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03 August 2012
Today’s children are growing up with the digital world as much a part of their as the corporeal one. Social media and text messaging are a part of children’s lives and along with all of the benefits that go with that come some negatives and one of the downsides is cyberbullying. To help kids cope with cyberbullying there is a lot of research going on to establish exactly what aspects of cyberbullying are the most damaging and a new study has made some interesting findings.
Researchers used a survey to see how almost 2000 school children experienced cyberbullying. By definition cyberbullying is when a person is attacked by one or more people through the internet or by mobile phone. The researchers cited Facebook and text messaging as common avenues that people use to denigrate others. What this study sought to do though was identify the levels of distress that victims feel as a result of the various forms of cyberbulllying.
The most distressing type of cyberbullying was found to be the distribution of embarrassing photos or videos. This type of vyberbullying was found to be very hard to control as the images can be easily copied and made available to an unlimited audience.
By contrast only around a quarter of participants said that insults, threats, or abuse made them feel “severe distress”. This might be because this type of cyberbullying can be aimed directly at the subject without there necessarily being a lot of witnesses.
The key thing appears to be that most distress is felt when an element of humiliation is present. Images offer an intense and repeatable humiliating experience.
This all reminds us of the need for children to be educated about the ways in which they use digital technology. There is a potential downside to infinite connectivity and coping with it is a skill that must be learned. Given that marketers are now turning on to the idea of analysing the images that you post online to see where you go, what you do, what you buy and so on, the power of the online image is becoming immense. As this study shows, misused images can also do immense psychological harm and kids need to learn that images once shared are lost and can be used in many ways that person in the image might not enjoy. The freedoms of the digital age also carry gigabytes of lessons to be learned and children must learn that, to twist a couple of phrases together, a picture can inflict a thousand cuts.