A Hidden Side of Cyberbullying

Posted by: Dawn Schell on October 25, 2013 3:59 pm

According to the 2011 KidsHelpPhone survey on Cyberbullying,[1] it “remains a significant problem for many young people in Canada….”.  Cyberbullying may consist of threats, insults, and, as we have seen in a tragic case here in Canada, unwanted photos/videos posted on social networking sites. 

There’s a whole other side to this I wasn’t aware of until I started doing research on this in the past few weeks.  Self-cyberbullying or, as researcher Danah Boyd calls it, “digital self-harm”.   In her 2010 article, she points out, “…there are teens out there who are self-harassing by “anonymously” writing mean questions to themselves and then publicly answering them.”[2]

More recently there have been a couple of high profile cases in the USA and the UK where the threats, nasty comments and harassment have been traced to the victim’s own account or IP address.

Elizabeth Englander, Director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center, conducted some research with first year university students on this topic.  She found, “9% of the subjects told us that they had falsely posted a cruel remark “against” themselves, or cyberbullied themselves, during high school….about half of these “digital self-harmers” had done this only once or very infrequently; the other half  reported that they had cyberbullied themselves more regularly or had one, ongoing episode which lasted at least several months”[3]

It’s not a huge percentage though as Boyd says, “the fact that it exists at all should be a warning to us.”

Which leads me to ask– what lies behind this type of behavior?  In Boyd’s article she surmised three possible explanations:

It’s a cry for help

They want to look cool 

They’re trying to trigger compliments

Knowing youth as I do I can see how these would be potential explanations.  Not necessarily rational or logical but still explanations. 

Englander’s students were “most likely to say they actually did this in an attempt to gain the attention of a peer…Girls were more likely than boys to say that their motivation was “proving I could take it,” encouraging others “to worry about me,” or to “get adult attention.” Boys were more likely to say that they did this because they were mad, as a way to start a fight…”

Hmmm.  Very interesting explanations as well.   It’s clear that more research needs to be done in this area.

Regardless of whether someone’s experience of cyberbullying is “real” or self-directed the key is to, as Englander says, “focus on the targets of online abuse. When a student claims to be a victim of cyberbullying, they need our support and attention. That need should be front and center, regardless of whether the cyberbullying is real or manufactured. In fact, students who self-cyberbully may be among those who need our attention most of all.”

Dawn M. Schell, MA, CCC, CCDP is an affiliate of Worldwide Therapy Online Inc.  http://www.therapyonline.ca


*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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