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?

489 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!

  17. “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.” It is true we are seeing a new breed of bullies that cowardly hide behind a screen and anonymity and think they can do whatever they like and not be touched. For these people it is like a new online sports game, they have no interest in the people they bully and abuse and the absolute devastation they cause, For them it is a fun past time to brighten up their dull and boring lives, this reflects to me the lows that humanity is willing to go to enjoy some ‘me’ time.

  18. Cyber bullying is out of control and fast becoming a huge issue for societies. Our laws and law keepers are a long way from keeping up with this abhorrent behaviour.

  19. It’s amazing the diverse and complicated ways we have come up with to entertain this selfish part of ourselves. We’ve created a million disguises and outfits we can wear to hide from being seen. Yet all the time we totally miss the simple fact that everything we do is always registered by God, there is nothing you can do to wiggle out or escape, there is no way, no matter what we think to ‘get away with it’. Thank you Rachel, this knowing brings a lot for responsibility and honesty to how we choose to be today.

  20. The Power of Anonymity, yes absolutely but the power of transparency and being willing to stand up and speak out against evil like cyber abuse and put one’s names to it is even stronger.

  21. We are still in the early days of what all this means and we haven’t truly seen the direction this is all headed yet. The constant explosion of things via the internet gives you a snap shot into how this form of communication can be used and shows also how connected we are. I don’t think we allow more via the internet than we do physically, I think they are one and the same. The only difference is that we have the laws, policing and social structures to make us more accountable in the physical world while online we are lagging in this way. Where do we start? There appears to be no one place and so let’s start in every place, in every home with every person. Let’s bring the same structures we have physically into online, this at the very least will start to make a difference.

    1. Yes Ray I agree before the computer age there was abuse , bullying , intimidation etc, but as you say there is a form of structure in place to support people to deal with this.
      But today from my understanding its easier to find people once they use any electronic equipment its just that the people owning the system make more money by not using money to police the system. That money is more important than responsibility, this is not wise.

      1. We have just created another type of physical space or public place to vent our frustrations or as we are saying another place to abuse and bully each other. It’s possibly no longer about the laws keeping up but by us all keeping up. Do you see the internet and the street as one and the same? Fact they are, sure you may be able to highlight some detail but ask someone who has been targeted harmfully online how they feel and then ask someone the same who has been targeted face to face the same and then study the 2. I would say most of the time these two would run parallel. Online, offline it’s the same thing and possibly we all need to catch up with this fact.

  22. 5 years ago you wrote: “The repercussions of cyber-bullying are far reaching, and the time has come for us to say no to this, it isn’t right.” I wonder how many more years it will take until we say enough is enough or rather was already way too much right from the start.

  23. Any loveless act harms us ALL including the perpetrators who are harmed far more themselves than they know.

  24. The repercussions of cyber bullying are only now being looked at. Given the anonymity that is common and permitted on the internet, these impacts are far reaching and behind closed doors. If as a society we continue to allow this type of behaviour (anonymous abuse of another for all the world to see), we can expect it to become (if it is not already) a new form of domestic violence.

  25. I would say a large part of the problem in the adult community comes from potentially undealt with hurts from their childhood and school days. There are so many patterns of behaviour that are used for coping that are laid down at this age and anonymous internet abuse could easily be one of them.

  26. A beautiful strong blog about the reality of online bullying and anynomously so too. We are faced with the fact that whenever we do not speak up and let things that are not ok – go on, we actually contribute to it ! ouch. And that when we do not speak up for instance when we see online abuse, because we think it is irrelevant or not our piece of cake – we actually exclude ourselves from our responsibility – as responsibility is not about sustaining our inidividuality. Hence. This blog reveals the ill movements we might have endured, thinking we are safe, whilst actually we are not safe at all : as hiding our truth is the most evil act

  27. It has been almost five years from this blog having been published and what has happened in this time, not a lot! We have finally recognised the fact that cyber bullying does exist and there are efforts to report it. But, there are now children that can’t talk yet that are being given electronic dummies, in the form of pads and phones! We seem to loudly object on the one hand and then turn a blind eye at home. Are we de-evolving and supporting the abuse that is still running rampant on the net by not being entirely responsible?

  28. The horrific levels of cyber abuse that have gone on are beyond anything I have seen in regards to how Serge Benhayon and Universal Medicine have been attacked. It took everyone by surprise, yet today what stands out is a few years on whilst still some people abuse under anonymity many are continuing their abuse with their names. It’s the wild west online and my real question is why do we think its ok to treat others in such a vile way?

  29. Under the guise of freedom of speech abuse is occurring in many levels of our lives from cyber bullying to abusive protesting and written hate mail. All come from a deep place of emptiness and jealously.

  30. You could say cyberbullying is a modern phenomenon but what if it’s not? What if it really is just showing us that a few of the biggest illusions in human history carry on still? For the idea that you can say and do anything you like and walk away ‘scott free’, or get a pseudo name and escape blame is one of the biggest lies in history. It totally ignores the energetic fact that everything we do or say comes back to us via karma, not just in this life but over all time. You can’t imagine a greater system of justice that could be designed. So to think that you can fool God must be one of the most foolish things you can ever think. Thank you Rachel for lifting the wool from our eyes.

  31. It is a real indictment on humanity that we are actually needing laws that tell us how to be and communicate with one another, but need them we do. Also, in the world where everything is energy, whether we put our name or not, every movement we make, whether physical or not, is traced back to where it comes from and how – thinking that we can get away with anything if we withhold our name is totally naïve and retarded.

  32. Cyber bullying is the re-morphed form of bullying, persecution and hate-crime that has characterised humanity’s behaviour for eons. The irony not being lost: we have advanced so far technologically one could say, with amazing cyber feats, but the barbaric and very un-advanced behaviour towards one another continues – with a blind eye and a shrugging of the shoulder to dismiss the severity, and relieve oneself by the fact that it is not happening to me.
    A sobering reminder that we have not advanced very much at all.

  33. “By saying nothing, could it be that we are being complicit and condoning bullying on a worldwide scale?” Yes absolutely but we chose to turn a blind eye unless it affects us directly, and that is the selfishness of the world we live in today. When we all speak up collectively and as individuals it is amazing the changes we can make but I know for myself it is about shifting the comfort we can be in of not speaking up in our everyday lives. If we accept things as being either normal or out of our control, we are complicit in the abuse that is happening all around us.

  34. The whole digital world is a reflection of how we are truly living together.
    Also the criminals, the fraud, the stealing of people’s money we see happening on big scale on the internet.
    We need to make all new laws relating to this new world we made together.
    Digital laws, we need to make.

  35. When I speak with people about the public health concern that cyber abuse is they all agree but then the issue about what to do about it comes up and people tend to throw their hands up and basically say that nothing can be done about it. This is so not true as the more that each and every one of us speak up about the issue the more we realise that a lot can be done about it and indeed needs to be done about it.

  36. I saw an interview recently featuring a cyber-abuser. What was most shocking about it wasn’t necessarily the fact that the abuser was completely unperturbed as to the level of harm he had caused certain victims (which was shocking enough in itself) but the fact that at their most practised levels, cyber-abusers are organised, much like organised criminals. World-wide networks of trolls organise dossiers on people, ready to pounce when the time comes. I had thought their activities were the results of random individuals (and most probably are) but there are equally online gangs, comparable to the mafia.

  37. Its time to take away anonymity online for all, this we could say is the answer, but what I’ve come to experience online is that even people using their own names write so much abusive comments online, so many things that are simply not true. So many lies get spread, so many hurtful and abusive words get spoken and yet it is considered normal, allowed and part of free speech. It shows just how serious the issue is and how we have to come together as one global humanity to deal with it.

  38. True, the law and society in general needs to catch up with the realisation that online abuse is still abuse and no less harmful than face-to-fact abuse. In fact you could argue that online abuse is seen by a much wider group of people on our ‘world-wide-web’. The other angle we need to consider is where the desire to abuse another comes from. It surely isn’t our nature to abuse another. If we don’t agree with something then we have the right to say so but disagreement does not have to be abuse. What moves an inherently loving human being to abuse another? And how deeply abusive of oneself does a person have to be, to find it in themselves to want to harm another in this way? We need to get to the root of this desire just as much as change the law here.

  39. The desire to remain anonymous surely raises a question in itself. Does it not reveal that there is a level of awareness in the person that what they are doing is wrong? Perhaps they would argue that they fear reprisal – but then is this not what they themselves are ‘dishing out’ from their secret bunker?

  40. It is shocking that in the five years since this was written so little has been done to combat cyber-bullying and the impact on the mental health of those affected, particularly of teenage girls, is truly shocking. What will it take before we take a stand and say enough is enough?

  41. Why does it take so much time and effort to face cyber-bullying and to call it for what it is? Because of the familiarity and naturalization of abuse in our lives. As abuse gets normalised in everyday life, cyber bullying does not stand out. It is simply part of the landscape. Yet, the fact that it is there and that so little clear sharp action is taken against it says much about all of us.

  42. One of life’s most essential awareness’s: ” saying nothing is adding to the pool of harm that is going on”.

    1. True – we think it’s harmless to say nothing, but if instead we saw it as saying nothing contributes to everything in the world we hate – it’s a very different slant on life.

  43. Online you can sometimes see the dark thread that runs through society more easily than offline – it’s a bit like an insight into how dark peoples thoughts can be. And I agree this platform needs more policing, and more importantly more people standing up for what is not ok – no form of abuse to any human being is ever ok.

  44. By saying nothing and being silent when it comes to abuse, we are all contributing to it. We become part of a silent majority of people that sit tight and hope it won’t affect them directly.

  45. Considering the bigger picture here – this is a reflection of us abusing purpose. The internet has a role to connect people and provide information, but as soon as we use it for anything that is not this, then it is abuse – and the problem is we are not speaking up enough about what the internet has become -a place to check out, compare and abuse.

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