Cyberbullying, sometimes referred to as cyberharassment, is the electronic (digital or virtual) means of disturbing, harassing, disrupting, or any other malicious social activity where online bullies target victims online. Such forms of malicious activity can scare, scar, or even put victims at risk in the real world. Not only that, but humiliation, trolling, flaming, roasting and others can also be pinpointed as a form of cyberbullying. Worst of all, cyberbullying can take the form of sexual abuse.

This form of malicious practice occurs on the internet, which is why there is the 'cyber' prefix. It is a fact that cyberbullying is a hot topic in 2021, especially as social media is overflowing with users and activity. Billions of people able to access social media and create accounts at the click of a mouse open the door to countless cyberbullies, among several other risks such as cybercriminals. The fact that almost 50% of the young demographic spend over 3 hours on social media per day only contributes to the opportunity for cyberbullying.

There are countless platforms out there (Facebook, TikTok, WhatsApp, and YouTube to mention a few) especially social networking and messaging platforms that accommodate so many users that it is impossible to filter out cyberbullies right away. According to an article by UNICEF, "Cyberbullying is bullying with the use of digital technologies. It can take place on social media, messaging platforms, gaming platforms, and mobile phones. It is repeated behavior, aimed at scaring, angering or shaming those who are targeted." Some of the most frequently asked questions about cyberbullying are; How to tell the difference between a joke and bullying, what the effects of bullying are and who to talk or report to if bullying is confirmed.

Cyberbullying Statistics

According to official statistics found online, cyberbullying research shows that the practice is very popular across the whole world, with the scale and methods of cyberbullying varying. Latin America is where cyberbullying takes place the most, followed by North America, Europe, the Middle East/Africa, and the Asia Pacific respectively. Further research shows that Instagram is where the bullying of young people happens the most, followed by Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp, YouTube, and others. Most often, it is children and teens in the 11-18 age group that play online games, regardless of gender, that get cyberbullied by their classmates. Cyberbullying perpetrated by strangers and adults is less common but occurs. Popularity, performance in school, and tech skills are popular drivers for cyberbullying. Unfortunately, cyberbullying can lead to a vicious cycle where research shows that over 80% of young people that have been bullied online will harass others, or seek some form of revenge in the future.

The statistics on how and why cyberbullying takes place are even more interesting. Apparently, the most common method of cyberbullying is offensive name-calling, followed by spreading false information and rumors, harassment with explicit photos, stalking, and physical threats. Other motivations for cyberbullying include physical appearance, interest, and hobbies, success in school, household income, comments about masculinity or femininity, and family issues.

Finally, let's take a look at research that reveals what negative effects cyberbullying has on victims, particularly on mental health. Cyberbullying causes, in order from the highest results in surveys to the lowest; social anxiety, heavy depression, self-harm, absence from school, eating disorders and finally running away from home.  

How to Protect Yourself or Your Young Ones

Cyberbullying is a terror that transcends the virtual realm and can lead to mental health issues and worst of all self-harm and suicide in young individuals susceptible to it. Thankfully today there are cyber tools designed for this purpose today and a significant knowledge base that helps people recognize and limit cyberbullying. Psychologists and internet safety professionals are also hard at work on resolving cyberbullying as well as possible. Social media companies also engage with the topic and include several privacy features on their platforms that also aim to limit or eliminate cyberbullying. One of these features is comment warnings that can detect breaches of Community Guidelines on social networking sites such as Instagram and Facebook.

Unfortunately, a large portion of children and teens will stay quiet about cyberbullying due to fear and anxiety, and most cyberbullies are never caught because they tend to disappear from social media platforms before anyone can find them. The good news is that awareness surrounding cyberbullying is on a steep incline, and help is out there. By far the most effective way to stop cyberbullying is to block these individuals online, coupled with reporting such activities to social media platforms, cyberbullying organizations, and finally law enforcement.

Remember, it is always easier to bully someone online behind an alias, compared to bullying someone in the real world. However, it is much easier to detect and eliminate cyberbullying online than it is in the real world with a bit of common sense, good social media filters, and internet best practices, especially where the younger generation is concerned. Most importantly, parents need to monitor what their children are doing online and how much time they spend there. The power of regular conversations with young people should not be underestimated when it comes to cyberbullying.

Finally, it is important to take the following recommendations into account particularly for Facebook and Instagram;

●       Adjust parental controls

●       Turn off comments on posts

●       Make a private account

●       Mute an abuser

●       Report abusers

●       Filter out followers and those being followed

●       Moderate comments on posts

●       Utilize the 'Restrict' tool for known bullies