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Cyberbullying or Internet Harassment: How to Protect from It

The widespread penetration of internet into daily life causes new types of issues. For example, the harassment and insult of a person on social media and other platforms.

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Social media are gaining momentum in the world every year, whereas the coronavirus pandemic that broke out in 2020 has accelerated the process. According to the World Bank, the global internet traffic has increased by 47 per cent during the pandemic, which is partially related to the distance education.

Kyrgyzstan has also contributed to this process – the 64 per cent increase (according to the State Committee for Information Technologies and Communication).

However, there’s another side of such a rapid digitalisation, namely: internet fraud, cybercrimes, account hacking, and increase of cyberbullying. Speaking of the last, the trend of developing internet harassment or cyberbullying becomes more popular. According to the study of the Russian Mail.ru, the level of aggression on the network has increased by 47 per cent, and about 58 per cent of Runet users have encountered various types of harassment during the pandemic.(https://kiberbulling.net)

So, what is cyberbullying and how to deal with the internet harassment? Let’s see what the psychologist and the lawyer think about it.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is bullying with the use of digital technologies. It can take place on social media, messengers, gaming platforms, applications and mobile phones.

The purpose of bullying on the internet is to anger, hurt or shame those who are targeted. For example, by posting fake and embarrassing information on Facebook or YouTube, or sending threats via short messaging service or calls.

Such people are called “trolls”, “bullies”, or “mobbers” and often act anonymously – so the victim does not know who performs aggressive actions.

How to detect cyberbullying?

The internet harassment that means offensive and derogatory messages is called cyberbullying.

A bully can use any methods, not only messages. They can post embarrassing photos and videos of the victim without the victim’s consent.

You can say it’s cyberbullying, if you:

1)    Receive threats on the internet

2)    Know that someone has created your account and posted your photos

3)    Receive messages in messengers and read defamatory comments about you

In other words, the key purpose of cyberbullying is to intimidate, anger or shame those who are targeted.

Where does harassment take place usually?

The following platforms and capacities are used for cyberbullying:

– mobile communication (short messages);

– mobile applications and messengers;

– chats and forums on the internet;

– e-mail (mailout);

– social networks;

– video hosting services;

– gaming websites and virtual gaming worlds.

The American speech pathologist and law expert, Nancy Willard, in her work, dedicated to cyberthreats, identifies the following types of cyberbullying.

1)    Insults – the aggressor posts vulgar comments.

2)    Harassment is a purposeful sexual cyberattack from unknown persons, people from the immediate real social environment.

3)    Denigration and spread of rumours by posting photos or videos on internet pages, forums, news groups, via email.

4)    Impersonation, i.e. posing as another person.

5)    Public disclosure of personal information.

6)    Dissemination of personal information, for example, photos, financial standing, type of activity.

7)    Stalking – repeated harassment and persecution.

Open threat of physical violence.
Who are they, victims of digital harassment?

Both a teenager and an adult can be the victim of cyberbullying. However, teenagers are the most vulnerable group because of their age.

As Aleksandra Babkina, the chief of social projects of Mail.Ru Group, said to RIA Novosti, the children who have few real friends outside of internet are mostly exposed to cyberbullying.

“Most often, these are the kids that live in the internet. They have few friends and they appreciate what they have on the internet. It is their life. If something goes wrong on the internet, they think it’s the end of the world,” she said.

Experts identify three factors that help find the victims of digital harassment:

1)    Sexual orientation;

2)    Appearance (too slim, fat, tall, etc.);

3)    Online activity.

According to the online harassment study of Mail.ru, 58 per cent of Runet users are exposed to cyberbullying. Men encounter this phenomenon more often – 52 per cent of respondents, and 44 per cent among women. Among then, 28 and 21 per cent, respectively, become the victims of harassment. Men are usually mocked for their failures in life, women are mocked for their appearance.

How do they choose a victim of bullying?

“The main factor of such behaviour of a bully is the sense of impunity. Therefore, the bully has an opportunity to be aggressive to someone,” psychologist Leonid Sobolev said to CABAR.asia.

The second reason can be a common envy to someone who has a different appearance (someone who is too slim or overweight), orientation, ethnicity, financial standing, etc.

“If a bully can be stopped and put in their place in real life, it is quite impossible to do this on the internet. So, a bully gets courageous. The internet gives the sense of anonymity and physical distance from a target of bullying,” the psychologist said.

According to Sobolev, no one is protected from online harassment: from celebrities with millions of followers on out to a neighbour on your floor. The victims of bullying are mainly teenagers.

“There are no definite criteria that can help choose ‘who’s going to be the victim?’ Anyone can become ‘the victim’,” he said.

How to protect yourself from cyberbullying?

One can protect oneself from cyberstalking as follows:

1)    Make your social media account private and available for friends only;

2)    Do not respond to message requests;

3)    Ignore and block negative messages and the bully.

According to psychologist Ildar Akbutin, in 80 per cent of cases the bully stops cyberbullying if you submit a report to the law-enforcement bodies with screenshots of their messages and threats.

Representatives of Facebook and Instagram offer the following tools:

1)    You can ignore all messages from a bully or use the tool ‘Restrict access’ to protect your account without giving notice to that person;

2)    You can moderate comments to your messages;

3)    You can change settings so that only the people you follow could send you direct messages;

On Instagram, we notify you before you are going to post something and urge you to revise your post.
What does psychologist advise?

If someone of your family (or you) has encountered cyberbullying, psychologist Leonid Sobolev advises to apply the following measures:

1.         Do not blame the victim for the situation. You need to provide your support instead of exacerbating the situation. If you have been harassed, you should not blame yourself because no humiliation and insult can be justified.

2.         Do not insist on finding the bully and collecting damaging evidence against them. Revenge is out of the question.

3.         Recommend the victim to seek psychological help to examine the aspects that turned out to be offensive and complex for the ‘victim’ of bullying.

4.         If you notice harassment towards you, you should restrict the bully’s access to you and your posts. Do not ‘feed’ them. You should not provoke them either, it won’t help.

According to Sobolev, any aggression against us is a big stress. We should be clearly aware that feeling pain, aggression, offence and perplexity is an absolutely adequate response to offensive phrases and behaviour towards you.

“Everyone feels pain and everyone is crying. You should not suppress your emotions,” psychologist Sobolev advised. “You’d better distance yourself from the situation that is damaging to you rather than be inside it. Leave your gadget at home and go to a cinema, to a café with friends, take a walk, listen to music. Spend some quality time. Be where you feelgood and comfortable.”

“There’s one important thing to know,” the psychologist said. “Happy and self-sufficient persons do not make harm to other people, they just don’t have time for it and they don’t need it. A person who does a number on another person is an unhappy and injured person who cannot solve their life problems. By bullying, they let go of negative emotions.”

They threaten me on the internet. Do I need to go to police?

The Association of Legal Clinics of Kyrgyzstan recommends calling the police immediately if you feel yourself unsafe. According to the association, you should follow the next advices:

1)    Do not answer messages from phone numbers, accounts or people you do not know;

2)    Do not attack the person in reply, just try to prevent the bully from seeing you reaction;

3)    If you feel free, try to speak to the bully alone about what they said or did;

4)    Talk to someone; talking to friends can make you feel better or you can call hotline services;

5)    Keep the messages and screenshots as you may need them later as evidence;

Block the phone number or block the cyberbully on social media. Use confidentiality settings to protect your posts.
What can cyberbullying lead to?

According to psychologists, there is a variety of consequences of cyberbullying. Yet none of them is positive; it can lead to decrease of self-esteem, lack of personal contacts, and even attempted suicide.

“As we understand, this problem is very serious and you should always be prepared to it,” said Leonid Sobolev.

What does the law say about it?

In Kyrgyzstan, bullying among children is usually tackled by preventive measures or registration with the police if the case is serious. However, there is no particular article on bullying among minors in the legislation.

“If we speak about cyberbullying among young people, we can apply neither the Code “On offences” (applicable to young people above 16), nor the Criminal Code (applicable to young people above 14 in serious cases),” lawyer Irina Letova said to CABAR.asia.

As to adults, we can apply other articles to cyberbullying. For example, infliction of emotional distress. But the legislation of Kyrgyzstan has no notion of bullying. If we have threats to life or threats to family, we apply the articles of the Code of Offences or Criminal Code.

But, according to Letova, few people seek help of the police.

“On the other hand, the law-enforcement authorities do not apply measures to fight against cyberbullying as they need to perform long pre-trial procedure, find out the owner of the account, detect hacker attacks and other details,” she said.

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