How Not To Get Cyberbullied (Technical Report)


My book, From Smartphones to Social Media: How Technology Affects Our Brains and Behavior, comes out on October 31, 2018. Here I write a little about a topic covered in Chapter 3, “Electronic Aggression.”


You can’t go online and interact with other users without putting yourself at risk for cyberbullying; so go online wisely.

Ten to 40% of youth have been the victims of #cyberbullying. Victims can experience significant emotional and mental anguish. In extreme cases, some victims have attempted or committed suicide. Cyberbullies take advantage of technology and they take advantage of the personality characteristics of victims. So, if you don’t want to be a victim, here are some tips:

Stay Offline?

First off, don’t get “behind a screen”—at all! When you are facing a screen instead of a real-life individual, the #brain mechanisms that normally protect you from saying things that you otherwise shouldn’t say are not engaged. (Partly, these brain mechanisms depend on making direct eye contact with others.) So, too, for the people that you interact with online. This is known as online #disinhibition, and it can turn from harmless behavior to toxic behavior easily.

+ But, of course, it’s not possible in this day and age to live your life without getting behind a screen and interacting with people. So, at least, be cautious and safe when you get behind a screen.

Second, don’t use programs or apps that have built-in tools for anonymous, asynchronous communication and that allow for individuals to build profiles of themselves. Feeling anonymous leads people to say mean things and target others, presumably without retribution. Even when a person’s username and photo appears on the screen, he or she may still feel anonymous because he or she is not interacting face-to-face with a live person. The brain is weird that way. Asynchronous means that communication takes place slowly, unfolding over minutes, hours, days, or even weeks. The lack of a quick, back-and-forth conversation also contributes to disinhibition.

+ Yes! This does mean avoiding social media like #Facebook. well, obviously, no one can be expected to avoid social media altogether; but, at least use them wisely.

Keep Your Private Information to Yourself

Third, don’t reveal any personal information about yourself online. Doing so puts you at risk for becoming the victim of cyberbullying (and also other online aggressive acts like online romance scams).

+ But, wait! What’s the point of using social media if you don’t reveal any personal information? That’s true—there is no point. So, at least reveal your information wisely.

Fourth, don’t use the Internet—especially social media platforms—when you are lonely, depressed, have low self-esteem or are otherwise at risk for negative moods or states of mind. These factors will put you in a position where you may be likely to reveal something a little too personal about yourself, potentially exposing you to bullies.

+ Now, it should be kept in mind that Internet-based communications can be a great way to find others going through the same predicaments in life as yourself. So, at least be cautious when you are feeling lonely or depressed and you are online.

Perpetual Victims

Fifth, don’t use the Internet if you have been bullied in real life. It’s a sad fact that there is a consistent correlation between persons who are bullied in real life and persons who are bullied online. Quite possibly, the factors that put a person at risk for offline bullying overlap with the factors that put a person at risk for online bullying.

+ I’m not really saying to abstain from using the Internet if you have been bullied in the real world. However, it’s important to be aware of this connection between the real world and the virtual world and to think about the factors listed above.

Recommended Readings

Kowalski, R. (2015). Cyberbullying: Prevalence, causes, and consequences. In L. D. Rosen, N. A. Cheever, & L. M. Carrier (Eds.), The Wiley Handbook of Psychology, Technology, and Society (pp. 142-157). Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons.

Suler, J. (2004). The online disinhibition effect. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 7(3), 321-326.

Van Royen, K., Poels, K., Vandebosch, H., & Adam, P. (2017). "Thinking before posting?" Reducing cyber harassment on social networking sites through a reflective message. Computers in Human Behavior, 66, 345-352.

(Photo by 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0))

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