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Growing up I was a rather shy kid with a small group of close friends who remained my friends for long periods of time and whose structure changed rarely and only when absolutely necessary. The process of meeting new people and establishing new relationships seemed more challenging to me than it seemed to be for other people, and although I was not introverted and in fact, really longed to expand my social circle, I was forced to confine my social interactions to the people I already knew and never really made an effort to meet new ones. That is until I started using Messenger, an online platform that enabled me to talk to people from a perceivable physical distance which had until then been the key factor in hindering my social adaptation. What had been so hard before, did not seem so menacing when I had the option to stop and think in order to deconstruct the walls that were the physiological responsive reactions to something that inexplicably gave me a considerable amount of stress. After getting through the initial phase of communication, I had a much easier time expressing myself and transferring these online relationships into real-life ones.

But what enabled me to overcome an obstacle also taught me a lesson. I got involved in the first real fight at school through the use of Windows Live Messenger and by utilizing the ease with which I could now be honest and unafraid to express myself. I had engaged in a dialog with someone I knew from school but had only talked to online. Believing that it would be settled then and there, in the safe space that was my own room, I had gotten myself into more than I would be able to handle. The next day after school, my online opponent had come prepared for a real-life fight. The fact that I was as shocked as I was to meet the consequences of my online actions, face to face, despite the fact that I had already seen how online communication can relatively easily be transferred to real settings, speaks of a certain perception internet spaces: the erroneous view that it is a separate world that bares its consequences in its own space and that it cannot catch up with you in actuality.

With the freedom that the internet entails for its users’ self-expression, has come a wave of negative discourse characterized as ‘cyberbullying’ directed at certain individuals through cyberspaces. If this form of bullying extends itself over reality or not, is a matter of circumstance, but to those who use social networks in order to in some way advance themselves socially on the expense of others’ because they feel inferior to begin with, this form of communication is not an accompanying weapon of real-life bullying but rather a way of self-protection, so to speak, whether it is considered ethically right or not. It would seem logical that cyber-bullies are often people that don’t have a physical advantage over their victims as often happens in real life. But would this indicate that cyberbullying has allowed for an exponential increase in bullying overall?

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user J_O_I_D

A study by Edith Cowan University explores the connection between cyberbullying and face-to-face bullying showing that the people who are victims of cyberbullying are often bullied in real life as well, but there is a distinction to be made in the instigators of online bullying versus real-life bullying. The ones who become cyber-bullies don’t necessarily bully kids in person, in fact as an article by CTK English-Language News Service, they claim that cyberbullying is often subject to “role switching,” meaning that victims of bullying become cyber-bullies themselves in order to in a way build up the confidence they have lost in the process of being bullied verbally or physically. A survey made by daily Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) questioned 28,000 Czechs ages 11-17 about their bullying experiences and the data showed that “33 percent of those who were the target of verbal attacks and 45 percent of those who were humiliated or embarrassed by a photo or video shared on social networking sites became aggressors”.

And while, in the Czech Republic, bullying is decreasing as cyber-bullying is increasing (CTK), it does not necessarily mean that a number of the bullies have transferred into an arguably more mild form of bullying (through internet). Because the decrease is relatively small, it shows that the aggressors online, are considerably other people. That is not to say that the online form of bullying is any less harmful by comparison; although its impacts are not as direct as those of physical bullying, the widespread dissemination of information and the permanence of the proof as a reminder can have just as harmful effects on the victims. Whether the aggression is transferred to real life or vice-versa, bullying as a whole remains a constant problem. And, while it may become the chosen form for some former real-life bullies, it only allows for more people to be in the position of the aggressor.

Featured photo courtesy of Flickr user brianshano

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