“My mum told me to ‘just ignore’ what was going on, but when it's constantly a click away, how can I?”
Cyberbullying among young people is one of the key concerns of the modern age. The leap into the world of online has transformed the way that most of us connect and communicate with each other.
Whether through the availability of social media apps or online messaging on our smartphones, there is no limit to how much individuals can stay ‘in touch’ with each other.
But this idea of being ‘constantly connected’ is not without its consequences.
Many experts and health professionals have warned of the continual use of mobiles and smartphones, particularly for children and young adults.
But there are now growing concerns over the psychological health risks that can also emerge from the overuse of phones and social media. While having a large online network can have its advantages, it also leaves users vulnerable to many different types of people.
What do we mean by this? Well, can you imagine feeling trapped, unsafe and not good enough?
Many of us may have felt this way at one point in our life – perhaps at school or when we were younger. But more and more young people are being made to feel this way while they are online as well and in the apparent respite of their own homes.
Cyberbullying is a damaging epidemic. It is taking away the happiness and safety of individuals and can lead to severe, even life-threatening consequences.
The young British Asian community is also hugely affected by this growing form of electronic bullying.
DESIblitz investigates the growing impact online bullying has on young British Asians.
What is Cyberbullying and Who does it Affect?
Cyberbullying refers to the act of bullying or harassment of an individual or group via electronic communication e.g. phone calls, instant messaging, or social media.
It is dubbed as the ‘bullying of the modern digital age’, as many aspects of real-life bullying have made their way into the virtual space. For instance, derogatory statements, sexism, homophobic and racial slurs, faith and religious-based discrimination, and disability-based bullying.
In particular, the UK and US have both seen a stark rise in the number of cases of racial and faith-motivated bullying or ‘hate speech’. This directly affects many young British Asians who spend much of their time online.
18-year-old Hassan, a victim of cyberbullying, says:
“I didn’t feel safe. At home or at school. They took over my life.”
Another victim, Neena, aged 20, says:
“It all started with some harmless banter online but then it got ugly and I started to get social media messages which were very scary. I couldn’t tell anyone because no one would understand this form of bullying. Especially, my family.”
In the Annual Bullying Survey 2017 by DitchtheLabel.org, 17% of people between 12 and 20 across the UK had experienced online bullying of some kind. 29% experience cyberbullying at least once a month.
The nature of the online bullying varies. 68% have been sent a nasty private message, while 41% have had rumours about them posted online. 39% have had a nasty comment posted on their social media profile, such as Facebook.
In a separate 2016 study based on Cyberbullying and Hate Speech conducted on Twitter, an incredible 7.7 million tweets on racial intolerance in the UK and US had been posted over the span of four years.
Alia, aged 21, who has suffered online abuse says:
“I just got trolled for the way I looked and what I wore. People find it so easy to write nasty things about you online but don’t realise how they can affect the person. It’s mentally and emotionally draining.”
The internet’s global accessibility and continuous expansion have contributed to the rise in cyberbullying, offering a new means for bullies to continue to intimidate and threaten behind a screen.
However, many of these racist tweets are a direct reflection of current events. Therefore, what these figures also indicate is that there are now more opportunities for users to pass on abusive comments to others, even if they may not be bullies in real life.
Amrik, aged 19, says:
“A friend of mine who was confident and full of life had her life destroyed by online bullies. They mocked her and made her feel so self-conscious and bad that she began to suffer from severe anxiety and depression. It was painful watching her go through this.”
Going back to the Annual Bullying Survey 2017 by DitchtheLabel.org, 69% of respondents aged between 12 and 20 admitted that they had done something abusive towards another person online. 35% had sent a screenshot of someone’s status or photo to laugh at them in a group chat, while 17% had liked or shared something online that openly mocked another person.
Incidents such as this have made many question what constitutes as cyberbullying, and where the line can be drawn between ‘playful banter’ and ‘online abuse’.
Different Types of Cyberbullying
Unsurprisingly, many young people now own and use a smartphone on a regular basis.
According to The UK Communications Market Report 2017 by Ofcom:
“Smartphone ownership is highest among younger adults; more than nine in ten 16-24s and 25-34s (both 96%) own one.”
This rise of smartphone ownership among individuals has also increased access to the Internet and particularly social media. According to research conducted on Android phone users, social media apps like Facebook and Twitter were used the most each day (12.61 sessions per user) while communication apps such as WhatsApp see on average 12.35 sessions per day.
Interestingly, the report also found that use of these apps was on average higher in the evening than during the day. This means that most online users are active when they are back in the apparent safety net of the home.
With such unlimited access to apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, users can be left open to abuse and harassment, whether through images and videos uploaded or personal posts.
Contrary to general belief, online bullying can take many different forms. Here are some of the most common forms of bullying that take place online, and can have a severe impact on young people:
The act of sending offensive or abusive messages on posts, photos, chat rooms, instant messaging and gaming sites.
When someone sends untrue, damaging and fake information about an individual. Denigration can include sharing photos of someone to ridicule them and spreading rumours/gossip. There have even been cases of bullies altering photos of individuals before posting them online.
Flaming or Trolling
Referring to someone purposely using extreme, offensive language in order to get into online arguments and fights. Their aim is to evoke a reaction and enjoy making other members distressed.
When someone hacks into another person’s email or social media account in order to use said person’s online identity to post vicious or embarrassing material.
Outing or Trickery
When someone tricks another individual into revealing secrets or personal information and sharing this with others – this comes in the form of messages, photos and videos.
The act of repeatedly sending threatening, intimidating or harassing messages. This can also include engaging in online activates that make a person afraid for their safety. These actions can also be illegal.
Intentionally leaving someone out of a group such as group messages, online apps and gaming sites. This is a form of social cyberbullying.
The posting online or sharing of intimate videos and images without consent.
Young British Asians have come across a number of these forms of cyberbullying.
Meena, aged 22, says:
“My ex-boyfriend threatened to upload intimate photos of me online after we had a fight and broke-up as revenge porn. But when I threatened him with the police, he didn’t do it.”
Jasbir, aged 25, recalls getting cyberstalked and says:
“After a long-term relationship, I parted with my girlfriend. But she could not accept we finished. So, she started to stalk me online and kept on messaging me. Sometimes up to 30 times a day. Telling me she could not live without me and would do something to herself. At other times she left messages saying she was going to accuse me of rape. It all got too much. I had to tell the police.”
Mushtaq, aged 21, says:
“I was a victim of outing threats on a gay app. Someone found out my real identity and because I paid him no attention, he said he was going to post images of me online and reveal to my family that I was gay.”
Tanvir, aged 18, a victim of exclusion says:
“I love gaming online but once people found out I was Asian, they would not pick me in their teams or leave me out from matches. I was also abused and called names online like pa**i and ‘we don’t want your kind here’. I use to feel really hurt and let down because I could play better than some of the guys online.”
Jasmine, aged 20, a victim of harassment says:
“I met a guy online and we got messaging and chatting. It got intimate. After a few months, he said he wanted to meet me for real. I lived in a different city to him. I told him I couldn’t because I wasn’t comfortable to do so yet.
“But he started to get funny and started to harass me online, sending me hurtful messages, calling me horrible names and threatening to come to and find me. I got scared and told my friend, who told the police.”
Sheena, aged 21, who has been trolled many times, says:
“On Instagram, I had had the most trolling ever. I’ve had comments from Asian guys which have been far worse than anyone. From making fun of my body to accusing me of showing too much and being desperate. I’ve been called everything from a whore to a slut to a maneater. Just because I like to upload photos which make me confident of how I look.”
The Dark Side of Being Online
Much like verbal, physical and social bullying; online bullying can have its own consequences.
According to DitchTheLabel.org, 41% of those who had been bullied online developed social anxiety; 37% developed depression, 26% had suicidal thoughts and 25% had self-harmed.
Jasmin, 22, says:
“The internet is such a big space, everything seems to get everywhere and to everyone.”
In one case study conducted by the survey, a 13-year-old girl revealed:
“I was sent loads of horrible messages on several social media accounts, sent death threats with people telling me to kill myself. I also received phone calls and text messages attacking me.
“Furthermore, they were standing outside my house being abusive and saying horrible things to me. Fake accounts were made using my name to be horrible to others and to me.”
There are many misconceptions that surround bullying that takes place online.
Some believe that this type of harassment is not the same as physical bullying. In many cases, people can assume that cyberbullying can be solved by simply removing yourself from the online world and switching off your phone. Yet, such a belief can be misguided.
Dr Lucy Maddox of the British Psychological Society says:
“Before someone could be bullied at school but could go home and have a respite from it, now it can go on for 24 hours.”
Cyberbullying can also affect users while they are in the apparent safety of their home. And this can lead to a different kind of fear and humiliation, one that is more difficult to escape from:
“You can’t block people making fake profiles of you, or stop them posting horrible comments or images. You can report it, but there’s still lots that you can do within the rules to make someone’s life hell.”
“It’s a bit naive of you to think turning off your computer will solve that. Actually, stupid, not naive,” says Jas.
Numerous media outlets have begun reporting on the extreme consequences of cyberbullying, and instances where some young people have also taken their own lives.
Mehak, 15, shares her experience with cyberbullying in the Asian community:
“I thought about suicide an awful lot. It seemed like there was no way out. My family just didn’t understand how much pain I was in to think about ending my life…”
“Yes, there is definitely still a stigma around suicide and bullying in the community. It made telling someone about the situation so much harder.”
The effects of (cyber) bullying have been linked to numerous mental health disorders such as Depression, anxiety, eating disorders etc. Not only this, but victims can also experience sickness, vomiting and stomach pains. Victims who have been put under prolonged stress as a result of (cyber) bullying can also face immunosuppression meaning they are more likely to become ill.
Heightened levels of insecurity are also key concerns of being online. This is especially the case amongst young girls and boys who face pressure to look and be a certain way.
The ‘selfie culture’ of photoshop and airbrushing can change natural features to project images of so-called ‘perfection’. But they also lead to unrealistic expectations, that, of course, cannot be achieved in real life.
Thus additional issues of body-shaming and low self-esteem can also arise, with many young girls and boys feeling insecure about their own body and wishing they looked different. The continual expectations to look ‘Instagram perfect’ can really take their toll.
Overall, what emerges from this open and unlimited access to the online world is a sense of dependency on it. This is particularly the case for young people, who have not lived in a world where the internet did not exist.
Therefore, some can find themselves addicted to checking their Facebook multiple times a day or spend the majority of their time communicating with each other online as opposed to in person.
In addition to online addiction, privacy also becomes an issue, as people become more willing to share their personal lives with those they only know in the virtual world.
Growing Impact on Young Asians
Despite the evident research into the consequences of online bullying, many South Asian victims feel they cannot talk to or even mention their experiences to their family for fear of being ridiculed or disregarded:
“When I told my mum, she told me to ‘just ignore’ what was going on, but when its constantly a click away, how can I?” says Manny, 20.
The stigma around mental health among South Asians is still prominent, however, there seems to also be a stigma around cyberbullying. Much of what happens online cannot be monitored physically by parents nor can any physical wounds be seen on said victims, and so many people assume that cyberbullying either doesn’t exist or isn’t as serious as physical bullying.
However, the increase in the importance of social media in our lives means cyberbullying is notoriously becoming an ‘easy and accessible’ way to bully. It can be noted as a worldwide epidemic.
The stigma surrounding cyberbullying and its effects amongst South Asians is costing people their lives.
And so, it is important to re-educate parents on the presence and severity of cyberbullying.
Some important pieces of information include:
- Roughly 1 in 3 young people have experienced online threats.
- But only 1 in 6 parents knows their child is being cyberbullied.
- There are different types of cyberbullying.
- You can monitor this, simply by checking in with the young person, asking if everything is okay online etc.
- You can report it to the police.
What to Do if You are Being Cyberbullied
- Do NOT delete any messages or pictures (screenshot them if necessary) – these can be used as evidence!
- Tell someone you trust, this can be a parent, teacher, relative or friend.
- Take care of yourself – through activities such as meditation, exercise, arts and crafts, taking a bath, reading a book and other self-soothing techniques. (This can help with regulating emotions)
With cyberbullying being such a global issue, many innovators around the world have attempted to offer solutions to prevent online bullying from happening.
Trisha Prabhu is a Google Science Fair 2014 Global finalist who developed the Rethink software to help combat Cyberbullying.
Her software works by detecting potentially offensive posts and offering the individual a chance to reconsider what they have written before pressing send. Her motto is to ‘Rethink what you write before the damage is done’. Prabhu serves as a reminder that our words are significantly powerful and we all should think before we speak and type.
We should all strive to advocate compassion and kindness into our lives both online and offline.
Take a look at her discussing the issue in her Ted Talk here:
For anyone who is or has been a victim of online bullying know that you aren’t alone. You are worthy and you deserve to feel safe and happy.
- 112 (National Emergency Number)
- 02264643267, 02265653267 or 02265653247 (Samaritans Mumbai)
- 999 (National Emergency Number)
- 0800 1111 (Childline – for children and young people under 19)
- 116 123 (Samaritans)
- 0800 1111 (NSPCC)