From working and studying online to socializing, shopping, and online banking, it seems that many people’s lives have been digitized since March when the COVID-19 pandemic began to dissipate around the world. And while the acceleration of digitization has its advantages, it has not come without problems.
A problem that has not kept a healthy distance in this time of crisis has been bullying. According to a report from L1ght, a company that detects and filters abusive and toxic content online, hate speech among children and adolescents has increased by 70% since the students started classes online.
In South Korea, cyberbullying is a national issue
In addition to coronavirus, another crisis contributing to the growth of cyberbullying is misinformation. In South Korea, a young woman became infected with COVID-19 and, unaware of it, met with her church members to organize a youth program. Upon testing positive, the details of her private life came to light through cyberbullying, which is common in the country because of the level of scrutiny given to people’s lives in that nation’s fight against coronavirus. The authorities discovered and revealed her personal data, such as her age, sex, congregation’s name, the most recent places where she went, and the people she saw. The bullying that provoked this invasion of privacy went so far as to invent an affair with a church member, all happening while the young woman was recovering in the hospital.
In addition to the coronavirus, another crisis that has increased cyberbullying cases is misinformation.
The practice of maliciously disclosing personal information about someone is known as doxing. This is a severe problem in this Asian nation that has led several stars to suicide, along with cyberbullying.
Although the South Korean government learned its lesson and stopped publishing the age, gender, and workplace of infected people, the victims’ fear of being exposed has caused many to remain at home. This case shows how cyberbullying is a serious problem that can occur at all levels, not just younger students.
Why has cyberbullying increased during the pandemic?
Part of the problem arises because jobs and education are undertaken remotely, but also, free time online has increased. Previously, one could go to gyms, parties, classes, or whatever activities outside the house, but due to quarantine, much of the entertainment and leisure activities are carried out through the internet.
Having more digital leisure time, coupled with increased stress, can make people hostile. L1ght discovered a 40% increase in toxicity on popular gaming platforms, like Discord. Also, because there are a higher number of people online, there are many more possible aggressors and potential victims.
Stress can lead many to develop self-preservation and self-defense behaviors, even more, when dealing with a crisis such as the pandemic. Moreover, although it happens to everyone, young people are more likely to become hostile in their online interactions, even with friends.
Another reason online bullying has increased is that people are bored. Sadly, many young people become involved in cyberbullying merely because they have nothing else to do. This type of activity fuels their need for attention, even if it is negative.
Cyberbullying in children and young people
One in five children age 10 to 18 has been a victim of online bullying. Securty.org researched whether the pandemic would increase that number, so they interviewed more than 500 American parents with children in that age range. Twenty-one percent responded that their children had been cybernetically harassed. Of this percentage, 56% reported that the bullying had occurred in the last six months.
Many young people engage in cyberbullying simply because they have nothing else to do.
The study also found that it was probable that the victims used social media. For example, 69% of parents replied that their children have Snapchat, compared to 55% of parents whose children had not been harassed. Among the social networks where major cyberbullying was reported is YouTube with 79%, followed by Snapchat with 69%, and TikTok with 64%.
How to help a student who suffers from online bullying?
Although disconnecting seems like the most obvious solution, the first step should be to recognize the student for their courage in reporting bullying, according to Kathryn Seigfried-Spellar, associate professor in the Department of Computing and Information Technology at Purdue University.
“Children are afraid of being victims of cyberbullying and how parents and teachers will react to knowing this fact. They’re afraid they’ll take the technology away from them,” says Seigfried-Spellar. For this reason, it is important that we reassure them that they will not be punished for making this type of complaint and that their devices will not be removed, especially at this time when the internet and networks are their only window of socialization with their friends and access to education.
One in five children has been a victim of online bullying in the United States.
The next step is to turn off the cameras. This situation is delicate, according to Seigfried-Spellar. Numerous teachers feel the need to monitor their students at all times to maintain discipline and level of attention, so they ask for the cameras to remain on. However, this can lead a student to forget that they are visible and make an embarrassing mistake, while another classmate takes a screenshot to embarrass him or her later.
Encouraging online socialization is also extremely useful for students, especially when it is normal to feel isolated. Linda Charmaraman, director of the Youth, Media, and Wellbeing Research Lab at the Wellesley Centers for Women, researched how young people use social media and the internet. She discovered that more than half send or receive online social and emotional support. She also found that young people were more inclined to post their moods or write positive messages to make others feel better than the previous year.
Another important way to help combat online bullying is to be current on the resources and information about cyberbullying in digital media, know the technical terms, and have prevention strategies. One of these strategies could be to teach digital citizenship skills, including cybersecurity, and be respectful online. According to Seigfried-Spellar, the best thing is to introduce students to make better decisions. If they talk to each other and form a community, even if it is online, it will help them think about their classmate before sending a toxic message or guide them to know what to do if they witness cyberbullying. For her, teaching digital citizenship skills will make students realize that “you can learn that you have the opportunity to do something positively or negatively in every single thing that you do.”
Translation by Daniel Wetta.