By: Candice Yang
In the last half of the 20th century, the world witnessed something that no one had ever imagined: a singular place that connects people and information all over the world. The internet is a phenomenon that we have increasingly become reliant on as technology continues to advance. Everyday, we scroll through social media and communicate with friends who are perhaps located thousands of miles away from us. We inform them about how much we miss them, and how much we wish that we were near them. And when all of that is done, we then proceed to open our laptops, click on the ‘Netflix’ browser, and sign in, hoping that we can catch up on the latest show. Our whole lives seem to center around this intangible space.
Throughout the coronavirus-induced isolation periods, when face-to-face interactions are minimized, we are lucky to have the internet entertain, distract and connect us. But all that luck does come with an ugly price to pay.
The Harsh Reality of Constant Connection
In 2012, many of us Gen Zers witnessed Amanda Todd - another fellow Gen Zer, who was 15 years of age at the time- take her life after posting a video on YouTube. The video has struck over 14 million views, outlining Todd’s story of cyber and verbal bullying.
The world temporarily sympathized with Todd; other teenagers started to post their own experiences with cyberbullying, and the video that Todd posted flourished with comments - both negative and positive - from different parts of the world. Many of us thought that in the wake of such a publicized tragedy, our education system would take a receptive and active approach to prevent cyberbullying and verbal harassment. Unfortunately, this desire wasn’t reality.
Prevalence of Cyberbullying
Up until this day, around 40% of internet users have experienced online harassment and moreover, young adults who are 18 to 29-years of age face a higher risk of being targeted for cyberbullying. Although cyberbullying is usually perceived as a term synonymous with name-calling, the word itself covers much more categories. One prominent category that should never be overlooked is online sexual harassment.
According to statistics, 14% of 18-29 year olds have experienced sexual harassment online. This form of harassment encompasses sending unsolicited materials, posting about the victim without consent (known as ‘revenge porn’), making negative remarks in the chatroom about someone’s gender, and stalking. Students under age 18 have started experiencing this as well; research in the UK shows that a third of teenage girls and over one-tenth of teenage boys have received unwanted sexual messages.
Although online harassment is a new phenomenon that has been increasing since rise of the internet, more students are experiencing it as the years pass. Throughout the pandemic, L1ght, an organization that monitors online harassment, has stated that there has been a 70% increase in cyberbullying in just a matter of months. As children have more time to surf the internet during and after class, chances are they will more frequently endure as well as participate in cyberbullying. The situation only gets worse as the internet continues dominating our lifestyles. Schools must learn to address these problems, as they are the breeding grounds of knowledge for the future.
The Role of Preventative Education
To prevent cyberbullying, educators must take the matter into their own hands, along with students, organizations and other administrators. Teachers can minimize cyberbullying and harassment within the classroom by creating a safe environment for students, allowing students to share and talk about their experiences, and addressing concerns about cyberbullying. As a result, students can share their experiences among each other and ask for input when faced with difficult situations. When online harassment does occur, students can also look out for one another and work as a team to combat the problem.
In terms of online sexual harassment, schools must invest more in programs that educate teenagers on this persistent problem. Examples include conflict-resolution programs and safety modules. In the past, conflict-resolution programs have mainly been facilitated towards prevention against physical violence. Students were historically taught how to respond to physical harassment instead of online harassment. Unlike physical harassment, online harassment poses a more long-term, emotional impact on victims. Therefore, schools need to dedicate more time and resources to health and wellness programs that focus on a students' emotional well-beings.
In addition to broadly addressing cyberbullying and cyber safety as a whole, schools must emphasize the different aspects of online harassment. Online harassment does not only take the form of cyberbullying, but it can also include catfishing and creating offensive content. If students are taught to differentiate between what’s “OK” and what’s “not OK,” they can better respect others around them, and even help out a friend who is being cyberbullied.
Cyberbullying and online sexual harassment don't only have one definition. In fact, both terms encompass a wide range of brutal acts that can never be tolerated. As access to technology increases, educators must inform students on the effects of cyberbullying before it’s too late.