It’s not uncommon for people to perceive rude or mean behaviour as bullying. There is, however, an important distinction between accidental or isolated meanness, and willful and ongoing cruelty towards others.
When it comes to addressing a problem as endemic as bullying, it’s important for us all to understand that not all hurtful behaviour is bullying.
A closer look at what bullying is, and what it isn’t
In a recent report written by the Cyberbullying Research Center, bullying is broadly defined as the act of inflicting “willful and repeated harm” unto others.
In her book, ‘The Bully, The Bullied and The Bystander’ Barbara Coloroso describes bullying as ‘arrogance in action’ and ‘contempt’ for an individual who, for whatever reason, is deemed unworthy of consideration.
Author Trudy Ludwig adds to this definition, remarking that “what makes bullying different from the normal conflicts kids have with one another is the fact that bullying is comprised of the following key elements: the intent to harm; an imbalance of power; repeated aggression and/or the threat of further aggression”.
In simple terms: The act of repeatedly doing something that is intentionally hurtful to another person is bullying; while if the perpetrator does something intentionally hurtful but they only do it once – or if their behaviour is unintentionally hurtful – this isn’t considered bullying.
Different forms of cyberbullying
The definition of cyberbullying is, by and large, the same as conventional bullying, with the primary point of difference being that cyberbullying is the act of inflicting willful and repeated harm unto others through the use of technology. This redefines the nuances of traditional bullying and can make cyberbullying harder to recognise.
When children are deliberately mean to other children in face to face interactions, it is often easier for those involved to distinguish whether the interaction fits in with the typical bully-victim paradigm; or if it is normal peer conflict. This is because there are typically witnesses, visual cues, and an apparent power dynamic between the person doing the bullying and the person being bullied.
Cyberbullying, however, is a slightly more tricky topic, because perpetrators of online bullying do not necessarily yield power over their victims: which is to say, they don’t have to be bigger, stronger, smarter or more popular: they simply need to have an internet connection and an inclination to harm others.
Here’s a list of different forms of cyberbullying behaviours:
Account hacking and deliberate online defamation
Setting up fake accounts to trick others or imitate someone else
Repeatedly trolling or harassing someone online
Repeatedly sending mean, threatening, or hurtful messages and comments
Encouraging another person to self-harm
Sharing images of someone without their consent (which can also be considered image-based abuse)
Spreading nasty rumours about another person online
Forcibly excluding someone from an online group
Stealing someone’s passwords or changing their personal information and privacy settings
Bystanders can also inadvertently participate in cyberbullying by liking, sharing, or redistributing harmful material; while they may not be the original instigator of the abuse, they are expanding its reach by sharing it with a wider audience.
How to detect different forms of cyberbullying
Knowing whether or not an unpleasant online interaction that your child has experienced is cyberbullying can be challenging: jokes can go too far; tone can be easily misconstrued, and intent is often different from impact.
Generally speaking, if the behaviour that is causing your child to feel upset is repetitive in nature, then the interaction can be classified as cyberbullying.
If your child makes it clear to the perpetrator that their behaviour is upsetting them and the person continues to do it, this dictates that the abuse is deliberately harmful and can be considered cyberbullying.
Below we have provided some discussion opportunities that may help to prevent confusion surrounding what cyberbullying is, and what it isn’t:
Have you ever been misunderstood in text? For example, have you ever texted something that was meant as a joke and your friend thought you were being serious?
Have you ever misunderstood someone else over text message or chat? How did you respond? What could you have done differently?
How can you tell if you’ve hurt someone’s feelings without meaning to?
How can you show bravery if someone is being cyberbullied and you are a witness?
What should you do if someone tells you that you’ve hurt their feelings; should you apologise and stop, even if it wasn’t your intention to upset them?