The instinct to respond immediately to incorrect, negative, or hurtful comments online almost seems to be hardwired. How we respond can lead to unintended detrimental consequences and lead us down a dark path.
Today’s guest is Dr. Robin Kowalski. Dr. Kowalski is a professor of Psychology at Clemson University. She obtained her PhD in Social Psychology from the University of North Carolina Greensboro. Her research interests focus primarily on adverse interpersonal behaviors, most notably complaining, teasing, and bullying with a particular focus on cyberbullying.“In the online world, anyone has the potential to be a victim and anyone has the potential to be a perpetrator.” - Dr. Robin Kowalski Click To Tweet
- [0:57] – Welcome to the show, Dr. Kowalski! She shares her focus on cyberbullying and how she found herself interested in this research.
- [2:27] – Traditional bullying is intended and repeated aggressive behavior. Cyberbullying is similar but there are some differences.
- [4:24] – Perceived anonymity in the online world gives bullies a great deal of power.
- [5:42] – People who are involved in traditional bullying tend to also participate in cyberbullying.
- [7:05] – There are many different reasons why someone bullies another either traditionally or virtually.
- [9:18] – In the virtual world, anyone can be a victim and anyone can be a perpetrator.
- [10:31] – Cyberbullying can take several different forms.
- [11:56] – If it happens once, simply walk away and don’t respond. But what happens if it keeps happening?
- [13:10] – Young people may not want to be honest with their parents out of fear that their technology might be taken away from them.
- [15:29] – The feelings involved with cyberbullying range from anxiety to suicidal ideation.
- [17:22] – Academic issues become a problem as well, even though cyberbullying takes place off of school grounds.
- [18:58] – Robin describes “mattering” and how this can impact youth in school.
- [20:38] – Social isolation is a warning sign for a lot of things. Parents need to be on the lookout and open up lines of communication.
- [22:40] – Anonymous reporting needs to be present, effective, and people need to be educated.
- [23:51] – Cyberbullying is not limited to youth. It happens in the workplace as well.
- [26:47] – Through Covid-19, prevalence rates did not change as much as Robin expected.
- [29:15] – If we receive something negative, Robin advises to pause before responding emotionally.
- [30:55] – There’s such a familiarity with technology that it has become normalized to cyberbullying.
- [32:57] – Suicide is a possible and horrible result of cyberbullying.
- [35:05] – There’s a more permanent feeling to cyberbullying.
- [36:32] – Employers can also search for evidence of behavior patterns in potential employees.
- [38:57] – Education is key and victims speaking out about their experience helps people understand the impact.
- [41:42] – Robin shares about a time she experienced some level of cyberbullying.
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- Clemson University – Dr. Robin Kowalski
- Cyberbullying: Bullying in the Digital Age by Dr. Robin Kowalski
Robin, thank you so much for coming on the Easy Prey Podcast today.
Thanks so much for having me. I'm excited to be here.
I'm looking forward to this conversation. Can you give me and the audience a little background about who you are and what you do?
I'm a professor at Clemson University. I've been there for almost 20 years. My degree is in social psychology and I do research, broadly speaking, on aversive interpersonal behaviors, specifically cyberbullying. I got into that field of cyberbullying because when I first came to Clemson, I had been doing research on bullying and teasing, traditional bullying, and schoolyard bullying.
At the time I came to Clemson, about 20 years ago, cyberbullying was just starting to be talked about and the research on it was just starting. It just seems sort of a natural progression to start moving in that direction with the research and given that my broad focus was on a person's behavior and bullying in general, it really was just a natural sequence to go into that area. It has exploded in terms of the research attention that's been devoted to it and the prevalence of the behavior, unfortunately.
For those of us who are older, let's talk a little about what kind of traditional bullying is. Those of us who grew up and graduated high school prior to the late 90s probably have no clue as to what cyberbullying is, so can we draw some comparisons to a little more of what would be for people in our age group of what it would look like when we were kids?
Sure. When we talk about traditional bullying, the person whose name is most often associated with traditional bullying is […], and we all use his definition of traditional bullying. It's an aggressive act. It's intended to cause harm or distress. The behavior is typically repeated over time. It occurs among individuals for whom there is a power imbalance. We talk about victims and perpetrators. There’s typically a power imbalance between those people.
When we started doing research on cyberbullying, we just adapted that definition to fit cyberbullying. For the most part, cyberbullying is also an aggressive act. It's typically intended to hurt somebody else most of the time. It is also typically repeated over time, but repetition in the online world takes a different form.
If I'm the perpetrator and I send a single email, but I send it to hundreds of people, that has a repetitive quality to it, so it's repetition in a different form. Or if I send an inflammatory email, but I send it to one person, but that person reads it over and over and over again, that also has a repetitive quality to it.
The power imbalance that has always characterized traditional bullying—bullying that typically occurs at school during the school day—has been debated in the literature about the extent to which that applies to cyberbullying. What most of us feel is that it applies—particularly if you're talking about elementary, middle, and high school youth, in the adult world, it may differ a little bit—among young people, the power balance takes a different form, though. If I am more savvy with technology than somebody else, then that affords me in the online world a great deal of power.
If I am more savvy with technology than somebody else, then that affords me in the online world a great deal of power. -Dr. Robin Kowalski Click To Tweet
We also know that—I'm going to use the term perceived anonymity—the perceived anonymity in the online world also affords a potential perpetrator a great deal of power. If I can hide under an umbrella of anonymity, then that's going to afford me a great deal of power relative to the person that I am targeting.The perceived anonymity in the online world also affords a potential perpetrator a great deal of power. -Dr. Robin Kowalski Click To Tweet
They don't know if it's their best friend doing it. They don't know if it's a sibling doing it. They don't know if it's a stranger, and there's a real unnerving quality to that. I don't in any way want to minimize traditional or schoolyard bullying, but if I know you are the perpetrator of schoolyard bullying, not to minimize it at all, but at least you are a known quantity to me. If I see you walking down the hallway at school, I can do everything I can to avoid you.
In the virtual world, if I don't know who you are, how can I avoid you? Even if I turn off my incoming messages, if I don't go to a website where somebody told me messages are being left about me, I'm still hearing that they're being left. There's always that temptation to want to go see. I want to know what's being said about me, and the consequences are very harmful.
I'll also say that we know that there's a high degree of involvement in the two types of bullying. We know that people that are involved in traditional bullying also tend to be involved in cyberbullying. How great that overlap is depends on what publication you read. […], like I said, who was involved with traditional bullying, said that there are only 10% of people involved with cyberbullying who are not also involved with traditional bullying. There's a 90% overlap.
The research that we've done found a correlation, or a more moderate relationship, between the two. It really doesn't matter what the number is, it's the fact that particularly young people are typically involved in those types of bullying. From a school's perspective, for example, if you're involved at one time, if you're trying to develop prevention intervention programs, you need to ask about involvement in others.
I guess there are two ends to the question: Why do people bully? From my growing up, it was always that they didn't have a good relationship with their dad or that they were bullied by their parents or an adult and that's the only way they know how to interact with people. Is there any truth to that?
Yeah, it could be a family situation. It could be that they have been bullied in the past. From a traditional bullying perspective, maybe they are bullied because they've experienced bullying at home and because of the power differential, they can't take it out on their parents. They're going to take it out on somebody who has less power than they do at home.
Maybe somebody who has been a victim of traditional bullying at school maybe is smaller in stature, maybe they are physically weaker, maybe they have less social status so they can't bully in a traditional sense, but they can potentially be anonymous online and bully in a virtual way to engage in cyberbullying against the person who perpetrated bullying in a traditional way against them.Power really is a big factor in it. It makes me feel like I can be bigger or better than someone else. -Dr. Robin Kowalski Click To Tweet
There are a host of different reasons why somebody might do it. Power really is a big factor in it. It makes me feel like I can be bigger or better than someone else. There's a debate in the literature about the degree to which people with low self-esteem or people with high self-esteem engage in both types of bullying, cyberbullying, and traditional bullying. That debate has still not been resolved, but certainly, we know that people who have anxiety and people who have depression are targets oftentimes of bullying. We also know that those are outcomes of being involved in bullying as well.
I guess the other question is: Who do bullies generally target? I think in the traditional world, me growing up, it was the smaller kids, maybe the smarter kids, the kids that were a little bit anxious, that was a little insecure of themselves seemed to be the targets, but that's probably also kind of the outcome of being bullied.In the virtual world, to be perfectly honest about it, anybody can be a target of it. -Dr. Robin Kowalski Click To Tweet
Yeah. In the virtual world, to be perfectly honest about it, anybody can be a target of it. If you say the wrong thing to somebody online or face to face, you could be a target of it. In the online world, anybody has the potential to be a perpetrator and anybody has the potential to be a victim of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying can take place via a number of different venues—text messaging and social media. There are so many different ways that it can take place, which is one of its hazards of it.
Right now, young people are on social media because that's how they're spending their time. It goes along that that would be the most common platform by which they're cyberbullying one another. If you don't like what they posted, you feel like somehow it's a threat against you, your group, or whatever, then you're going to be a target.
Even if it's not meant that way, people are really sensitive sometimes to information that they feel they said the wrong way, and that makes other people target, or you look at YouTube videos, people express comments about YouTube videos, for example. If it disagrees with your perspective on it, then you're basically going to get flaming. It's an online fight that takes place in the virtual world.
You talked about flaming, what does online cyberbullying look like? Whether it's text messages, phone, and social media. Let's talk about what it looks like.
It can take a lot of different forms. It can be via a written text. It can be disseminated through pictures. As I said, it can take a lot of different forms. You can have online fights like flaming. You can have what's called outing and trickery. You can get somebody to disclose information to you like, “Tell me. You’ve got a secret. Tell me. I won't tell anybody.” And then you go and disseminate that information online. It can be sexting. “Send me some pictures, and I won't share those pictures.” But usually, that's in the context of romantic relationships and then those pictures are disseminated.
There are lots of different ways in which it can occur. It can just be just getting mad at somebody, not necessarily an online fight, but just getting mad at somebody and disseminating the content of that disagreement.
Would you include some kind of revenge porn in cyberbullying?
Absolutely. For sure.
I guess a couple of the questions are OK, so what can someone who was being cyberbullied do about it?
That's a great question. It depends on the frequency with which it's happening. If it happens maybe one time or twice, typically we would certainly recommend not responding back because it's going to continue over and over again. If it continues, particularly if we're talking about young people, then try to immediately block the person because that's at least going to stop the torrent of messages.
That doesn't mean that they're not going to go share information with other people, that the perpetrators are not going to go share information with other people or continue to leave it on other websites or things of that nature. Depending on the age of the victim that we're talking about, we strongly encourage the victim to go and tell somebody, specifically to tell somebody in a position of authority to do something about it.The research that we have done has shown that, first of all, young people are not likely to tell at all. -Dr. Robin Kowalski Click To Tweet
The research that we have done has shown that, first of all, young people are not likely to tell at all. If they do tell, they are most likely to tell a friend. I don't want to take anything away from that. They're at least telling somebody, but a friend is not necessarily in a position to do anything about it.
We would prefer that they tell a parent, that they tell a teacher at school. Typically, the reason we've done focus groups and kids have talked about reasons that they don't tell those adult figures, and one reason is that they've always been afraid their parents will take the technology away, the vehicle by which their child is being victimized.We would prefer that they tell a parent, that they tell a teacher at school. -Dr. Robin Kowalski Click To Tweet
I'm a parent, my kids are older now, but I understand that. But to take that technology away, particularly with youth today, is in essence re-victimizing the child. That is certainly not how we would recommend it.
We would recommend really opening up those lines of communication between the parent and the child because these kids are so tech-savvy. In many cases, they know more about the technology than the parent does, so if the parents can open up those lines of communication…
In one of our focus groups, I've never forgotten that one middle school student told us that they were OK with supervision, not snoopervision. In other words, they were OK with their parents searching their local histories to see what they had been doing, but they didn't want, for example, keystroke software installed on their computers. They are OK with supervision but not snoopervision.
The difference between, “Yes, I'm going to hand over my device, and you can look and see what's there,” versus, “You're surreptitiously monitoring me,” or it's constant pervasive monitoring, so to speak.
Absolutely, because then it feels like an invasion of privacy as opposed to this trusting relationship that's been established between the parent and the child, and a parent appears to be acting out of true concern that, “I understand there's cyberbullying going on. I want to make sure you're OK.” Once it crosses that line, it does seem surreptitious to them.
I'm not a psychologist or psychiatrist, so I'll get the terminology wrong here. In terms of a person dealing with the emotional, psychological results, or the feelings that they're going through from being bullied, what kind of issues or feelings are people going through and how do they work through those?
There are so many. Victims of cyberbullying and traditional bullying, for that matter, but specifically cyberbullying, experience heightened levels of anxiety, higher levels of depression, and heightened levels of suicidal ideation. They have sleep problems. Oftentimes, they engage in more aggressive behaviors themselves.
Depending on the age of the person that you're talking about, they may increase the abuse of substances. They may increase vaping. They may abuse drugs, and they may abuse alcohol. It's a long list of negative outcomes.
For kids involved—our youth who are involved in both traditional bullying and cyberbullying—the effects are magnified even relative to negative consequences of being involved in traditional bullying. These are really just consequences of traditional bullying, not cyberbullying. No, they are indeed consequences of cyberbullying, although they are magnified like an additive effect if they're involved in both types of bullying.
How can they deal with that? Therapy would be a good recommendation depending on how long the cyberbullying has taken place. If it's just an isolated incident, then obviously the magnitude of those effects is going to be significantly less depending on the severity of cyberbullying. If it's taking place over a period of time, if they've lost, they tend to isolate themselves.
Loneliness is another outcome. If they've isolated themselves, if they feel like all their friends are involved in this so they don't have any friends anymore, then who are they going to talk to about this? They are going to need somebody.
A lot of cyberbullying happens off of school grounds, but then it obviously impacts the performance at school. Academic issues become another problem. The young people don't want to go to school, their grades fall, and they experience physical health problems, stomach aches, headaches, and things like that, which they can then use as a reason why they don't want to go to school. Schools are in an interesting position with cyberbullying because that's happening off of school grounds, then what's their role in that?
One of the things that we would like to suggest is obviously creating a positive school climate to reduce the prevalence of any type of bullying, traditional bullying, and cyberbullying. We also do research on psychological mattering—how you can go about making other people feel like they are important or significant.
To the degree that schools can facilitate mattering among the students at their school, then I think it would be misleading to say we're ever going to eliminate bullying in whatever form it takes. To the degree that we can facilitate mattering within the context of this positive school climate, I certainly think it would go a long way towards reducing the frequency with which cyberbullying occurs.
Is the mattering positive reinforcement and building good where you're bouncing out the negative events from cyberbullying with positive reinforcement over a longer period of time?
Yes, and it's sometimes as simple as mattering. We didn't create these, but we've seen them that there are even stickers that say, “You matter.” I think there are programs that some schools have implemented that actually tell the kids through different activities and behaviors that you matter.
Let's imagine in the lunchroom, for example, you've got certain kids who are marginalized relative to others so they're sitting by themselves or they're sitting on the periphery. These kids certainly don't feel like they matter. There's a host of things besides just cyberbullying that negative outcomes may result from that.
To the degree that we can include making these kids feel like they belong, making them feel like they have friends, and making them feel like they are contributing to the school environment. You are an important person. You matter here. Even if it's just one other person, we know that if a child or young person feels like they have even one other person that thinks that they are important, then it can make a significant stride in terms of the mental and physical health of that individual.
Is that the sort of thing where participation in charity events helps people to see how they matter?
That certainly would help. Absolutely.
Going back to the impacts, the side effects, and the representation, should parents be watching out? Is it one of those general things for parents to watch out for sudden changes in behavior, weight loss, suddenly listening to different music, that there are these significant shifts in personality?
Yeah, those are all warning signs. The heightened anxiety, the withdrawal from social activities, and social isolation are really key warning signs. It can be a warning sign of a lot of things, not just cyberbullying. But whether it's cyberbullying or something else, it's a warning sign that something is amiss. Parents do need to be on the lookout for those warning signs.The heightened anxiety, the withdrawal from social activities, and social isolation are really key warning signs. -Dr. Robin Kowalski Click To Tweet
Again, that's a way of opening up those lines of communication or maybe talking to other people that know them, either friends or other people that are in the school environment that may have observed similar behavior, but definitely paying attention to the warning signs. We recommend the same thing with traditional bullying.
Is that the same thing where helping your kids who are not being bullied to be aware of what's going on with their friends and when they see shifts that they're talking to their friends, talking to parents, teachers, and whatnot?
Yeah, because one of the issues with cyberbullying is it's not just victims of perpetrators, it's also witnesses. With cyberbullying, your bystanders or your witnesses often inadvertently pass along the information. They may forward a text message or forward an email. They may not even fully realize who it's about or the content of that, but they get caught up in it themselves without realizing it. It's just a degree that we can educate everybody—all the students, parents, bus drivers, and lunch personnel—look out for the warning signs, act on the warning signs, and then report it.
A lot of people say, “Well, I don't want to report it because then I might be the target of cyberbullying.” If technology is the venue by which cyberbullying occurs, then let's make technology available as a means of reporting anonymously. I totally understand why particularly other students might be afraid that they would then be targeted—that’s not rocket science to understand that. If that's the case, let's use the means by which the behavior is occurring to make honest reporting available for the students.
In a lot of the social media platforms, there are built-in tools to report harassment and inappropriate behavior. It's just the question of how effective are those tools, how quickly are they implemented, and how.
And if they think it will make a difference. There are so many things we know from some data that we've collected that are warning signs of potential school shootings that students and young adults think that, “I know the warning signs, but I don't think it'll make a difference.” Then they're not going to report them. They've got to believe that it will make a difference in terms of cyberbullying if they report it.They've got to believe that it will make a difference in terms of cyberbullying if they report it. -Dr. Robin Kowalski Click To Tweet
Got you. We've been talking a lot about cyberbullying of children, is cyberbullying of adults just the same thing but people are older?
Yes, sadly it knows no age boundary. It happens in the workplace, and you've got the same sort of basic issues. The power imbalance is a little less obvious in the workplace because you can have cyberbullying by supervisors to employees, but you're going to get more peer-to-peer cyberbullying in the workplace.
In terms of the outcomes, you're going to have reduced job satisfaction. You're going to have higher turnover. You're still going to have physical symptomatology. You're still going to have higher levels of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. The same outcomes are going to be experienced in the workplace, and that is costly to an organization.
You also are going to have an increase in what they call counterproductive work behaviors—sort of corresponds to, in a young person, aggressive behaviors that might develop. It could be outright aggression. It could be being passive-aggressive. It could be slacking off on teamwork, a job, or tasks that you've been assigned. It morphed a teeny bit, but the overall manifestations are the same, and the venues by which it occurs are the same.
What about outside of work? When you have someone who is just on, let's just say, social media. If they have a social media account and it's just people that they may not even have any physical real-world contact with even if the person's name was true that it's Bob Smith, they're like, “I don't know who Bob Smith is. I've never even met Bob Smith. Why is he coming after me this way?”
Maybe they have met Bob Smith. The person […] at work Bob Smith is just using the same name. That goes back to what we were talking about earlier, that in cyberbullying, we don't know if the person's name is truly who they claim to be.
Adults can be cyberbullied. It doesn't have to happen in a work setting. It can also happen, like you were just saying, outside in the real world just like it does with young people. People are people. With adults, particularly in the political climate that we're living in today, people get upset with comments that other people make. People don't hold the same beliefs or it doesn't have to be politics, it can be anything. Somebody can make somebody else's target for cyberbullying.
Have you seen an increase in cyberbullying corresponding with COVID, people being at home, and if you're not physically near the person, maybe there's a little more feeling of anonymity?
Yeah, that's such a good question, and I thought the prevalence of cyberbullying will skyrocket during COVID because people were using the technology all the time and you're right, then they had the opportunity to potentially be more anonymous.
The prevalence rates did not change markedly, which was somewhat surprising. I can't give you a for-sure explanation for that. I would speculate, though, that during COVID, people were so isolated that they really needed those social connections and so maybe relied on them more in a positive way than they do under normal circumstances. Work on facilitating positive interactions as opposed to distancing themselves by engaging in cyberbullying behavior.
Is it also possible that it's just a, I don't want to say lack of opportunity, but a lack of material? In a sense, if I haven't interacted with the person, all I've seen them on is on a Zoom screen in class, I can only tease them about the background screen. Whereas if they're in school, I can tease them about the way they walk, the way they talk, who they're physically hanging out with. When it's only online, there's just less material. It sounds like a horrible way to phrase it, but with less context.
That's a good point and that's assuming that cyberbullying is between people that know each other. If it's total strangers, I think it's sort of a zero-sum game. I think if it's people that don’t know each other, then there's less context. I know the material sort of fits it better, but yeah, less information.
Other than therapy and working with adults, are there any other general ways that people can learn tips and tricks about letting the bullying roll off their back a little bit and not get under their skin?
I think that's human nature, and I think sometimes, to be fair, some people don't even recognize what's occurring in cyberbullying. Unlike traditional bullying, cyberbullying, people get an email and then you just immediately send something back quickly without even thinking.
I think part of what people need to learn is just what they call netiquette—it’s online etiquette. I think we need to hit the pause button sometimes. If somebody sends us information, it's inflammatory, and we have a tendency to want to just immediately respond back in a similar way and that's just going to set up the flaming war. Sometimes we need to hit the pause button.
You can block them. It doesn't mean they're not going to try some other way. We all have a lot of different social media platforms and stuff that we're on, so people can get at us from a lot of different directions. I think if we hit the pause button and maybe articulate more carefully how we respond back, then that's going to at least take some of the fuel from the fire that's going on.
Again, easier with somebody that you know than somebody that you don't know. If you don't know somebody, they don't really care in that context. That's one way. If it’s continuing, I think blocking and reporting is going to be your best bet. Then just hope that again, most of the time, social media platforms will deal with it.
Yes, like practicing de-escalation techniques, I guess.
Absolutely. That's a great way of putting it, yes. Education, just really educating and having the conversation. Cyberbullying has been around for a while now. We hope that people are aware of it, but I think sometimes, particularly among young people, there is such a familiarity with the technology and honestly, such a familiarity with cyberbullying sometimes that it becomes somewhat normative.
Cyberbullying should never become normative because of the outcome that can follow. There are individual differences that are going to mediate who is going to experience cyberbullying outcomes to the greatest extent, suicidal ideation for example. Not everyone is going to experience that. Part of it’s going to be a function of how cyberbullying occurs, part of it’s just going to be a function of the temperament of the person back to anybody who experiences it.
If I'm the perpetrator of cyberbullying, I don’t know whether it could have an impact on the person. A little perspective-taking goes a long way. Not everybody's going to do that, but I think to a degree that we can educate people more about, “These are the consequences. If you engage in this behavior, this is what may happen.” We've put out a couple of curriculum guides for kids in grade 3-5 and kids in grade 6-12 to try to do that, to try to educate them, to try to get them to engage in some perspective-taking, to try recognize in one of them—there’s a game called, “Is it or isn't it?”
It’s like a board game to recognize, is this cyberbullying or isn't it? If you think it is, here are some reasons why, if you think it isn't, here are some reasons why. Again, it’s all going to take a conversation.
An example of cyberbullying coming to an extreme outcome was my interview with Tina Meier whose daughter committed suicide as a result of cyberbullying, and while that's not every outcome, that's definitely where it can go. It can go very quickly, unfortunately.
Yes. The fact that even one—and she is certainly not alone in that—but the fact that even one or more should never happen. It's a horrible, horrible outcome of the behavior that really should never happen, but we know that it does with all too great frequency.
When I was in school, there was a certain amount of, say, bullying was tolerated to some extent, but there was a little bit of “boys will be boys. That's OK as long as it doesn't escalate beyond a certain point.” But to me, I think you don't want to assume that things will get better. It will just go away. It was just a one-time incident, that there really needs to be, not an over-reactive response, but appropriate response and support from parents, and family and not just, “Let’s just let this play out and they'll be fine.”
Well and the thing to remember about cyberbullying, too, is in the virtual world, there's the publicness of it. In traditional bullying—I’m not trying to minimize traditional bullying at all, but it’s visible unless it's recorded in which case it would have a cyberbullying component to it, but it’s visible to those who haven’t seen it yet, which usually was very few. But there's a publicness to cyberbullying.There's a publicness to cyberbullying. -Dr. Robin Kowalski Click To Tweet
Depending on what form it took, it’s there forever. The pictures, for example, that you use to cyberbully others. Even if they are ultimately taken down, they've been downloaded for how many times to be resurrected who knows when. To be a victim of that and to have that always in the back of your mind of wondering, “When will that reappear, and what will happen with that?” That would be extremely unnerving. There's a different quality to cyberbullying that do not characterize traditional bullying.
There's a permanence to it.
I suppose we should look at it from the opposite side of it as well. More and more employers are looking at people's social media when they're hiring people and looking at a more puristic look of people of not does this person have the skillset to do this job, but how does this person interact with their community? If they're being a total jerk online to people but they have a good skillset, the employer might go, “I just don't want to bring that behavior into my office.”
No, because it would.
Now they can look back and see, “My goodness. This person's been bullying people, saying nasty things online about people, being really confrontational, or being a troll.” You might have been that way in junior high, high school, or college and learned your lesson, but now you're going to have to deal with the permanence of history of how you behaved.
Not only that, but we know that there tends to be a pattern that tends to repeat. Do they really learn? We know that young people who bullied others in middle and high school also tend to repeat that behavior in college, and it's not going to stop when they get into the workplace. The employers would be well served to probably not hire that person because behaviors can occur.
On that note, we talked about what parents could do if they have kids who are being bullied. What about parents who have a kid who's doing the bullying? OK, it's been discussed. It’s open. How do you help change that pattern and break that pattern so it doesn't continue into adulthood? Or if you're an adult and you have this as a pattern from your youth and you don't want it to be a pattern when you go to work, how do we deal with that?
I had a student who worked with me on our research team one year and she had been a perpetrator of cyberbullying when she was in middle school. We were studying cyberbullying on the team. While she was aware at that time that that was what she was doing, she wasn’t aware of the magnitude with which she was doing or the consequences of it until she worked with me on the research team and we were studying it.
She was really troubled by learning about herself, basically. I'm not trying to make light of that. Basically, she got a lot of insight by being educated on the topic. I think that’s one factor—it’s education. As part of that education, perspective-taking. A part of it may be doing—and ironically, at the time that this perpetrator was on the team, another one of my students have been pretty severely victimized by cyberbullying.
They had lengthy conversations with one another. I think that can also be a way to help perpetrators understand, truly understand. It’s one thing for me to say, “Oh well, if you're a victim, you're going to have heightened anxieties, depression,” but that doesn't mean as much as if somebody who has been a victim. Instead, “This is how it made me feel. This is the law. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat for months and months. I didn’t want to go to school. I felt like I had lost.” When it’s not I, this is how it made me feel, that has a whole different impact.
With cyberbullying and a lot of other behaviors, I think the one-on-one contact with somebody who, maybe not their victim, but a victim nonetheless, I think is a great way to help people understand the true impact of a behavior that they just thought—in many cases, it is intended to harm, but in many cases, they're not aware of the degree of the harm. In some cases, they're just like, “It was meant to be funny.” Funny for whom? I think that's the way to get them to really understand themselves, the behavior.
I'm sure therapy can help people as well.
Therapy has all sorts of positive benefits. Earlier, you talked about guides that you have in your department. Can people find those guides online?
Yes. The two curriculum guides were published by […], so they can be found at […]. We also have a book. It's called Cyberbullying: Bullying in the Digital Age, and it’s published by Wiley. The other one—I’m not the first author of this, but it’s by Giumetti. Cyberbullying in Schools, Workplaces, and Romantic Relationships: The Many Lenses and Perspectives of Electronic Bullying, and that was published by Routledge.
We’ll make sure to link both of those in the show notes. Anywhere books are sold, they can be found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble?
Yes, they're all in there. The curriculum guides may not be. The curriculum guides may just be a […] thing.
We’ll find those and link to them as well. If people want to follow you on social media, where can they find you, or are you even on social media?
Shockingly, given what I study. I'm on Twitter. I’m on LinkedIn. I'm on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.
I suppose that they're on topic. Do you find that people try to cyberbully you because you write about cyberbullying?
Not that we’re advocating that.
I hope not. That's a good question. The only kind that I can think of that I have been cyberbullied was in a survey that we did on cyberbullying. There was a glitch in the survey and so it repeated. It really made a few people really angry. It was an online survey. They had some really choice words to say to us. It is interesting that you asked that question because I had been studying cyberbullying for years at that point and I fully understood why they were upset.
We had checked the survey over and over again. I still don't know what happened. It might have a glitch in it. I understood why they were angry. I didn't understand why they had to be as mean as they were, but I really don't understand the source of their irritation. It still hurts my feelings. I remember being really bothered by that because I thought I'm a grown woman and was really upset by the nature of the things that they said. It gave me such a perspective of imagining being an 11-, 12- or 13-year-old and being just relentlessly cyber-bullied and not understanding. I, at least, had contact.
What if you didn't? In retrospect, it was probably a good thing that happened because it really gave me a lot of insight and perspective on what it would be like. It would not be good. I had a lot of context and perspectives aligned, but I cannot imagine being a young person and going through that. I understood why the outcomes are what they are.
I've had those as well. I've run whatismyipaddress.com for 22 years now, and occasionally, I'll just get some horrifically nasty email. That hurts. Why would you say such horrible things to someone? Where I always try to go is it’s for my own benefit more than theirs, trying to feel what's going on in their lives that they thought they had to respond to this issue with that amount of vitriol. With a survey going goofy, it's annoying and I totally understand it, but you think, “What else is going on where they chose to respond to the survey issue with this response?”
I always try to turn it around and say, “What's going on that they would feel that they would have to respond this way to that situation?”
I think that's a really great way to handle it, but I don't think an 11-year-old has the perspective to be able to do that, or a 12-year-old, or even a high school student. I think you're right—clearly there's something else going on with that person. But what we do with kids who cannot immediately go there, who just immediately assume that they're bad, because that's what they're being told. I think that's where we've got to do the work—to try to get them to understand that this is about the perpetrator, not about them.
I think that is a perfect note to end on that it's not about the target. It's about the perpetrator and helping people to figure that out.
This was so much fun.
Thank you so much for coming on the podcast today.
Thank you so much. I've enjoyed talking to you so much. That's such a great topic that we need to have conversations about.
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