Unless you have been living in a cave or under a rock, you either own or have access to a cell phone and computer and you are also probably a frequent user of Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Through the use of cell phones, texting, computers and social media sites, people can post pictures from their most recent adventures, update their relationship status, and even post quick updates about their current location or mood. They help to connect people and often provide a place for self-expression. Although not inherently bad, these tools are becoming prime venues for cyberbullying attacks.
Cyberbullying is bullying behavior (in the form of intimidation, threats, humiliation, harassment) that takes place through the use of computers, cell phones or other electronic devices. This form of bullying can take on various forms, with some of the most common including:
- Delivering threats or hurtful messages to someone via email or text message;
- Spreading false rumors through text message, online boards or social networking sites;
- Leaving hurtful, harassing or threatening messages on cell phones, web pages or social networking sites;
- Impersonating someone else online to harass or hurt another person; and
- Spreading unflattering or sexually suggestive pictures of another person and spreading them via Internet or cell phones.
The idea to trash people we don’t particularly like is not new, but cell phone, computers and social media make it so much easier to inflict widespread damage through the spread of rumors, outright lies or compromising photos. Confirming the stereotype, statistics indicate that cyberbullies are overwhelmingly girls (59%). Tina Fey’s movie Mean Girls introduced us to the “burn book,” a document in which a group of popular school girls write rumors, secrets, truths and lies about their fellow students.
Social media is the newest version of the burn book—but it has a much greater immediate impact and a much larger potential audience. In the past, if a person was being bullied at work or school, s/he could go home and get away from the teasing, taunting and mean-spirited comments—at least temporarily. That is no longer the case. The frequent and widespread use of texting and social media has resulted in the likelihood of a 24/7 attack. There is simply no place to escape from it once it begins. The viral nature of online life and the prevalence of cell phones makes sending humiliating or degrading messages, pictures or videos both simple and immediate. Screen names easily disguise the identity of the perpetrator, making the cyberbully virtually anonymous. As a result, cyberbullies are difficult to track down and even more difficult to punish.
Tormenters who use cyberbullying as their method of assault can be relentless and cruel. The tragic suicides of cyberbully victims such as Rebecca Sedwick, Megan Meiers, Tyler Clementi and Phoebe Prince have resulted in vast amounts of media attention to the problem. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people (resulting in about 4,600 death per year according to data from the Center for Disease Control). Moreover, studies by Yale University indicate that individuals who have been bullied are between two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims.
Most states now have bullying laws that require schools to adopt bullying policies, and efforts to combat school bullying have escalated over the last decade; however, the incidence rate continues to climb. Recent statistics show more than one million children were harassed, threatened or subjected to other forms of cyberbullying on Facebook last year. Equally shocking is the fact that 43% of teens aged 13 to 17 report that they have experienced some sort of cyberbullying in the past year via text, email or through postings on a social media website.
The situation at work is similarly troublesome. Recent national statistics indicate that cyberbullying is a growing problem at work and that 35% of the American workforce report having been bullied on the job—that’s more than 54 million people! Sadly, though, there are no laws to protect them from an abusive boss. Since 2003, efforts have been underway to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill in states across the U.S. without any success.
Did you know that October is National Bullying Prevention Month? Take time to educate yourself about this problem, urge legislators in your state to adopt anti-bullying protections, and do not fail to try to stop the abuse if you see it happening. One person really can make a difference. Be that person.
About the Author:
Teresa A. Daniel, JD, Ph.D., serves as the dean of and a professor in the Human Resource Leadership (HRL) programs at Sullivan University. She also holds the position of chair for the HRL concentration in the university’s Ph.D. in Management program. Her growing body of research on the problem of workplace bullying has been actively supported by the national Society for Human Resource Management (referred to in the profession as SHRM) through the publication of numerous articles and interviews about her work. She is the author of three management-related books for practitioners, including her most recent Stop Bullying at Work: Strategies and Tools for HR & Legal Professionals, which was SHRM’s #7 top-selling book in 2010 and #9 in 2012.
As an active scholar-practitioner, two of her recent projects have been accepted for publication this year. Sponsored by Sullivan University through a faculty research grant, her study “Is a C+ Good Enough?: Executive Perceptions about the Effectiveness of Human Resources” was published in the summer 2013 edition of the Employment Relations Today journal. Her article titled “A Dangerous Crossroad: Executive Success and the Increased Potential for Ethical Failure” was distributed to SHRM’s 250,000 members in its recent summer 2013 Legal Update. She was also recently interviewed for an article on workplace bullying which is scheduled to be released in the January issue of Glamour magazine.