Cyber Bullying: Not just a Cybercrime but also a Public Health Concern
Over time, social media and the internet have successfully become indispensable parts of a youngster’s life. Especially after COVID-19 hit the world, everything moved online- classes on zoom, assignments, exams and so did our social life. Regular interaction with friends and colleagues was only possible via the internet and social media. But guess what? Even the traditional bullies moved online and transformed into cyber bullies.
Cyber Bullying much like old school bullying involves harassing or abusing a person but online through social media, emails, instant messages, online chatrooms, or in comments or posts. But cyberbullying has a serious impact on the victim that needs our attention.
Social Media and Cyberbullying
According to Pew Research Center, 95% of teens are connected to the internet, and 85% are social media users. There has been an influx of personal views on public platforms as social media started influencing our lives. People on the internet are often ruthlessly criticized for their personal beliefs on politics, religion, caste, gender and even looks are targeted and commented.
Social media platforms were created with an idea of healthy public debate but it has for sure not been kept up. The anonymity and publicity have not just encouraged bullies but also other people unaware of what heinous crime they are doing, join their peers in cyberbullying.
The omnipresence of social media makes bullying even worse as the victim cannot get rid of it. Children and teenagers tend to integrate social media into their lives and are hence highly dependent on the internet and social media. So they cannot suddenly go off the grid and cut their ties from these platforms when bullied.
Emotional Impact of Cyberbullying
A cyberbullied victim may undergo a range of emotions. Some of them are listed as follows:
These are the emotional effects of cyberbullying. Apart from these, the anonymity of the bully can lead to a feeling of fear and detachment from others.
Cyberbullying and Mental Health
Online bullying and harassment can have serious mental health effects. According to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, cyberbullying intensified the symptoms of depression and PTSD(post-traumatic stress disorder) in youngsters who were admitted to an adolescent psychiatric hospital.
Some of these effects are described in detail below:
Low self esteem
Cyberbullying takes a toll on the victim’s self-worth and how they feel about themselves. This thereby harms their self-beliefs and this affects their self-esteem. Research shows that even the usual social media users may get affected. 83% of young people reported that social media has a negative impact on how they feel about themselves which exacerbated for girls, 46% of girls stated that social media had a negative impact on their self-esteem.
Anxiety and Depression
A social media user creates his/her own small world on social media. When he/she is cyberbullied they get isolated and feel disconnected. They may also be highly affected by it and the feeling of sadness and powerlessness in a long term can mold into depression and anxiety. As their social life is affected, this can result in a changed lifestyle and they may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. Often, the victim’s appetite and sleep patterns are affected which are also symptoms of depression.
Self-harm and Suicidal thoughts
At times the comments made by the bully online affect the victim to the extent that they resort to self-harm. This can take many forms- they may alter their diet according to the comment or may try to change something about the way they look or dress. In extreme conditions, the victim may try to end his/her life by cutting themselves or indulging in any other means of self-harm.
Suicidal thoughts often surround the victims as they may think that it is a way to escape all the pain and torture they face daily.
From a source of entertainment to a toxic environment that can give rise to suicidal thoughts- it can escalate quite fast.
Hence cyberbullying is not just a cybercrime but it’s also an important public health concern. It can have long-term consequences that can change the direction of an individual’s life.
Cyberbullying is just not the concern of children, teenagers, young adults, and their parents. To make the internet a better and safer place for our youth, we as an industry and as a society need to take initiatives to educate people about the mental health effects of online bullying.
Spreading awareness by organizing anti-cyberbullying campaigns, sharing useful information and coping strategies on social media can be a productive way of helping possible future victims. Reporting any comment or post with the motive of harassing an individual or a group is another important societal duty.
Cyberbullying is a pernicious crime that can pressure individuals into a deeper crisis of mental health and even lead to suicide. Conscious internet usage, empathy, spreading awareness, and reporting offenders can go a long way to improving the virtual world.