No Longer Safe: Bullying Happens On The Internet Too

Bullying, according to some, is sort of a rite of passage. A source of stress and anxiety, as well as fear, that everyone has to endure at one point or another. The advent of the Internet and better, more advanced communications technologies has not really changed this, though the virtual world has given bullied children a place to go where they won’t be targeted for being physically weak. For most, the Internet is a place where one’s ideas and ability to express ideas solidly is more valuable than muscle fitness and raw power. However, that may all be changing with the times, arguably due to the Internet itself slowly changing into a more and more tangible community.

The Internet has long been home to a number of “virtual communities” that mirror those found in the real world. These communities are often based on a common interest shared by members, such as video games, anime, certain genres of books, or cult TV shows. A little surfing can lead someone to find forums, chat rooms, and wikis (databases that can be edited and added to by the community itself, rather than a single administrator or group) dedicated to a wide range of topics. This virtual environment of relative safety and anonymity has afforded bullied people a safe place to express their opinions, often using these sites as a means of stress relief and social interaction at the same time. However, one alarming thing to note is that, as these communities grow larger, their evolution starts to mirror the evolution of real-life communities.

Elitism is a major problem, particularly in larger, less-monitored communities. The mentality of making new members pay their dues by taking abuse from established members is prevalent in a number of Internet communities. Even if there is no outright elitism, it may still manifest in some form, usually with older members telling younger members to just shrug off the abuse and stress associated with one of the less friendly members of the community. Abusive members who have been established for a long time tend to be removed only with difficulty, particularly because most of the members in power have already gotten used to them and feel that newer members will have to do the same.

However, bullying via the Internet reaches further than that. Stress and social anxiety can be effectively reinforced on the Internet as well, especially with more and more people engaging in activities such as blogging and maintaining personal websites. While most people who set up blogs and personal sites are aware that they are risking being attacked by damaging or derogatory remarks, they are often ill-prepared for those same remarks. The fact that the Internet makes it all too easy to launch such attacks both anonymously and openly makes it a particularly inviting means of “putting someone down.” This was the case in Japan, when schoolgirls “cyber-bullied” a fellow student via attacks on her personal website; acts which prompted a violent response, resulting in the infamy of the “Nevada-tan” persona.

While not all victims of bullying turn violent, the potential damage done by this to social and psychological development can be devastating. It can lead to a number of negative behaviors, including the formation of an inferiority complex and, in rare cases, excessively violent outbursts.

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