Hey Trish, Sometimes I’ve heard people say cyberbullying can be good for you by making you less weak. What do u think?
Hi there, and thank you so much for asking this interesting – and deeply important – question. You’re likely not the only one that’s heard that before; in fact, the narrative that cyberbullying can ultimately be a good thing, something that makes us more “resilient” and “powerful” is commonly advanced and shared, not just by youth, but also by parents and educators. But as we all know, just because you hear something a lot doesn’t mean it’s true…and in fact, it turns out that the idea that cyberbullying “is good for you” is a myth. I know – it’s not really true! And in this post, I’ll talk a little more about why.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that the folks who claim that cyberbullying can be a positive thing are lying to you or have bad intentions – in fact, as we’ll discuss, they probably have good intentions but are just a bit confused. And that’s really what drives a lot of cyberbullying myths (and yes, there’s more than one!). So, to help clear up the misconceptions, in this post, I’ll not only take on the “cyberbullying is good for you” myth, I’ll clear up 2 other commonly shared myths, too! Hopefully, this information will not only give you clarity but help you understand why, even if these myths are often shared accidentally, they can be quite damaging and are important to tackle/avoid. With that, let’s get into it!
Myth #1: Cyberbullying is a good thing that can actually make youth stronger. This is the myth you raised in your question, and unfortunately, it’s a pretty common misconception. I’ve heard everyone from youth to teachers make this argument – and when they do, it usually sounds like something along the lines of “Well, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” When folks make this claim, they’re usually doing so for one of two reasons: 1) they harbor the outdated view that bullying is “a rite of passage” – something that signals transition from childhood to adulthood, or something that prompts strength, or 2) they’re trying to put a positive spin on cyberbullying for those folks who have experienced it – e.g. “Yes, you went through online harassment, but it’s not so bad, because it taught you strength!”
But neither explanation is true at all, and in fact, these attitudes can be deeply damaging. The view that bullying is “something that every child goes through” can normalize the terrifying harassment so many youth face – whether offline or online – and thus make them less likely to seek help when they are targeted. As a young man once told me, when cyberbullying is seen as a rite of passage, seeking help can actually make you look weak, or make you feel like you’re “failing” the test. Meanwhile, trying to “help” victims of cyberbullying by finding a “silver lining” in their experience can instead further stigmatize the negative side effects of the harassment, including mental health troubles. We know that many victims struggle with anxiety, depression, self-esteem/image issues, etc. – and what they often want and need is someone to validate that, and help them. If they’re instead told that they should be “grateful” for the experience, they’re a lot less likely to feel comfortable seeking help.
Myth #2: Cyberbullies are fundamentally bad people. You can see why folks might believe this myth. After all, cyberbullies can say and do some pretty terrible things online. It’s not surprising, then, when lots of folks conclude that these cyberbullies are “horrible people.” Often, these same folks may also claim that the only way they’ll change is with punitive action, or some sort of punishment.
In fact, while cyberbullies may do or say bad things online, it’s not at all true that all cyberbullies are themselves fundamentally bad people. Research on cyberbullying has actually found that some cyberbullies are actually motivated to bully after having experienced cyberbullying themselves. Feeling down and out on themselves, they take their insecurities and pain out on others. (As a good friend of mine once put it, “hurt people hurt people.”) There’s also been plenty of research that’s found that cyberbullies have more social difficulties and more trouble with mental health issues like anxiety and depression. And, of course, it’s always worth remembering that it’s often “easier” to cyberbully from behind a screen, where cyberbullies can be anonymous and harass in a non-confrontational way. In other words, the Internet may make it easier for us to be our worst selves.
All of that^ suggests (contrary to popular belief) that getting cyberbullies to stop may actually involve helping them change their behavior, not punishing them for their behavior.
Myth #3: Cyberbullying affects all youth equally. This myth is much more subtle, but certainly present in our dialogue about cyberbullying. Indeed, lots of people often present aggregate statistics about the prevalence of online harassment – e.g. “X% of youth in the US have been cyberbullied” – but don’t go any deeper. And when they don’t, they inadvertently mask the truth: cyberbullying affects different groups of people in different ways.
For instance, a 2020 report from the Cyberbullying Research Center found that “almost twice as many LGBTQ students reported being cyberbullied compared to heterosexual students (36.1% compared to 20.1%).” That’s a huge problem! There’s also a lot of anecdotal and qualitative evidence that suggests that female gamers are disproportionately harassed while playing online. (So many female gamers I know attest to this!) And so on… Acknowledging these differences matters because it can help the folks trying to tackle cyberbullying (whether experts, policymakers, activists, or innovators) do so in a more targeted and nuanced way. And more effective interventions means less online hate (which is, of course, the ultimate goal).
I hope this post was enlightening and maybe helped shift your perspective on cyberbullying. Now that you know these myths, when you see them come up – whether online, or in conversation with friends and family – I’d strongly encourage you to say something! Use your newfound knowledge to educate those around you. Let me know how it goes in the comments!
And speaking of hearing from you all…as always, before I end this post, I want to invite and encourage you to share any of your questions or reflections about the Internet with me here. Your topic just might be featured in next week’s TikTok/blog post! And remember, you’re not the only one who benefits from sharing a question – our entire community gets to learn along with you! Readers often tell me they learn about things they’ve never thought about – which is super powerful. So, please, help us all out and fill out the form! Thank you so much in advance for contributing to and supporting this amazing community.
Have a great rest of the week,