Cyberbullies are people who use the Internet, cell phones or other devices to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.
These bullies have been around for a very long time. Actually, once chat rooms and IM programs were invented, they came along with that package. Actions that are considered cyberbullying include seeking out ways to to intimidate, control, manipulate, put down, falsely discredit, or humiliate the receive of this bullying. These actions are deliberate, repeated, and hostile, and instigators try their best to make sure that they really hurt the recipient. Besides the internet, cyber bullying can also occur via phone calls, text messaging and online gaming sessions (however, in the gaming world, cyber bullies would be called “trolls”, but that’s a discussion for another time).
As bullying has become a serious concern, the government has launched a number of different programs aimed at teaching kids how to stop cyber bullying behavior, prevent it, and/or defend themselves against it. Nowadays, young users will defend themselves against their cyberbullies. When this occurs, the typical post of “HAHAHA YOU SMELL LIKE SWAMP A**” will actually turn into an argument of some sort where both parties trade blows. However, cyber bullies come in many forms. Different types of bullies employ different tactics to wound or provoke the target.
While the victim uses logic and reasoning to defend themselves, the cyberbully my label the victim with terms that are perceived to be pejorative. By labeling their target with terms like social justice warrior or white knight a bully can seek to discredit the other person’s argument. A social justice warrior is a term that is used to label activists who are very likely to engage in lengthy and hostile debates against others on a range of issues concerning social injustice, identity politics and political correctness. White knights are people, typically men, who try to defend women in an argument, but in return expect some sort of romantic reward.
Cyberbullies will use these names—social warrior and white knight—to discredit the victim. Insinuating that someone is a social justice warrior implies that this person champions social causes as a way of increasing their social media following or making themselves more visible within an online community. Calling someone a white knight similarly implies that they are leaping to the defense of someone they perceive as helpless in hopes of being admired as a hero.
Something else cyberbullies often try to use is the “strawman” fallacy. Rather than respond to the victims criticism the bully will instead react to a “strawman” a weaker version of the original argument that is more easily discredited. This strawman argument stands in for the actual subject of the debate making it easy to derail any otherwise productive conversation. A cyberbully will probably do this when they become aware that they are starting to lose. They’ll use this tactic with the goal of derailing the argument all together, ensuring that the conflict simply continues with no resolution.
It’s honestly great to see users defend themselves when they get picked on via the interwebs, but now things are starting to get a lot more tactical. Bullies and trolls are becoming more strategic in their effort to elicit a reaction or inflict some sort of emotional harm. It’s up to each of us to be vigilant for signs of cyberbullying. Only through awareness can we make the internet a safe and enjoyable forum for the open exchange of ideas and free expression.