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Cyberbullying on the Internet

How to Deal with Cyberbullying

I have written several blogs about cyberbullying. Cyber bullies seek to gain gratification from the psychological harm to others by embarrassing, provoking, and tormenting the target of their rants.  Cyberbullying occurs in our schools, in the workplace, and most recently, through the Internet. The effects on the bullied can be life-threatening including suicide. The Internet provides the perfect forum for cyber bullies because of it anonymity, ease of provocation, and the ability to go viral in a matter of minutes.  

Cyber bullies get a perverse sense of satisfaction (called gratification) from sending people flame mail and hate mail. Flame mail is an email whose contents are designed to inflame and enrage. Hate mail is hatred (including prejudice, racism, sexism, and “sexual orientation-ism”).  

My question is why has bullying in general and cyber-bullying in particular become such a problem? I’m convinced it reflects the general breakdown in civility and ethics in our society. The mantra today seems to be “Rudeness Rules.” The word respect is more often attached to the expression “give me my props” than to deferential behavior towards those in authority positions. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard from my ethics students that respect must be earned, not given simply because of one’s position. Does that mean we shouldn’t respect President Obama simply because he is the President of the U.S? I hope not.

It used to be that each of us had an inner voice, called our conscience that made us stop and think twice before saying something we might regret later on. We considered the consequences of our actions before we did something we might regret at a later date. Cyber bullies have no conscience. In fact, they are cowards preying on the vulnerable and trying to bully in a way that they won’t get caught for their actions.

According to Bully Online, the objectives of bullies are power, control, domination, and subjugation. They get a kick out of seeing the bullied person react. It doesn't matter how you react, the fact they've successful provoked a reaction is, to the bully, a sign that their attempt at control have been successful. After that, it's a question of wearing you down. The more your try to explain, negotiate, conciliate, and otherwise fend-off the criticism, the more gratification they obtain from your increasingly desperate attempts to communicate with them. It is simply adding fuel to the fire.

So, what should you do if you, a family member, a loved one, co-worker or friend is being bullied? First, don't respond, don't interact and don't engage. The bully is trying to goad you into action. This is not as easy to do as it sounds. It's a natural response to want to defend yourself, and gain the respect of the bullier. As they say in New York: fuhgetaboutit! That type of reaction encourages more bullying and may widen the circle of bullies.

Next, keep all abusive emails. Create a new folder, perhaps called "Abuse", and move hate mail and flame mail into this folder. You don't have to read it. When the time comes to take action, this folder of hate mail and flame mail is your evidence. As Bully Online points out: “Bullies, especially cyber bullies, are obsessive people and if their account is closed down you may start receiving mail from another address. This can later be compared to the abusive emails you've already received to identify the perpetrator. You'll find the same words, phrases and strategies occurring.”

Third, inform authority figures of what is going on. You need to establish a record of complaints. For schoolchildren this may mean getting your parents involved. Even though the bullying may take place outside of school limits, the school should be informed. Increasingly, state laws are requiring schools to set policies against bullying and deal with reported events. For workers it may mean informing the appropriate person in the organization, perhaps in Human Resources, that you have been the target of bullying.

Lastly, become informed of your rights. There are many helpful websites such as Bully Online that have useful information about what to do if you believe you are being bullied. I provide advice to those who believe they are being bullied through both of my websites: Ethics Sage aand Workplace Ethics Advice. The latter includes a form to use to send questions directly to me. I deal with them on an anonymous basis.

Don’t forget to never take the bait of a bullier. Bullies feel gratification when the have provoked a response. It means they have been successful in getting under your skin. Any response you send via e-mail or by other means is bound to be used to fuel the flames of hatred. Your friends will still be your friends, and if they go over to the “dark side,” then they weren’t true friends to begin with.

Finally, as hard as it sounds I advise you to take the “ethical high road” and stay above the fray. Talk to your parents or co-workers if you are being bullied in the workplace; create a record (file) of emails and bullying events; speak to a trusted adviser; and, remember, you are better than the bullier.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on December 29, 2011