Cyberbullies have grown up. And with them, ethical, moral and behavioural concerns.
A new study from Simon Fraser University said the teenage online battlefield is carrying through to the arena of adults at Canadian universities.
That wasn’t any news for the St. Thomas psychology department. In 2013, a group of professors and alumni addressed the prevalence of cyber bullying and the lack of intervention by Canadian law in an article for The American Association of Behavioural and Social Sciences Journal.
“Of the 326 students who responded to the survey, 182 (55.8%) had been cyber bullied and 98 (30.1%) more than once,” said the article.
This is important considering cyberbullying can lead to depression. The Cyber Bullying Research Centre said people who have been cyber-bullied are twice as likely to consider suicide than those who have not.
St. Thomas professor Ian Fraser led the research team, who were brought together by their common belief that the numerous methods of cyber-bullying cause a major issue within the criminal justice system.
Fraser said cyberbullies are able to remain anonymous and harass victims 24 hours a day, seven days a week—a fact that highlights the unique dangers of internet-based bullying, given the global audience of the web.
“Hiding behind the cloak of web-invisibility, or assuming somebody else’s mantle, the Internet bully can be faceless. Like road-rage on the internet highway, this means that people who would not normally engage in regular bullying might be more likely to engage in the act,” the article said.
Fraser said cyberbullying is more difficult to identify than traditional bullying, as actions on the Internet tend to have many interpretations.
“That’s why we use emotions,” Fraser said. “We don’t want others to misinterpret our words.”
Fraser said cyberbullies often shield their activities under freedom of speech, which isn’t the greatest argument.
Moreover, Fraser said students’ comments against teachers online most of the times are not considered bullying, as the act doesn’t give the bully any real power, and thus, there’s not a power imbalance in that relationship.
The workplace does not escape this phenomenon either.
Simon Fraser University’s research shows that the emergence of cyberbullying in an older population comes with grown-up consequences, such as ruined professional relationships or reputations, anxiety, sleep deprivation and thoughts of suicide.
Marvin Claybourn, a psychology professor at STU, is about to publish an article in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry about workplace bullying.
Claybourn said bullying among co-workers is not something new.
“What’s new is that people are paying attention to it,” Claybourn said. “Bullying that wasn’t sexual harassment occurred more often, but wasn’t looked at.”
Claybourn said traditional bullying or cyberbullying in the work place isn’t easy to recognize, as it is subtler among adults and often people feel silly when admitting it.
“Face to face interactions can be ambiguous, but at least you can see and interpret the gestures of the other person,” Claybourn said.
Over 69 per cent of all communication is through body language, which means that all that contextual information is lost when communicating over the Internet.
In emails and text messages it would be harder to interpret the meaning and intent. Punctuation could be ambiguous and it would be hard to prove that a message written in upper case had a negative intention.
The idea of regulating the Internet with stricter laws is not simple. In Canada there is little to govern bullying over the Internet.
Fraser said although existing laws in Canada may cover cases of cyber-stalking and defamation; methods such as harassment, exclusion, outing and trickery and impersonation can cause equal damage, but are not illegal.
Fraser said perhaps it is time to look closer to home and join forces to educate children and adults on the proper “etiquette.”
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