How The Internet Enables Cyberbullying But Promotes Connection

10/31/2016 10:21 am ET Updated Oct 31, 2016
Credit: Portal PBH - Prefeitura Belo Horizonte

The internet has a problem with cyberbullying. Technology is both the culprit and the solution. The internet is capable of connecting humanity like never before. We can share information and learn more about other cultures. We talk online about our interests. Facebook lets us connect with family and friends. Twitter allows us to add commentary to everyday life. These can be great things, especially when it helps us grow and helps others consider new viewpoints. Sometimes others have no interest in changing and would rather argue and sling hurtful phrases and names with a painful immediacy. Then there’s the trolls who want to watch the e-world burn and find amusement in the suffering of others. Too often there are stories of people being targeted online ― perhaps for an opinion, but it can even just be for the way they look.

Targeted online abuse like this is unacceptable. It happens for a lot of different reasons but is enabled by technology ― especially the malicious form of online abuse known as doxxing. When you’re ostracized online on a small scale, you’ll likely face a small group of people and their comments. When the aggressors are determined to go beyond verbal assaults, they might search for other ways to hurt you. This is where doxxing comes in. It is the practice of finding and publishing personal information about you, which then feeds into the abuse. The individual leading the doxxing attack might hack your medical records and release confidential information about your health. They might find your phone number or address and even social security number and release those into the wild, and that helps these internet bullies escalate their attack. Ultimately doxxing takes the form of invasive harassment or shaming in response to some perceived slight.

It’s all part of the larger cyber security umbrella. There’s much more information accessible online that many would expect, and it’s a vulnerability. Just think about your cell phone. It might very well be logged into every social account you own as well as your email and online banking. If your phone were compromised, all of that information you store within it is at risk. This is particularly devastating for companies if you access sensitive or otherwise privileged information from your device that is then stolen or leaked. It’s sadly necessary that we safeguard access to our private information lest it wrongfully be used against us in the future.

It’s interesting that despite the can of worms technology opens, it can also be a pathway toward healing. Technology is an important part of mental health treatment, particularly as teenagers and young adults find increased ways to incorporate cell phones and computers into their busy lives. Distance might make an attacker feel safe, and similarly can make someone who has suffered bullying or faced depression feel alone. Despite this, tech can bring people together if we’ll let it. Telecounseling is one piece of the puzzle. If you live far away from a counselor or don’t feel comfortable seeing them in person, you can talk over the phone, via text, or even through video conferencing. People who aren’t ready to talk about their struggles and life in person might feel more comfortable doing so from a comfortable distance. The anonymity of the internet can be dangerous if used in the wrong ways and for the wrong reasons. Likewise, the distance it creates can help people who might not otherwise reach out for help find the courage to do so.

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