Home Cyberpsychology & Technology Lesser-Known Signs of Cyberbullying Everyone Should Know

Lesser-Known Signs of Cyberbullying Everyone Should Know

Published: Last updated:
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Almost everyone has experienced being the victim of a bully at some part of their life. From the playground to the boardroom, those who prey on the weaker mental and physical health of others to goad, annoy, deride, and sometimes destroy, sadly walk among us. Cyberbullying, however, has become one of the darker defining trends of the social media era, and it is both more insidious and harder to escape than other forms of bullying. Today we take a look at more subtle signs of cyberbullying – and what to do to help if you notice it in others.

What is cyberbullying?

At its simplest, cyberbullying is leveraging digital platforms to intimidate and threaten through electronic devices. From smartphones and PCs through social media, community forums and hangouts like Discord, and even direct IM and PM messages, it can be conducted through both image and text. 

As with all types of bullying, it’s also difficult to open up to others about what the victim is facing. Sadly, it’s highly prevalent among the always-connected teenage demographic, although it’s also spreading to older adults and children. 

Whether it’s the shame of what’s being leveraged, concern around the stigma of being a victim or “telling” on our peers, threats, or simply a lack of self worth that doesn’t realise the bullying isn’t deserved, it can be difficult to open up about the problem, too. This is why a watchful eye from others can be invaluable to help the victim and validate them.

Why social media brings out bullies

One of the best ways to counter cyberbullying risks is staying safe on social media. Why has social media- which can be used in immensely positive ways- become a cesspool for cyberbullies to hide in, however?

Part of it is connected to the anonymous nature of many social media platforms. It is inherently easier to lash out at someone while hidden behind a screen. It’s also easier to feel no consequences from your actions, as you never see the effect on the victim, who is kept at a squeaky-clean arm’s length from you. 

Additionally (and regrettably) it’s become more and more ‘accepted’ for adults to set appalling examples of online behaviour that it’s inevitable impressionable teens and children would ape. 

After all, if they regularly witness trusted adults lashing out at the smallest of things, calling each other names over nothing, trolling for fun, and behaving in ways they would never endorse ‘in real life’, where is the good example?

Lastly, social media has become the defining feature of our teens’ and children’s lives. No other generation, not even the later millennials, have been raised with some much constant connection to digital media. While it can do good, it’s inevitable that bad behaviour would also go online. Tech growth has outpaced social growth around these new platforms.

Sadly, it’s this constant connection that makes cyberbullying so insidious and dangerous. Unlike the bully at school you can get away from at home and on the weekends, cyberbullies can torment their victims 24/7, with little chance of escape.

Lesser known signs of cyberbullying

All the classic signs of bullying still exist in the cyberbullying arena. Deteriorating mental health, withdrawal from loved activities, eagerness to avoid certain places, people, or situations, destroyed possessions (even if these possessions are online assets like gaming accounts or social media profiles), stress-related illnesses like headaches and stomach pain, nightmares, declining grades, and more still manifest from cyberbullying. 

What lesser known signs might you spot, however?

  • Intimidating and sinister messages. As a parent or concerned adult, you likely monitor some of your child’s online behavior. Unkind, strange, or intimidating messages are a warning sign something is wrong.
  • Photo sharing. While modern teens, especially, share photos online as a routine, they often fail to realize how little control they have over these images once uploaded. Sharing photos outside of intended circles can be a sign of cyberbullying- or cyberbullies in the making.
  • Smack talk and trolling. These have somehow become accepted in online gaming, but shouldn’t be- and can quickly turn into bullying behavior instead of ‘game talk’. Some cyberbullies may not even realize what they’re doing, as the behavior is so widely accepted as ‘normal’.
  • Gossip. Gossip spreads online, too. If you notice someone constantly connected to a device, but acting secretively, they may either be receiving or spreading gossip to hurt.
  • Website usage. Hosting humiliating websites, either to picture share or spread malicious stories, is another cyberbullying tactic that often goes under the radar
  • Sock puppets. If you notice someone is frequently changing accounts on platforms that don’t need this behaviour, it can be a sign they are using ‘sock puppets’, fictitious account personas, to gang up on others.
  • Hacking. While interest in cybersecurity and coding is perfectly normal, if you notice it’s being taken to extremes, it may be being leveraged as a tool to intrude and bully

Stopping cyberbullies

One of the best ways to stop these cyberbullies is to make sure they aren’t in your own home. Being an engaged parent doesn’t mean just reacting if your child is abused; it means watching your own child’s behavior for bullying tendencies and disciplining poor online behavior. Likewise, providing a good example of online behavior is critical. Don’t be the hypocrite preaching good behavior while lashing out at others online.

Keep an eagle eye on children close to you for signs they’re taking abuse, or dishing it out. Watch out for subtle signs of deteriorating mental health, anxiety, and growing depression. Don’t dismiss your child’s concerns as unimportant because they don’t have ‘adult worries’. 

And most of all, make yourself a safe space the young people in your life can approach. Don’t brush off their concerns or tell them to ‘man up’. Instead, be an engaged and active listener they can trust to help them respond to the abuse.

No one should be bullied online, but stopping cyberbullying starts with all of us.

Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

© Copyright 2014–2034 Psychreg Ltd