What are cyberbullying, trolling and cyberbullying?
The dark side of free speech, part 2
Our culture and probably most others have historically felt that bullies are bad news, but that being bullied is also a rite of passage. We often think that bullying tends to end with elementary school. Could not be farther from the truth.
As a culture, we tolerate and often reward adult harassers, especially harassing managers in the workplace. We celebrate bullies in entertainment as warriors and winners (even as we also celebrate a bully getting what they deserve), and while hazing in schools, the military, and fraternities is being shunned by the culture, we otherwise do little to eradicate bullying. Our politicians are often famous for their bullying nature. Unless there are dead bodies, we seem to expect people to just put up with it (or fight back).
As damaging and egregious as bullying can be, cyberbullying takes things one step further. Cyberbullying uses the Internet and other electronic forms of technology to post cruel or embarrassing photos, messages, emails, or to make threats. However, the attacker is usually anonymous, unknown, and there is no one to fight against. As a result, the potential cyber bully is often encouraged to create as much havoc in their victim’s life as possible. The potentially viral nature of such posts, that is, the ability for these posts to be widely, rapidly, and endlessly replicated, does not occur in a face-to-face encounter.
A typical (non-cyber) bullying event occurs at one point in time and then ends (although another similar event may occur). Bullying happens at one place in space: a street corner or the office, perhaps. Harassment is often witnessed, and everyone present knows the perpetrator. A cyberbullying incident, on the other hand, can spread to hundreds of people in seconds and to millions of people in a relatively short time, can persist for an extended period of time, can be distributed around the world, and has no one to answer for its action. .
As a result, the damage from such an incident can be repeated and repeated over and over again. Sadistic spells may enjoy repeating themselves and reposting, and even creating websites to encourage their persistence. These sites have a cumulative effect, with unsavory fellow travelers adding their own often excruciatingly unpleasant insults, republishing private images, and multiplying the damage. Some may not realize or care about the damage they cause; others delight in it.
An unfortunate creation of cyberbullying is “revenge porn”. There are sites on the Internet created solely to shame and hurt people (mostly women) by electronically posting and reposting sexual images of a former lover or interest. Some of these posts are designed to shame associates of the person whose pornographic image is posted. The target may be the ex-boyfriend or husband and the victim is “collateral damage”. Even well-known people can engage in the nasty behavior, like the recent case of a hip-hop star and her site featuring a pornographic video of a hip-hop girlfriend getting into a fight with a rapper.
Many victims of seemingly endless cyberbullying, including clients who have come to us for help, have lost their self-esteem. Others have been driven into substance abuse, dropping out of school or society, and such bullying behavior has even been implicated in suicides. While not generally considered a crime, it is far from victimless.
Cyber bullying is a more specific form of cyber bullying and, like cyber bullying, is much more enabled by the anonymity possible through the Internet. It is the use of the Internet and other technologies to harass someone, although some cyberbullying may be secret for a while. While a “traditional” stalker may track a victim’s movements, spying on them from hidden areas, or with binoculars or telescopes, the cyber stalker electronically monitors their target(s).
Much of our social life is semi-public these days, on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. The Internet makes it easy for a person to hide their identity, create a false identity, or impersonate someone else, perhaps as a false friend, making it easier to spy on a person’s activities through social media. Like cyber bullying, the ease of anonymity on the Internet can embolden the cyber bully, thinking (often correctly) that they won’t be found out.
We regularly encounter cases where the stalker has managed to investigate and guess the credentials of their victim’s email or other online accounts, making it easier to uncover the victim’s whereabouts, conversations, and correspondence. In some of these cases, the perpetrator will even impersonate the victim, sending fake emails and messages, posting as the victims themselves, or posting embarrassing images as if the victim herself is the source of the statements, photos, or videos.
This has come to be understood and judged to mean that the government cannot prevent you from saying its article, no matter how much the government or anyone else disagrees. This applies to the entire US government: federal, state, and local entities and public officials of those public entities. You are free to speak in “the public square”. Please note that the Public Plaza concept applies only to government entities, properties and officials. It does not apply to private or commercial property. Property or business owners may prohibit you from saying certain things, or from saying anything on or in their property, business or broadcasts, unless otherwise permitted.
Stalkers can find a way to infiltrate the fabric of a victim’s financial, social and family life, leaving the personal life in tatters. Although it is easy to read about such events and behaviors, it is all over the news, victims are often not taken seriously, with friends and loved ones calling them neurotic or paranoid. Because the cyber bully often tries to damage the victim’s reputation, the reactions of those close to the victim often favor the bully’s goals.
And while cyberbullying is illegal in many parts of the country and the world, these actions rarely rise to the level that law enforcement needs to see them seriously or investigate them. Read between the lines in the news and you’ll find that almost all arrests that include cyber stalking also include a serious threat, a violation of an existing restraining order, identity theft, theft of physical property, or child abuse.
Internet trolling is behavior in which the troll is intended to inflame, annoy, or harm civil discourse. In the context of this series of articles, he tends to disrupt the public or online communication of others through the use of vile invective, insults, and other verbal havoc. He is often misogynistic. The ability to be anonymous on the Internet removes much of the inhibition a person might feel from behaving so impolitely.
A common thread throughout the behaviors described is the ability to remain anonymous on the Internet. One might imagine that removing the option to be anonymous would remove the motivation for the behavior, but in this case, arguably the solution would be worse than the problem. In the first part of this series, we discussed freedom of expression, one of our most important rights, and the importance of anonymity. Both have played a huge role in the very creation of our nation and continue to protect those who report abuse, even when such anonymity allows for other types of abuse. What are we going to do?
In Part 3, we discuss what we can do and what is being done, both legally and socially, to limit harmful cyber behavior.