Understand the bystander’s role in cyberbullying


Understand the bystander’s role in cyberbullying

While it can take just one teen to start the humiliation and harassment of another person, often times bystanders help perpetuate the bullying, giving the bully more power and momentum. But according to Public Safety Canada (PSC), it doesn’t have to be that way.

There are two types of bystanders – active and passive. A passive bystander sees the bullying or cyberbullying take place, but does nothing about it. The harassment they see may be an attack on social media, a poll set up to hurt someone or a hurtful photo. The passive bystander doesn’t join in or contribute to the bullying, but they don’t do anything to stop it either. According to the PSC, this silence gives the bully permission to keep going.

The active bystander joins in on the bullying and their actions could be as simple as forwarding a message to their own friends or liking and supporting the hurtful messages or photos on social media. They could also add comments to encourage the bullying or join into the bullying themselves.

Many children who are acting as these two types of bystanders could be contributing to cyberbullying without even knowing it. PSC spokesperson Zarah Malik said that educating children and parents about the bystanders and cyberbullying in general is the goal of federal government’s Stop Hating Online campaign.

“Stop Hating Online focuses on cyberbullying in terms of social impacts and potential legal consequences. The campaign encourages everyone to stand up against cyberbullying,” she said. “It’s important to avoid making a terrible situation even worse.”

Malik said there are a number of things that bystanders can do to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. They include:

  • Comment disapprovingly on posts, images or videos that hurt people. When it comes to this, there’s no such thing as harmless fun. Refuse to forward or share it.
  • Do something. Sometimes, we’re so relieved that we’re not the target that we just let it slide. Maybe it will be you next time. At the very least, offer support to the victim of the online bullying.
  • Remaining silent could be misinterpreted as approval by both the person cyberbullying and the victim. If you can’t bring yourself to take a stand against the cruelty, at least get a message to the person being cyberbullied that you disapprove of what’s happening, and that it’s not their fault. Acts like that actually save lives.
  • Don’t wait, and don’t tell yourself it’s none of your business. You don’t want to be looking back on this moment years from now, wishing you’d done or said something. Help your friend now.

Parents can also play a major role in preventing cyberbulling by educating them on the impact of bystanders. PSC recommends discussing the following issue with your children:

  • Let them know how bystanders – both passive and active – are part of the problem and help the bully gain more power and hurt the victim.
  • Encourage empathy. Help your child put themselves in someone else’s position, and to imagine how they would feel. Or how they would feel if this were being said or done to their sibling, cousin, or other friends.
  • Encourage them to never forward humiliating messages, texts or photos to their friends, respond or make comments on cyberbullying posts.
  • Teach your child to never say something online they wouldn’t feel comfortable saying to someone’s face.
  • Talk to them about how they could be vocal with their friends, informing their friends they won’t take part in any cyberbullying.
  • If they see cyberbullying on a site like Facebook, show them how they can report it as abusive. Facebook has introduced a Cyberbullying Prevention Hub where users can report a friend is being bullied (or that they’ve been bullied themselves). Most social networking sites have reporting features built in to flag abusive content. You can help your child by exploring together what they are for the various sites they’re active on.
  • Let them know that if they know someone is being cyberbullied, they should report it. It could be to you, to a teacher, or to another adult they trust.
  • They can also fill out an anonymous letter and drop it off with a teacher or school office.
  • If they know the victim personally, they can help the victim by acknowledging what they’re going through, and help them to report it to an adult and find support.
  • If they are friends with the person doing the cyberbullying, they can send a message saying they’re uncomfortable with what they’re seeing, and ask them to stop.
  • The hardest thing for your child to do may be to take an active stand. But if you can help them feel safe enough to do so, it can have a lot of impact. Using neutral language, they can comment on a bullying post or photo by saying something like: “I’m going to hide this or unfollow this because I think it’s hurtful. I encourage others to do the same.” Or, in the case of persistent bullying, “I’m going to block this person, because I think what they’re doing is hurtful. I hope other people will do the same.” Many children know cyberbullying is wrong, and will join in saying so once one person has shown the courage to step forward.
  • Share any examples you know of where someone taking a stand on someone else’s behalf had a positive outcome.
  • Empower your child or teen to deal with the situation by providing them with information such as the www.NeedHelpNow.ca website where they can find information on how to deal with others or how to have pictures/videos removed from the Internet.

This article, written by Edmonton freelance writer Dave S. Clark was originally published by Postmedia Agency.