It is a reality that people are starting to use technologies (mobile, internet, etc.) at increasingly younger ages. Whenever I think about this I remember the video of that baby trying to enlarge a photo on paper with the only power of his fingers.

Having premature contact with this infinite virtual world full of possibilities is not matched by the maturity, also necessary, to know the risks of the network and the appropriate tools to protect oneself, as well as the criterion to discriminate the moderately reliable information from the one that is not.

When technological means such as the Internet, mobile phones or online video games are used to carry out psychological harassment among peers, we talk about a phenomenon called cyberbullying or cyberharassment .

What is cyberbullying?

This is a particular type of harassment that occurs between peers, friends and people of a similar age group and that may have different manifestations within the ICT environment (offenses, threats, blackmail, humiliation, insults…).

The cybera goes one step beyond traditional bullying. They are two forms of aggression between equals that share many characteristics. However, the first has certain characteristics that make it even more harmful to the victim.

In anonymity in the networks

Firstly, the fact that the aggression is carried out through a virtual space favours the anonymity of the aggressor. This status gives the individual greater freedom to act, since he is less likely to be caught . In other words, as opposed to what happens in traditional harassment, in cyberbullying the attacker gets “more for less”.

Constant and almost uncontrollable attacks

Secondly, the victim of cyberbullying becomes, once chosen, an “easy target” for the aggressor . He is available 24 hours a day, whereas in bullying, the attacks are usually limited to those moments and spaces where both parties live together (for example, school), leaving the child “freed” from the pressure when he returns to the safety of his home.

Furthermore, it should be added that contacts are always initiated at the will of the offender, without the victim having any control over them.

It is accessible at all times and cannot avoid, as would be the case with bullying, passing through certain sites that it knows are dangerous, since the network, in this sense, keeps them continuously connected. This makes the victim develop a feeling of unpredictability and uncontrollability that generates anxiety and fear.

Lack of empathy in cyberbullying

Another differentiating aspect of this type of harassment has to do with the distance from the victim and the absence of social cues. The fact of not seeing the face and suffering of the person who is being insulted, humiliated, threatened, etc. facilitates the development of these behaviours.

This distance makes empathy difficult, that is, the ability to put oneself in the victim’s skin and know how he or she is feeling, which could be a deterrent to aggression.

Regarding the social keys, in cyberbullying there are also no direct spectators who give negative feedback to the aggressor (disagreement, bad faces, defence of the victim and other elements used in initiatives such as the KiVa method) that allow the aggressor to regulate his own behaviour. He is alone and free of any feedback to act.

The massive – and in some cases exclusive – use of virtual environments for the development of social relations has some risks such as the tendency to depersonalization (“me in the network vs. me in reality”), fantasy-reality confusion (forgetting that this insult is just as real as if I said it in person) or the construction of erroneous moral judgments.

Public humiliation

Two last features make the effect of cyberbullying more powerful. First, thanks to technologies, the bully can reach a much wider audience , for example, by spreading a hoax about the person on one of his social networks. Second, you’ve probably heard the saying “what goes on the net stays on the net”.

Because of this, the effect of aggression through the environment of technologies and the Internet is much more permanent. It is not limited to the moment when the person is insulted, but remains for a long time in that virtual cloud .

Cases of cyberbullying are growing in a worrying way. The introduction to the world of technology should come with an “instruction manual”, administered by educators, parents, etc., which would include a section aimed at raising awareness of the risks and real impact that cyberbullying can have on a person’s life and training in appropriate self-protection measures.