Societies incorporate a variety of features within the domain of human interactions. Some forms of these interactions put pressure on individuals and may have lasting adverse effects. In this context, cyberbullying may be regarded as a modern form of abuse and a global health concern. Cyberbullying is a part of activities that are registered on popular social media networks, while Facebook is one of the main platforms where online bullying takes place. Therefore, data that is gathered on Facebook presents a valuable material for research on the consequences of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is viewed as an act that has harmful effects on individuals and is often associated with psychological and social problems as well as behavioral changes of the involved Facebook users.
Definition of Cyberbullying
The notion of bullying precedes cyberbullying and exists in various cultures as an element of social interactions. In the English-speaking societies, the word “bully” has been used since the sixteenth century and describes a practice of threating and frightening someone (Donegan 33). As a rule, bullying involves at least two people, a victim and an intimidator or a bully (Donegan 34). However, Bennett (2013) also distinguishes bystanders as participants of bullying. It should be noted that complicated psychological mechanisms are responsible for bullying and the purpose of the process is “to gain a sense of superiority and power” (Donegan 34). The same principle applies to cyberbullying that takes an indirect form of verbal assaults via modern technologies.
Scientists define the notion differently and emphasize various aspects of it. For example, Donegan describes cyberbullying as repeated attempts to “makes fun of another person online” (35). Thus, it is important to state that cyberbullying is not a single act and is usually followed by more precedents. The paper focuses on a definition that is used in the works of Zhang and his colleagues (2016), according to which cyberbullying is “an aggressive, intentional act carried out by a group or individual using electronic forms of contact” (51). The key element of this description is that the act is intentional and virtual. Thus, different social medial platforms such as Facebook may be used for online bullying.
Influence of Cyberbullying
The act of online bullying is often associated with negative consequences. According to research, the impact of cyberbullying is mainly psychological. Furthermore, cyberbullying provokes behavioral changes and leads to social difficulties. Scientists also indicate that gender plays role while evaluating consequences of cyberbullying. The focus is placed on peculiarities of the act of online assaults that are related to different participants and their experiences. In this context, Facebook presents a world of bullying in miniature.
The popularity of Facebook provides numerous opportunities for bullies to find and assault victims. It should be noted that the site emerged in 2004 and quickly became popular (Weiss 410). Presently, 92% of social media users have profiles on Facebook (Weiss 410). It is estimated that the site unites more than 1 billion active users (Zhang et al. 52). Therefore, Facebook is one of the most common networks where cyberbullying appears. For example, such features as “photos” and “comments,” allow people to share their attitudes and negativity publically. Scientists concentrate their studies on the data gathered on Facebook as it applies to the general population worldwide.
Cyberbullying produces effects that last for long periods and have many implications. Before intense research on online bullying was conducted, people tend to believe that the impact of such assaults was limited and reactions to them faded away quickly (Donegan 35). However, the results of current studies demonstrate that cyberbullying damages an individual on different levels during the life and may develop into serious issues (Donegan 35). The intensity of these issues may be distinguished based on gender. According to a study that was undertaken by the Cyberbullying Research Center, women are more emotionally vulnerable to cyberbullying than men (Donegan 36). Thus, among students that participated in the research, frustration, anger, and sadness were more often registered in females than males (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Reaction to Cyberbullying (Donegan 36).
Apart from immediate emotional responses, cyberbullying is related to drastic psychological changes in an individual. Seifert and Westerman (2014) examined different offline problems related to cyberbullying on Facebook. Their study concluded that victims often blame themselves for being targeted and may start feeling insecure (Seifert and Westerman 142). Furthermore, victims constantly experience humiliation and loneliness. Other effects include low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, social phobia, and relationship dysfunctions (Bennett 20). As a result, victims experience social difficulties that may later motivate them to abuse alcohol and drugs (Duverge). Therefore, cyberbullying is an act that has dangerous implications.
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It should be emphasized that bullies also experience psychological problems. Apart from an increased risk of depression, bullies struggle to maintain normal and healthy relationships (Bennett 21). Additionally, scholars introduce the third party of online bullying known as cyberbystanders. The term is used to describe the effects of cyberbullying on those who read malicious textual publications or view pictures concerning users on Facebook and other social platforms (Bennett 21). Bennett argues that cyberbystanders are subjected to negativity that leads to distress and fear of being the next target of intimidators (Bennett 21). Cyberbystanders lose focus and become distracted because they spend effort to avoid a possibility of being cyberbullied (Bennett 21). Therefore, cyberbullying affects all the participants of the act.
Impacts of Cyberbullying on Self-Esteem
Low self-esteem is one of the most common consequences of cyberbullying on victims. Self-esteem is defined as “favorable or unfavorable attitude toward the self” (Seifert and Westerman 142). External and internal aspects that include perception of self by others reinforce the attitude. In this case, cyberbullying may alter self-esteem by social rejections and assaults on Facebook. One of the ways to produce the effect is to fake a Facebook account and use it to harass others (Bennett 12). For the sake of the argument, it should be noted that some scientists believe that people with low self-esteem may be attracted to Facebook as a means to improve their self-perceptions and in doing so they become victims of bullies (McDool et al. 7). Thus, decreased self-esteem may not necessarily be a direct result of cyberbullying. This theory is contradicted by scientific evidence presented in one of the studies that shows that individuals “not involved in cyberbullying had the highest self-esteem and grades and the fewest symptoms of health problems” (Marcum and Higgins 103). Thus, cyberbullying on Facebook is a serious issue that damages self-esteem.
Cyberbullying and Behavior Changes
Behavioral changes related to cyberbullying are discussed in relation to bullies who often illustrate antisocial tendencies that develop over time. One of the main aspects that impact conduct of bullies is the lack of compassion (Bennett 21). Thus, assaulting others often becomes a normal part of life that makes bullies desensitized to violence (Bennett 21). It should be noted that cyberbullying begins at the early years of life. According to Zhang and others, elements of cyberbullying are presented in the elementary school and “reach the highest level during middle school years” (Zhang et al. 51). One of the reports focused on children who were characterized as bullies in school and indicated that approximately 60% of them committed “one or more crimes before they have reached the age of 25, and 40% of those had three or more convictions by age 24” (Bennett 21). The tendency is alarming and emphasizes the negative effects of cyberbullying.
Moreover, findings suggest thinking that cyberbullying on Facebook affects behavior of cyberbystanders who may exhibit antisocial elements in their activities. For example, cases of increased levels of hostility were reported over the years in relation to Facebook users who are involved in cyberbullying (Neff 86). Additionally, bystanders of bullying acts build biased views related to personal responsibility and gradually develop an “inability to solve problems assertively” (Bennett 21). Kim and Hancock (2015) draw attention to the tendency according to which cyber bystanders and bullies often become substance abusers. It is also reported that bullies often become abusive spouses and parents (Bennett 21). In some cases, participants of cyberbullying on Facebook may change their behavior under the influence of constant stress provoked by the act. Additionally, stomach pain and headaches, nervousness are side effects of cyberbullying that may lead to self-destructive conduct such as, for example, cutting skin with razor blades (Duverge). This tendency to change in behavior is also based on reported cases of insomnia and chronic fatigue that are related to Facebook cyberbullying (Duverge). Thus, cyberbullying contributes to development of anti-social and destructive patterns of behavior.
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Suicidal thoughts are the extreme effects of cyberbullying among victims and offenders. Scholars describe the possible connections between suicides and cyberbullying on Facebook since different cases of suicides were reportedly committed after being assaulted by bullies (Donegan 37). The act of committing suicide under the influence of cyberbullying is defined by the term “bullycide” (Donegan 37). According to Rigby and Slee, people may often contemplate killing themselves when they are cyberbullied (Donegan 37). Additionally, statistical data suggests that participants of cyberbullying are at higher risks of attempting suicide in comparison with individuals who had not been involved in cyberbullying (Donegan 37). Presently, the problem related to bullycide attracts more attention of psychologists.
The question of bullycide may be discussed from different perspectives. Some studies stress the link between suicidal acts and cyberbullying on Facebook, while other deny the connection. In this context, teen suicide is analyzed. According to a research conducted on 2,000 teenagers, there is a stronger suicidal inclination among participants who were cyberbullying (Bennett 20). Additionally, victims were more predisposed to attempting suicides then than bullies (Bennett 20). However, Kim and Hancock (2015) argue that there is not enough evidence to claim that cyberbullying on Facebook may be a direct predictor of suicides. Nevertheless, the problem of bullycide exists and further research is required to determine its peculiarities.
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Cyberbullying is intentional and repeated acts of online assaults that have devastating effects on Facebook users. The consequences of cyberbullying are related to psychological and social damage inflicted on victims, cyberbullies, and cyberbystanders. The main emotional responses to technological bullying are anger, frustration, and sadness. It should be noted that females are more predisposed to experiencing depression and anxiety than males under the influence of cyberbullying. Scientists also emphasize a connection between cyberbullying and suicidal thoughts. In this context, a term bullysuicide is used to define acts of committing suicide that are related to online bullying. Additionally, exposure to cyberbullying on Facebook and other social media platforms causes behavioral changes. Thus, individuals are reported to become more aggressive, violent, and, in some cases, depressed. These patterns of behavior affect people who lack compassion and have a tendency to perform criminal acts. Moreover, low self-esteem is another common aspect that is associated with cyberbullying on Facebook. Further research is required to evaluate connections between cyberbullying and such extreme consequences as, for example, suicides.