When you think about cyberbullying, you probably think about high school or elementary school. You might be surprised to know that this type of bullying often continues into college. Studies vary in how prevalent cyberbullying is in secondary education - When reviewing a few available studies, Carlos Zalaquett and SeriaShia Chatters found that anywhere between 10 percent and 30 percent of all college students experience some type of cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying is bullying through the use of electronic technology. Insults, teasing, spreading rumors, harassment and threats occur in chat rooms, on social media sites, through instant messaging, texts and emails. The website CollegeXpress explains that cyberbullying can be difficult to pinpoint because students aren’t always aware that they are being bullied. The harassment is dismissed as not "real" because the interaction is hidden behind electronic devices rather than face-to-face. Bullies often don’t see the damage they are causing because they don’t see a person’s reaction.
But cyberbullying does cause damage - sometimes more so than in-person bullying. In a previous post, Cyberbullying, I explained how it can be much more stressful to deal with cyberbullying, "This inability to get away from a bully is one of the reasons researchers believe that cyberbullying is much more stressful than face-to-face bullying. According to Elizabeth Carll Ph.D., victims of cyberbullying have “high levels of ongoing stress, anxiety, fear, nightmares, shock and disbelief, helplessness, hyper-vigilance, changes in eating and sleeping difficulties.” Dr. Carll believes the stress that results from cyberbullying is more intense and more devastating to victims. [Dealing with Cyberworld’s Dark Side, 2011, ScienceDaily.com]
What College Students Can Do
As difficult as it is, J.A. Hitchcock, President of Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA), says students should not retaliate when bullied. "It’s a natural reaction and that’s when things can get out of control. The bully/harasser knows they’re getting to you and they’ll continue to escalate. It’s almost as though it boosts their ego." You should, however, seek out people that can offer you support, friends, family and counselors (often available for free on college campuses) can help you deal with the situation.
You should also review your privacy settings on social media sites. The default settings aren’t always very secure and anyone can get to your information. Make sure you keep the sites you use secure and don’t post any personal information you don’t want everyone to know. Whatever you post can be viewed by anyone and potentially used against you.
If you think someone is posting information about you, do a search for your name. Look at the results that come up. You can see and monitor what information about you comes up and what others are easily able to find. If there is information you don’t like, take steps to delete it.
Use common sense. If you wouldn’t say something in person or want others to know something, don’t post it online. Don’t post your personal information, such as your address or phone number. Don’t post compromising pictures of yourself (or your friends). Keep in mind, while the anonymity of the internet gives the illusion of privacy, it is just an illusion and everything has the potential of being seen by many people.
If you are being bullied or victimized online, take immediate steps. Block the person from all social media sites as well as your phone. Talk to your friends, parents, professors and the counseling center. Speak up rather than living with fear and shame.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.