In October of 2013, two girls from Florida, ages 12 and 14 were arrested. The charge: aggravated stalking. (Sanburn 2013) Their cyber-bullying led to the suicide of 12-year-old girl named Rebecca Sedwick. (Sanburn 2013) This is one of the more clear-cut cases where the bullying and the suicide were obviously connected. One of the suspects posted the following on Facebook, a popular social media site:”I bullied Rebecca nd (sic) she killed herself.” (Sanburn 2013) This case illustrates a growing problem among young people of today, that of cyber-bullying. The rate of teen suicide has been creeping up between 2007, when social networking became popular among teens and 2010. (Sanburn 2013) According to the Centers for Disease Control, the rate in 2010 was the highest among 5-12 year- olds than it has been in a decade. (Sanburn 2013) Bullying has long been identified as a key cause of teen suicide, and in recent years, it has increased on pace with the popularity of social networking websites. (Sanburn 2013) While some might argue that the link between any kind of bullying and suicide is tenuous, that overall suicide rate have not increased significantly since social media has been available, and that cyber-bullying is no different than any other kind of social interaction, these people are mistaken. In fact, the online community crates a unique circumstance of anonymity. Additionally, mob mentality is prevalent on the internet, and finally, the cyber-bullying problem is reaching children of younger and younger ages. It is for these reasons cyber-bullying is a serious social problem that needs to be addressed.
Some argue that a link between suicide and cyber-bullying has not been empirically established. This is demonstrably untrue. In one study, conducted in 2007, a random sample of nearly 2000 middle-schoolers from one of the largest school districts in the nation were polled on the subject. (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010) The poll results were telling. They showed that young people who had been exposed to bullying and cyber bullying were significantly more likely to express suicidal ideation or actually attempt suicide than those who were not so exposed. (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010) The results also supported the notion that the victims of bullying and cyber bullying were more prone to suicidal ideation than those who were the perpetrators. (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010) While the results of this study illustrated that typical bullying is still more common, it shows a significant number of students experiencing both kinds of bullying. The rate at which students admitted to regular bullying was 34%, while the rate at which they admitted to cyber bullying was 22%.(Hinduja & Patchin, 2010) Those claiming victimization from regular bullying were numbered at 29% while victims of conventional bullying numbered 44%.(Hinduja & Patchin, 2010)
Despite studies such as the one described above, there are many who believe that cyber bullying has not increase the suicide rate among teens. In fact, some argue that it is no more than a new form of bullying whose effects are not worse than those of conventional bullying. Studies indicate that this is not the case. Studies have determined that there are significant differences between normal bullying and cyber bullying. (Dooley, Pyzlasky & Cross, 2009) Two of the key characteristics of the bullying dynamic are imbalance of power and repetition. With respect to imbalance of power, in face-to-face bullying is usually connected to the physical features of the individual and their relative physical power in the outside world, while with cyber bullying, imbalance of power relates to an individual’s power based on technology and may be related to the victims perceived lack of power (because the bullies are anonymous). (Dooley, Pyzlasky & Cross, 2009) With respect to the second characteristic, repetition, in the real-world context, it is based on behavioral repetition over time, whereas with cyber bullying, repetition may be based on the technology and the specific features of the medium, rather than the specific intent of the perpetrator. (Dooley, Pyzlasky & Cross, 2009) In an online bullying incident, for example, a person might hurl an insult, only to have dozens of people repeat and/or pile on insults through no fault or intent of the original insulter. (Dooley, Pyzlasky & Cross, 2009) Another key difference between bullying and cyber bullying is the gender disparity. In traditional bullying, the perpetrators are more likely to be male, whereas in cyber bullying, the perpetrators are more often female. (Dooley, Pyzlasky & Cross, 2009)Some have attributed this observation to the fact that females seem to rely on social networking tools such as Facebook more so than their male counterparts. (Dooley, Pyzlasky & Cross, 2009) Conversely, males are more likely to come across as physically intimidating than are females. In sum, it is clear that cyber bullying is a different phenomena than conventional bullying.
The final counterargument to the hypothesis that cyber bullying is a major social problem is the notion that suicide rates have not increased since the advent of social media, therefore this is not a serious problem. Again, statistics do not back this view. (Kersting, 2008) In the 15-24 year age bracket, suicides compose 12.9% of the deaths per year. 32000 people per year take their own lives; this equals 89 people per day. (Kersting, 2008) A further statistic is that 97% of teens aged 12-18 use the internet and a majority of them do not report their activities to their parents. (Kersting, 2008) Additionally, 80% of teens own some sort of technological media. The circumstance of being “connected” in the cyber world often leads to teens not having the in-person support they might have had before the advent of technology. (Kersting, 2008) The practical result of all of this is that the suicide rate is steadily increasing since the advent of social media in 2004. (Kersting, 2008)
The online community fosters an unprecedented sense of invulnerability that makes cyber bullying that much easier. The circumstance is well-illustrated with case of Amanda Todd. Amanda was a 16-year old girl who faced bullying on the internet and in person. (Warren & Kenealey, 2012) She chronicled her story on you-tube, and eventually committed suicide. (Warren & Kenealey, 2012) Her online detractors continued to post negative and insulting comments on her Facebook memorial page. (Warren & Kenealey, 2012) Finally, her mother was able to track down one of the posters. (Warren & Kenealey, 2012)She contacted his employer and he was fired immediately for his conduct. (Warren & Kenealey, 2012)The person who was responsible for Todd’s initial problems, described in her YouTube video was an “anonymous” troll as well. The man was “outed” by the ironically named internet vigilante group “Anonymous”. (Warren & Kenealey, 2012)The trouble was that no one could specifically prove that he was the one issuing the original threats to Amanda. Between that, and the fact that neighbors of the address given claimed that it was in error highlight the underlying problem. (Warren & Kenealey, 2012) Anyone inclined to post a rude or insulting comment on a Facebook page, YouTube comment section, or anything else like it can do so without fear of being found. (Warren & Kenealey, 2012)
In addition to anonymity, the internet gives individuals the opportunity to work a number of anonymous strangers into a frenzy. (Warren & Kenealey, 2012) A person can find themselves barraged with hundreds of hostile responders stemming from a simple post on any subject. (Warren & Kenealey, 2012)Often, most of those responding are not heavily invested in the cause of the storm, they just participate out of boredom. (Warren & Kenealey, 2012)The impression such a mob can have on an individual is profound. The mob can create the sensation that the whole world is standing in opposition to their original statement. (Warren & Kenealey, 2012) Depending upon what that original statement is, the results could be devastating. If an individual were to proclaim a deep-held belief about religion, sex, or their own sexuality they could be subject to a mob attack online. (Warren & Kenealey, 2012)Again, most of those participants literally do not care enough about the subject to get up from their computer desks, yet the overall effect online can be quite devastating. (Warren & Kenealey, 2012)
The final argument in favor of treating cyber bullying as a serious social problem is that people of younger and younger age have access to this community. (Johnson, 2011) Younger people can be victimized not only by bullying themselves but by learning social skills In an environment where it is acceptable to say anything without consequences. (Johnson, 2011) Children as young as 12 years old are self-proclaimed participants in internet culture, and as such, they ought to be taught about the differences between the cyber-world and the real world(Johnson, 2011).
The problem of cyber bulling is clearly a serious one that requires effective action. Those who state that there is no link between the suicide rate and cyber bullying are incorrect. Similarly, those who argue that cyber bullying is no worse than other types of bullying are grossly underestimating the situation. It has also been demonstrated that suicides have increased since the advent of social media. The characteristic of anonymity makes cyber bullying generally harsher and harder to punish. The internet mob mentality can make attacks seem worse than they actually are. Finally, the cyber community is accessible without any censorship to children as young as twelve. It is clear from all of this evidence that cyber bullying is a significant problem facing the modern world.
Dooley, J., Pzylaski, J. & Cross, D. (2009) “Cyberbullying Versus Face-to-Face Bullying
A Theoretical and Conceptual Review” Journal of Psychology 2009; Vol. 217(4):182–188
Hinduja, Sameer and Patchin, Justin W.(2010) 'Bullying, Cyberbullying, and Suicide', Archives of Suicide Research, 14: 3, 206 — 221
Johnson, G. M. (2011) “Self-Esteem and Use of the Internet among Young School-Age Children” International Journal of Psychological Studies Vol. 3, No. 2; December 2011.
Kersting, K. (2008) “Technology and Youth Suicide” retrieved from website Kids Under Twenty-One. Retrieved Novemer 11th 2013 from: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CDQQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fdmh.mo.gov%2Fdocs%2Fmentalillness%2Fkerstingtechyouthsuicide.pptx&ei=72yBUpavDqfl2QWb5IGwBA&usg=AFQjCNFn94ZyHO6A0nI8lPT0YN8zshFaCw&bvm=bv.56146854,d.aWc
Sanburn, J. (2013) “A Florida Tragedy Illustrates Rising Concern About Cyber-Bullying Suicides” Retrieved from Time US online website. Retrieved November 13th 2013 from: http://nation.time.com/2013/10/16/a-florida-tragedy-illustrates-rising-concern-about-cyber-bullying-suicides/
Warren, L. & Kenealey, M. (2012) “The internet vigilantes: Anonymous hackers' group outs man, 32,'who drove girl, 15, to suicide by spreading topless photos of her” Retrieved from The Daily Mail Online. Retrieved November 11th 2013 at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2218532/Amanda-Todd-Anonymous-names-man-drove-teen-kill-spreading-nude-pictures.html