. So a bullies taunting can often look worse for them than it does for you.
2. Help a cyberbullied child understand that the audience in cyberspace is limited
Remind kids that just because it’s on the Internet that doesn’t mean everyone will see it. The Internet is as vast as it is connected, and amidst this sea of trillions (yes, trillions) of pages and posts, most cyberbullying that takes place is no more “broadcast to the world” than it would be if a bully shouted insults to a small gathering of people from the middle of a vast desert.
Most blog postings and the like from individuals may receive only a dozen or a few dozen page views. A more connected teen might receive hundreds, and the exceptionally rare YouTube hit might receive thousands, but this is unlikely. The bottom line: web postings tend to have limited reach. But because the whole world theoretically could see it, our minds – especially those minds belonging to insecure teens – tend to jump to the erroneous conclusion that the whole world will see it.
The Internet may be open to the whole world, but you still have, quite literally, billions of sites with trillions upon trillions of combined pages competing for the limited attention of a limited number of people. Teens tend to consider the web as one vast organism, but it’s not as if something posted on so-and-so’s Facebook page which is visited regularly by perhaps a dozen of her closest friends is the same as an article posted on CNN.com which receives millions of visitors. Bullies tend to be limited in their audience, even on the web. Remind your teen of this.
3. The nature of the web encourages uncivil behavior
Remind cyberbullying victims that the very anonymity of the web allows many kids to be more hurtful and spiteful than they would be in person. Words on a screen don’t give feedback or relay facial expressions from the other person. Tears of the victim aren’t portrayed through cyberspace. Yet these are the very types of emotional cues that help trigger empathy in individuals and which help promote more civility in the real world. The nature of the web itself discourages empathy and makes uncivil behavior all too easy. Things may be said in cyberspace that would never be said face to face.
Thus, even the bully may have achieved an impact far greater than they realized or intended. It’s easy for such hostile expressions to get away from someone, even the person posting it. What was said in a moment of anger as a means to deliver a barb or retaliate for some perceived insult may seem like declaration of World War 3 to the person on the receiving end, though that may not have been the poster’s intent. This principal is especially important in the many cases of cyberbullying that involve a falling out of kids who used to be friends. Help your child understand that actions taken in anger tend to be exaggerated towards the negative, and may not reflect the true, deep-down sentiment of those who posted it.