This blog originally appeared on Dark Shiny Unicorn with the title of “Cyberbullying"
(The Love Club: Picture still from a behind the scenes. - Credit Teressa Gehrke)
Author Teressa Gehrke
Cyberbullying, has it happened to you? It has happened to me. And yes, recently as an adult. I typically don’t respond to nasty comments. I block people or I just don’t post to public forums anymore because of the vitriol these days. I don’t have time for negativity.
What is cyberbullying?
The government site, StopBullying.gov, defines it as “Cyberbullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content.” The site also states, “Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behavior.” This can be done by people of your own age or of differing ages. A recent news story alleged a mother bullied girls on her daughter’s high school cheerleading squad in order to get them kicked off the team. She used deep fakes to illustrate how bad and immoral these girls were and how they should be removed from the squad, so that her daughter could be moved up on the team. The mother was arrested and charged with cyber harassment of a child and harassment. Yes, cyberbullying can be a crime.
How does cyberbullying work?
First, you need a forum to communicate and some other type of mean-spirited motivation. Some of the tactics described by StopBullying.gov include:
Posting comments or rumors about someone online that are mean, hurtful, or embarrassing, especially about race, religion, ethnicity, or other personal characteristics.
Threatening to hurt someone or telling them to kill themselves.
Posting a mean or hurtful picture or video.
Pretending to be someone else online in order to solicit or post personal or false information about someone else.
Creating a mean or hurtful webpage about someone.
Doxing is a form of online harassment used to exact revenge and to threaten and destroy the privacy of individuals by making their personal information public, including addresses, social security, credit card and phone numbers, links to social media accounts, and other private data.
Can cyberbullying have a financial gain as a motivation?
Of course! In the right context, it harkens back to the day of when people would bully a kid on the playground for their lunch money. It’s the same concept, right? Now, we do it with cryptocurrency and ransomware. A cousin of this would also be cyber coercion, which I discuss in Blog 9 & Blog 10.
Personal gain is an obvious motivation. Popularity itself can be viewed as a currency to elevate one’s stature above others. Zoe Rose shared in Trip Wire, that “it has been often used in an attempt by the bully to raise themselves above their target and/or discredit the target.” I like to think that most people aren’t very good at this and that it often backfires in epic proportion. However, the anonymity behind cyberbullying can be daunting. It can also be incredibly hurtful to the victim.
In addition, fake profiles that people create can make a bad situation worse as we know. The fake profiles are known as Sock Puppets. “They are online identities used for disguised activity by the operator.” They can have a useful role in OSINT work and threat intelligence. However, sock puppets can also be incredibly damaging by pretending to be someone you’re not to obtain personal information from a target making them vulnerable to exploitation and cyberbullying.
How does cyberbullying manifest?
According to KidsHealth.org, signs of cyberbullying vary, but they may include the following:
Being emotionally upset during or after using the Internet or the phone
Being very secretive or protective of one’s digital life
Withdrawal from family members, friends, and activities
Avoiding school or group gatherings
Slipping grades and “acting out” in anger at home
Changes in mood, behaviour, sleep, or appetite
Wanting to stop using the computer or cell phone
Being nervous or jumpy when getting an instant message, text, or email
Avoiding discussions about computer or cell phone activities
What do we do when we’re faced with a cyber bully?
Psychotherapist, Jenise Harmon suggests the following:
Prepare what you want to say specifically, as well as where you want to say it. Having a plan will help relieve some of the anxiety you might be feeling, and it can also help ensure you approach the situation safely. Will this be done privately or publicly?
Calmly and self-assuredly stand up for yourself. Avoid getting emotional or escalating the situation. If you don’t think you’re ready, focus on not giving them the reaction they want for now. Practice what you plan on saying.
Be specific about the issue at hand. Avoid blanket requests like “stop bullying me” and specifically tell them what they’re doing that is not okay.
Any perceived physical threat should be handled with the assistance of local law enforcement or other community resource. You may need legal interventions (like a restraining order, police report, etc.) to reduce the risk of harm.
If you’re being cyberbullied document everything. That includes times and dates of phone calls, text messages, and emails. If you’re being cyberbullied take screen captures of posts. I’ve kept those screenshots for a rainy day just in case.
Prior to the pandemic, I started mental health counseling to help me find ways to deal with conflict resolution. I’ve always been shy and reserved, but in some ways I’m also outspoken and I consider myself an activist for just causes and equality. However, not everyone agrees with my stance. I wanted to address conflict in a healthy way. Having a counselor during the pandemic has been incredibility helpful during times of anxiety, uncertainty, and handling hostile and toxic people.
How you can you support a victim?
If you know someone being cyberbullied, be supportive, talk to them and help them in a sincere and caring way. It can be scary at times and no one should walk through that journey alone because going it alone can really be a life or death situation. What else can you do to protect yourself from online bullying? Post in the comments your experience with cyberbullying and how you were able to prevent it or combat it.
CSNP Announcement of Cyberbullying Awareness Scholarship Offered by McCready Law
With the amount of technology at our fingertips, children, teens, and young adults are gaining access to devices and social media outlets at a much younger age than generations previously. McCready Law understands the negative impact that cyberbullying can have on someone's life. That is why they created the Cyberbullying Awareness Scholarship, for more details on how to apply for this scholarship, please visit their scholarship page. The deadline for applicants is May 31, 2021.
“The Cyberbullying Awareness Scholarship is open to high school seniors planning to attend college, or anyone currently enrolled in an undergraduate, graduate, or law program at a college or university in the United States. Applicants should be in good academic standing and have a cumulative GPA of a 3.0 or higher.”
About the Author: Teressa Gehrke aka Dark Shiny Unicorn is a Colorado-based cybersecurity professional who incorporates her anthropology background into cybersecurity.