Cyber-bullying: The Power of Anonymity

by Rachel Hall, Brisbane, Australia

Definition of Cyber-Bully (Troll)

Cyber-bullying (Trolling) involves the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated and hostile behaviour by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others. Cyber-bullying can be as simple as continuing to send e-mails to someone who has said they want no further contact with the sender, but it may also include threats, sexual remarks, pejorative labels (i.e. hate speech), ganging up on victims by making them the subject of ridicule in forums, and posting false statements as fact aimed at humiliation.

The prospect of cyber-bullying is becoming an ingrained part of the Generation Y online experience. But it is not something confined to children and teenagers, anyone can be targeted – whether it be a high school student, public figure, online blogger, businesses, professionals or any member of a community or society. It can range from a snide comment on a Facebook page, private video footage released online without consent, to hate speak, threats and defamation of character.

However, if you research cyber-bullying online the majority of the information about its implications and effects is aimed at children and schools, and does not address the wider scope of this heinous issue.

The internet allows people to hide behind a veil of anonymity or a false persona which appears to allow them the scope to publish unsubstantiated, false and misleading information and lies.

There are laws in place that supposedly control what can be published on the worldwide web. For example, you can be convicted of ‘trolling’ in the UK – labelled under ‘offensive communications’ – and this can apply to anyone who can then end up in court facing charges of internet slander and libel.

However, these laws are not clear; the victim is left wondering where they turn to for help.  Are we doing enough to limit the damage of cyber-bullying, and to educate people about it, as well as how to cope and deal with it? There needs to be a larger effort made to help ensure no one, no matter their age, gender or race is made to be a victim of a cyber-bully or a cyber-stalker.

The consequences of online abuse can be severe. From knocking a teenager’s self-confidence to professional reputations being damaged, it can have terrible after-effects. It is difficult enough to bring a cyber-bully to justice, but almost impossible when they hide behind fake names and pseudonyms. How do you legally challenge someone when you are unable to prove their identity? On the internet there is no true level of anonymity, unless you delve into systems and circumventors that most of the general public don’t pursue. But because the internet makes it so easy to create a fake profile online and disguise yourself – an exploit used by both children and adults alike, most people feel they are helpless to act.

Lets call cyber-bullying for what it is – it is cowardice! Bullying is bullying whether it is in person or on line: bullying people under the cloak of anonymity is the ultimate form of cowardice. I was raised along the lines of “if you have something to say about me you should have the decency to say it to my face and not behind my back”. There seems to be this complacent attitude that because it is going on in cyberspace that it’s not as significant, harmful or damaging: “after all, it’s only online. I’m not abusing that person to their face”, when actually it is just as poisonous, vitriolic and perhaps more harming as it is out there for many people to see.

Social networking sites do attempt to regulate and stem this tide of abuse, from groups and image captions to wall posts. But it’s not enough. Further legislation needs to be put in place to both protect individuals online, especially when it comes to defamation, and to make it clear that this type of behaviour is reprehensible and will not be tolerated.

When it comes to defamatory comments it is exceedingly challenging to try to have the posts and information removed, for example Blogger Content Policy states: “Here are some examples of content we will not remove unless provided with a court order; personal attacks or alleged defamation”. Allowing this type of policy fuels the power of the cyber-bully. Being able to remain anonymous makes them even more untouchable; how do you get a court order against a pseudonym? The policy makers need to see that this attitude is deeply flawed and it is time to take cyber-bullying seriously. If this behaviour were happening in a school or workplace it simply would not be tolerated… why should it be any different online?

Cyber-bullying and trolling are a growing problem in today’s “connected” world, and does not just happen inside our schools and among our youth. There is an entire new breed of bullies being born every day in the online world, and they are just as harmful as those in our schools; they cause just as much pain and suffering and are just as mean-spirited.

The repercussions of cyber-bullying are far reaching, and the time has come for us to say no to this, it isn’t right. The law needs to change to answer the call of the common man; to protect the innocent, and not the anonymous bullies who think they have the power because no-one knows who they are. But it is up to the common man to speak up and say this will no longer be tolerated in order for policy makers to sit up and take notice. Just because it is not directly happening to you does not mean it is not happening. By saying nothing, could it be that we are being complicit and condoning bullying on a worldwide scale?

454 thoughts on “Cyber-bullying: The Power of Anonymity

  1. The secrecy behind online bullying has been partly already diminished simply by this blog – that expresses what it is about and the harm of it. It is that simply that talking about it from truth, saying that it is not right and acting on it, helps us to diminish the evil that lies within. The evil only gets its fuel by those who let it sit and grow.

  2. There is so much cyber bullying that is occurring in our society today, as you say Rachel it is the “use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated and hostile behaviour by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others.”. But why is it that people are choosing this, are they feeling disconnected? unheard? so in the so called comfort of their homes they feel they have the power to grow more confident in themselves and feel it is ok to hurl abuse via the keyboard. When is the tide going to turn, that exemplifies this behaviour is abuse and not ok?

  3. It is indeed cowardice Rachel; on reading your blog I am astounded at the lack of accountability and any form of responsibility. Why is it that we have not found a means, and the desire to follow through, to call trolls to account. I find it staggering that it is so widely accepted. Thank you for exposing this abhorrent practice.

  4. Cyber abuse is so unbelievably toxic, and the fact that you can’t easily find the person abusing you is just crazy, and that there is no way to stop it is even more out of this world. The government will eventually catch up, but why on earth does our focus not get pulled to this topic quicker than some of the other far less damaging but more popular topics.

  5. Our attitude is the basis of why our system is deeply flawed and not in line with how we all deserve to be treated with decency and respect. Until we claim this as a truth and stand up for it, the system will reflect our apathy.

  6. You could say that cyber abuse is a new phenomenom in this age of the net. But what is clear to me in reading your words Rachel, is that there is a age-old part of us that likes to think that no-one knows the things that we do ‘behind closed doors’, that likes to believe that no one can tell when we indulge and that we ‘get away’ with the occasional white lie. In short we consider we are anonymous, untraceable in this world. But the reality is the complete opposite of this – every choice that we make is registered and is what we take along with us, wherever we go. No amounts of fake ids or aliases will ever make it not so.

  7. Why would someone not put their name to what they say? What are they hiding…and what happens when anonymity is chosen? It is clear that it takes some perceived responsibility away, but this is not true, we are all forever responsible for what we say, do and choose.

  8. Cyber-bullies develop an addiction to the habit. In the same way that a heroin addict knows what they are using is poison they find it almost impossible to kick the addictive habit and become impervious to the harm they are inflicting on others just so long as they get their next hit.

  9. Cyber abuse is still abuse. But the thing is the bully can hide behind a computer. It is awful to see that people express this way to another – the question every bully should ask themselves is ‘what am I reacting too?’

  10. There must be a deep hurt that would have someone troll a RIP Facebook page for what seems like kicks. It’s almost like I’m hurting so I am going to lash out and hurt another, and if that means sending abusive messages to the parents and friends of suicide and murder victims, then so be it. It makes me wonder if it is just another means to not feel their own pain, no different from taking drugs or alcohol to numb.

  11. The power to remain hidden is a false power that we all know breeds the appetite for many to hurl abuse and make accusations about others that are based on ill truths and lies. In a world that marvels itself of advancements in science and space travel how is it that we still remain in the dark or choose to ignore the basic fundamental principles of harmony and equality of ALL?

  12. “The truth of a few hundred, maybe 2,000 people worldwide choosing to live a more loving and healthy lifestyle is not news!” This is such an enormous news story that there are those who chose to undermine and denigrate the truth.

  13. So much is written these days about ‘cyber abuse’ – it’s great that people like you Rachel are calling it out. But reading your words I am feeling that actually this abuse is not new in any way, but just a different flavour of an age old way of being. For every day when we go about our lives, don’t we receive and have thoughts that are mean, unclear and unloving? It might not be nice to admit this, but isn’t it the reality? These thoughts are like our own internal bully. It’s our job to makes sure they don’t go unadressed – for this is where all the abuse that we see starts, inside you and me with these ‘small’ things we let slide.

  14. When I was at school, the bullies were simply the biggest… Usually with huge chips on the shoulder, and they made everyone suffer, until they were stood up to. Now, interestingly, things have changed so much due to the worldwide creepy Crawley web that allows anyone of any size to spread the poison… That still comes of course with the enormous chip on the shoulder.

  15. The right to free speech does not give someone the right to abuse. It’s a little crazy that we accept this behaviour online when we don’t accept it anywhere else. If someone sat outside my house abusing me, I could call the cops. If someone made rude comments to passers by in a mall, security would have them removed. If someone in the workplace made sexual comments to another, they could be done for sexual harassment. We know how wrong it is, yet somehow we have accepted it online.

  16. Thank you Rachel for your sharing. I would like to see those who write these detrimental comments on Social Media to put their name to the words and not hide behind anonymity, nor be allowed to do so!. Its time we called as halt to this cowardice!

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