Cyberbullying is defined in legal glossaries as:
- actions that use information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group, that is intended to harm another or others.
- use of communication technologies for the intention of harming another person
- use of internet service and mobile technologies such as web pages and discussion groups as well as instant messaging or SMS text messaging with the intention of harming another person.
Examples of what constitutes cyberbullying include communications that seek to intimidate, control, manipulate, put down, falsely discredit, or humiliate the recipient. The actions are deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour intended to harm another. Cyberbullying has been defined by The National Crime Prevention Council: “When the Internet, cell phones or other devices are used to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person."
The practice of cyberbullying is not limited to children and, while the behavior is identified by the same definition when practiced by adults, the distinction in age groups sometimes refers to the abuse as cyberstalking or cyberharassment when perpetrated by adults toward adults.
Common tactics used by cyberstalkers are performed in public forums, social media or online information sites and are intended to threaten a victim's earnings, employment, reputation, or safety. Behaviors may include encouraging others to harass the victim and trying to affect a victim's online participation. Many cyberstalkers try to damage the reputation of their victim and turn other people against them. Source: Wikipedia… Cyberbullying & Cyberstalking.
A cyberbully could be a complete stranger to you or someone that you know.
This article is a result of having dealt with a cyberbully over the past year or so, one that I have never actually met in person. I would like to share some tips & techniques that I have learned during my journey so that you don’t have to go through the misery. And that dear reader is what the bully wants. They want you to be miserable. That is their goal.
My experience began innocently enough when I cautioned a poster to a Facebook Group page that I moderated. The individual had added their comments to a post that I had made and side-tracked the conversation. As the Moderator I felt that the content posted was inappropriate for a public forum as it was harassing another member of the group and making veiled threats.
I advised the individual that firstly, I felt that that the content they posted was inappropriate for a public forum. Secondly, that their dispute was with a specific individual and that they should deal with them directly. Thirdly, I made myself available for discussion of this matter and that should they continue further in this manner I would be obligated to revoke their membership from the Facebook group. In their self-righteous indignation they quickly posted several more posts, however this time they were directed at me. As I had previously cautioned them I revoked their membership to the Facebook group page, which in turn deleted the comments to the post.
Thinking that the incident was over I was dismayed to find a tirade of accusations posted on their Twitter feed about me. I then found that I was highlighted on their website’s blog as being the scourge of mankind as well as attacked on their personal Facebook page. I like attention as much as the next guy but this was out of control!
The intent of this article is not to get into the “he said” … “she said” details of this situation but to learn from it.
I have worked some 33 years as a Registered Nurse in the field of psychiatry/mental health and through those years I believe that I have developed a good understanding of human behaviour. At least I am able to recognize behaviour that does not fall within the parameters of so-called normal behaviour. Over the next few paragraphs I will endeavour to provide some background info on why bullies bully from a psychological perspective. It isn’t a one size fits all profile but I would challenge you to think about people that you know or have encountered and determine if they fall into any of these categories.
Some people display paranoid personality traits without meeting all of the criteria of being diagnosed as a paranoid personality disorder. Common characteristics of a paranoid individual are as follows: suspiciousness (looking for hidden reasons, meanings, causes etc. to another’s behaviour and/or actions); hypervigilance i.e. being super aware of situations that they feel could cause them harm; short-tempered and lack of trust. The individual that is bullying you may have paranoia and for whatever reasons have chosen you as a target.
Working in mental health for so many years I learned an adage that has served me well … “all behaviour has meaning.” The challenge is in determining what the meaning of the behaviour is and what it is supposed to do for the individual displaying it.
A cyberbully displays the same characteristics of a bully in the “real world.” They usually have inadequate personalities, poor interpersonal skills, poor coping skills and a lack of empathy. They seek out individuals who they feel that by dominating them, they can raise their stature.
I recall a book written back in the 1970’s entitled The Games People Play, by a psychologist named Eric Berne. Berne outlined different interpersonal transactions that people have with each other calling them “games”. Ideally, as adults respectful of each other we communicate at the same level and the communication is productive. Another game, one that is not productive is “I’m not okay, you’re okay! In this game one person does not feel good about themselves. They have learned that if they bring another person i.e. one who is okay, down to their level they subsequently feel better about themselves. It is definitely dysfunctional but it is a game that is likely fairly common. A bully looks at another person and decides that they want to bring them down to their level. Victims are created. Victims may not even know in the beginning that they have been targeted or why. Victims are not always passive individuals that are setting themselves up for bullying as some people would believe. A bully may target an individual who is more popular, attractive, successful, charismatic, smarter etc. than they believe that they are.
This article is focussing on the on-line behaviour of a bully, also known as cyberbully. Perhaps you will encounter them on a Facebook page as I did or any of the numerous discussion groups that proliferate on the internet.
For whatever reason, you are chosen as their target. It might start out with their disagreement of something that you have posted. Then it escalates to attacking not only your content but your credibility in posting the comments. Then it becomes a personal attack where your personal traits and characteristics and so-called short comings are focused on. It doesn’t matter what you respond with as the bully’s focus is in maintaining one-upmanship, thereby controlling you. You can tell that you are dealing with a paranoid individual in that they will likely respond to your post in a matter of minutes. They are at the ready, waiting for your response to be posted and then with a distant “Gottcha!” they respond back in a caustic manner. “How dare you!” seems to be their battle cry.
Cyberbullies will often align themselves with influential people or organizations, where there may not be an actual connection, in order to add credence to their accusations. They will often make generalizing statements. “Everyone says that you …!” “XXX agrees with me that you …” “You always …”
So what can you do to mitigate the damage done by a cyberbully? As William Feathers is often quoted as saying “knowledge is power!” You need to regain your power from the bully and mitigate the damage that they can do to you. Something to remember is that anything that is posted to the internet will likely be there forever. If you are in business and trying to develop a business or personal brand via networking and/or using the internet it is important to think of damage control.
The following is a list of strategies that you can use to regain your power over a cyberbully. They are not organized in steps but rather initiatives that can be underway at the same time.
Social Media Discussion Groups:
If one of your posts is targeted by a bully, as hard as it will be, you need to resist the urge to respond in kind. This is what the bully wants. By responding, in their mind you justify what they wrote and that gives them the impetus to continue and escalate their postings. It takes at least two people to argue. If you don’t, it makes it more challenging for them to continue on their own.
If you are the Moderator of the group and you are under attack from a bully I would suggest responding to them with a firm directive approach as used in the human resources field. Provide them with an explanation of what behaviour is inappropriate, what behaviour would be appropriate and/or corrective measures that you would suggest to improve the situation, a time frame for the changes to take place and finally an outline of what measures that you will take if the inappropriate behaviour is not corrected. If the behaviour continues, follow through with the measures that you had outlined.
It is difficult to determine how the cyberbully will respond with the above described actions. It could escalate matters. It is also difficult if not impossible to predict the future and the past can get blurry as matters escalate. I would recommend that you create a document in your favourite word processing program to chronicle the steps that you have taken in the matter and to provide evidence of the abuse that has been directed your way. I would recommend an inexpensive program called Snaggit from Techsmith. It allows you to do screen captures of info that you want to keep. Simply highlight an area that you want to capture. It loads it into the Snaggit editor where you can copy and paste into your word document.
If at anytime that you feel that your personal safety is at risk, notify your local police department. In my case, I sought out legal advice and was advised to take out a peace bond on the individual. This is a legal document that you can present to the police should a person be within your immediate vicinity without just cause. My local police declined following up on my complaint saying that the individual hadn’t crossed over from being a nuisance to an actual threat and that they were seeing an increase in this type of behaviour. Since I wasn’t able to get a peace bond secured, I did ensure that a file was initiated at the police detachment and my details were recorded should I need to refer to them at a later date. This was all added to my personal file.
If you are the creator of the post that the bully has used as a soapbox you are likely able to delete the entire post. This takes it away from public view. The downside of this action is that should you do so, you will be unable to register a complaint with the Administrators of the specific social media. Once it is deleted, it is gone. Forever? I’m not sure about that. Make sure you do a screen shot capture before deleting the entries. We will explore how to register a complaint shortly.
If the post in question i.e. where you have been attacked is created by someone else you can report it to Facebook administration by clicking on the small graphical V that appears in the top right hand corner of the original post. It gives you the option of reporting the post or labelling it as spam. Doing so takes the post out of the Timeline and presumably Facebook will investigate it. If you are the originator of the post you only have the option of hiding your post or deleting it. Remember to take a screen capture before taking action.
Twitter seems to be a little more out front with how they process complaints “Users are allowed to post content, including potentially inflammatory content, provided they do not violate the Twitter Rules and Terms of Service.”
“In order to investigate reports of abusive behaviors, violent threats or a breach of privacy, we need to be in contact with the actual person affected or their authorized representative. We are unable to respond to requests from uninvolved parties regarding those issues to mitigate the likelihood of false or unauthorized reports. If you are not an authorized representative but you are in contact with the individual, encourage the individual to file a report through our forms.”
You can also unfollow a person who is harassing you on Twitter. This removes them from your timeline but not from the Twitter stream. Their posts will remain visible on their Twitter profile homepage. Remember to take a screen capture before unfollowing them.
Linkedin doesn’t seem to address the issue of abusive posts other than advising that you can report inappropriate comments by flagging a group discussion.
“Open the discussion and click Flag to notify the group manager that an item might be inappropriate, or that it may need to be moved to the Jobs or Promotions tab.
To flag a comment in a group discussion:
Move your cursor over a comment and click Flag as inappropriate under a comment.
You can also contact your group owner or manager directly. The group manager decides what action (if any) will be taken.
Website or Blog:
If malicious content is being posted about you on the cyberbully’s website or blog an option is to register a complaint with their webhosting provider and or their website developer. This information is generally available by doing a Whois domain lookup in a search engine such as Google. In my case, the website developer tried to mitigate his responsibility by saying that he wasn’t responsible for the content of the site only the operating system. I left him with the idea that he may share liability should I decide to go forward with legal proceedings against the cyberbully.
Speaking of Google … it is worth your while to Google yourself every so often to see what is floating around in cyberspace about you. Simply enter your name into Google or another search engine to see what is out there. When your results are displayed Google allows you to fine tune your search. Simply click on Search Tools and you indicate the time span that you would like displayed.
In summary, cyberbullys can make your life miserable and take your concentration away from more important issues, if you let them. To be successful at networking you need to open yourself up to possibilities and unfortunately one of those possibilities is that someone will want to take advantage of you or do harm. I hope that this article will give you strategies to regain your power should you encounter a cyberbully. Bullying in any form should not be tolerated and we all need to do our part to reduce it. Please share this article with anyone that you feel may benefit.
Top photo credit: Enzo Morelos via photopin cc