Cyber-bullying is the use of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) to repeatedly harm or harass other people in a deliberate manner. It is the use of services such as web pages and discussion groups as well as instant messaging or SMS text messaging to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour, by an individual or group, with an intention to harm others. The hostile behaviour may constitute communications that seek to harass, intimidate, control, manipulate, stalk, put down, falsely discredit, impersonate, humiliate or exclude the recipient.
Comparison to traditional bullying
Bullying is a natural human behaviour and, at times, we all indulge in it. However, bullying someone through cyber medium adds a lot to its viciousness. A comparison between cyber and traditional bullying may be the best way to understand cyber-bullying. A comparison of the two along five characteristics is presented as under:
- Anonymous perpetrators: A cyber-bully may be a known person or an online stranger. A cyber-bully may even involve other people online who also may not know the prospective victim. Unlike physical bullying, electronic bullies are not bound by normative and social constraints on their behaviour as they can remain virtually anonymous using temporary accounts and pseudonyms to conceal their identity.
- Lack of monitoring: Online forums are often characterised by openness and a lack of censorship. While some web service providers explicitly/implicitly observe the dialogues in discussion forums/public online spaces (e.g. facebook pages, twitter) to censor undesirable conversations and evict offensive individuals but personal messages sent between users (such as electronic mail or text messages) go unscrutinised. Moreover, many children know more about computers and mobiles than their parents or teachers and use them discreetly without parents or teachers discovering their experience with bullying (whether as a victim or an offender).
- 24×7 and ubiquity: As mobiles have become ubiquitous, cyber-bullying penetrates even the walls of a home; traditionally a place where victims could seek refuge from traditional bullying, mobiles make the victims perpetual targets. As mobiles are always on, a cyber-bully always has the opportunity of making harassing telephone calls or sending threatening and insulting text.
- Impossible avoidance: The victims may try to prevent cyber-bullying by blocking messages from a cyber-bully, avoiding the online forums or social media sites, or changing their email addresses and phone numbers. However, this does not protect them against publication of defamatory or objectionable content about them on the Internet, which can further be downloaded, copied, or archived by others. Yet, it must be added that the stage of impossible avoidance is reached only when the victim plays ball for a while. Further, cyber-bullying is increasingly being treated as a criminal act and this implies that cyber-bullies would not go to undesirable extent unless there are acute personal or professional undercurrents.
- Force: The frequency, viciousness, multitude of means, number of people involved and persistence of bullying in the cyber medium could be too high and significantly unnerving. As a result, it is not too difficult to overwhelm the bullied very rapidly.