Ways to Become Happier in Life
Revisiting NSA's Metadata Collection Program and Edward Snowden

Cyberbullying and Emotional Distress

Why Youngsters Are Vulnerable

I have blogged many times before on the dangers of cyberbullying in general, attacks that directed towards youngsters, and cyberbullying in the workplace. The common element in each case is the use of social media to inflict pain on others through directed postings or anonymous posts. I am devoting two blogs this week to the problem and related societal effects. In today’s blog I address the effects on youngsters and in my Workplace Ethics Advice blog on Thursday I will look at cyberbullying of employees.

Motivation for this Blog

The reason for addressing these issues are twofold. I just read a book on the dangers of cyberbullying -- Reconstructing Amelia – that does an excellent job of explaining how and why cyberbullying by others can lead a teenager to contemplate suicide. This book by Kimberly McCreight, is a New York Times bestseller and should be, I believe, required reading in all K-12 classes.

The other reason is to report the results of a poll released by UNICEF and the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against children. The UN report was released September 3, 2019. The poll clearly shows the extent of cyberbullying, which is way higher than I had thought, and the dangers to the most vulnerable among us – our children.

Let me start with the book. Without giving away too much information, Reconstructing Amelia tells the story of a teenager who is the target of bullying both through internet posts and pictures. The book examines how and why it led to an apparent suicide and her mother’s search for answers by reconstructing her daughter’s life using information on social media. The pain felt by the mother is palpable and the story is gripping.

UN Study

The UN study reports that one in three young people in 30 countries say they have been a victim of online bullying. Here are a few more findings:

  • Nearly half (47%) have received intimidating, threatening or nasty messages online.
  • More youngsters experienced cyberbullying on Instagram than any other platform at 42 percent, with Facebook following close behind at 37 percent. Snapchat ranked third at 31 percent.
  • Seventy-one percent of the survey participants said that social media platforms do not do enough to prevent cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying Research Center

A 2016 report from Cyberbullying Research Center indicates that 33.8 percent of students between 12 and 17 were victims of cyberbullying in their lifetime. On the other hand, 11.5 percent of students between 12 and 17 indicated they had engaged in cyberbullying in their lifetime.

In another Cyberbullying Research Center study, a random sample showed that 15 percent of those between 12 and 17 admitted to cyberbullying another person, with spreading rumors online, via text, or email being the most common form of bullying.


Now, let’s look at the ethical dimension. 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”).  

The ethical 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.” Some will blame it on President Trump and his often uncivil comments on Twitter. There is, no doubt, some truth to this but incivility started way before Trump was elected.

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.

What Can You Do?

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 has 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 youngsters, or their parents, do if their kids are being bullied? First, don't respond, don't interact and don't engage. The bully is trying to goad you into action. Ignoring it is easier said than done. It's a natural response to want to defend yourself and change the mindset of the bullier. 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.

Where can you turn to for help? The cybersmile.org website lists several useful contacts and phone numbers to call for help. Another good site is kidshelpline.com that is more directed to young children rather than parents and teachers. Finally, stopbullying.gov provides helpful advice in handling cyberbullying. These are just a few of the useful resources.

What Does the Future Hold?

I believe cyberbullying will only get worse, not better, over time. The reason is many youngsters and teenagers do not have control over their emotions, witness bullying online and in the movies, and have few if any role models to help guide the way.

We need a concerted national effort to deal with the problem of cyberbullying. It’s more critical today than ever before in order to stop bullyers before they get started and, possibly, to ward off more harmful effects such as violence in the streets and in our schools.

Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on September 17, 2019. Dr. Mintz recently published a book titled Beyond Happiness and Meaning that explains the ethics of personal relationships,  workplace interactions and on social media activities. Cyberbullying issues are addressed. Visit his website, sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Facebook and “Like” his page.