Bullying is a not a new problem but the ease at which it can occur has changed over the years. Specifically, digital media brings new dynamics to the situations where bullying may occur. It may take a bit of courage to bully another person in a face-to-face situation but when the need for live contact is removed, any person, great or small, can engage in the act.
During a face-to-face interaction with another human being, most people can control any impulse to harm or otherwise devalue the communication partner. Meaning, we refrain from acting out with free-range emotion even if we don’t like the way someone dresses, talks, or is basically “different” than what we think they should be. However, it may be with ease that the same self-regulated or self-controlled individuals feel free to express their opinions when sitting alone with their mediated devices.
Psychological interpretations of enhanced self-importance are common during mediated communication events. These narcissistic interpretations occur for various reasons with one main gist being the way in which we must visually construct an entire conversation even though the conversation is not occurring at that very moment — we somewhat pretend and act out a scene as though we are an actor. We imagine the reactions of others and unfortunately when doing so, those reactions may not be true to what would actually occur. Much of it is a fantasy. A serious part of this misinterpretation is that we assume others will fully comprehend our intent. Humor or anger will not always come through as intended during “blind” communication that lacks non-verbal cues.
A larger problem associated with bullying through mediated communication is the assumption of anonymity that many people will feel when communicating in this way. Even in instances when people choose to use their real names such as in a social forum, the disconnect of not being present in a live situation offers that sense of being invisible, immune, or otherwise safe to do or say whatever one wants. Instant emotional gratification takes over because the fear of instant retaliation is relatively non-existent. We can say something mean or hurtful and instead of waiting for a real response, we can walk away from the cell phone or computer and continue living out the fantasy of how we “imagine” the scene plays out.
With what I have just stated, most readers may understand how a person can easily come to be a bully when communicating through his or her cell phone, computer, or other similar device. What I have not stated is how much more damaging it may be for the person targeted by the bully when these same psychological factors of mediated communication come into play.
The victim must also rely on the same psychological interpretation practices when decoding messages. They too will become an actor in a scene where they must create a visual image of an entire scene that culminated the eventual hurtful remarks or messages being sent to them or about them. Differing from a face-to-face encounter where the victim realizes how the bullying played out in real-time, such as who was present and so on, in the mediated communication event, he or she must somehow construct the entire scene of who was present and what other actions occurred at the same time. The bullied victim becomes helpless to defend in this circumstance because they were not present in a live encounter. He or she may imagine a scenario way worse than what actually is the truth such as thinking every person he or she knows is “in on the personal attack.” Perhaps though, the most tragic part of being on the bullying end during a mediated communication event is that the “imaginary scene” can be replayed repeatedly, without end.
Over time, words and actions can soften and blur after a live interaction, but this is not necessarily true for messages received in other social forums. Words and images can be captured for eternity from cell phone text messages and computer screens. A person can print off and re-read what has been posted and so even if the bully deletes derogatory comments, they are not really gone because someone may have already captured the messages. This is a sad fact that many people do not take into consideration when engaging in this behavior. Hitting the delete button isn’t a guarantee of anything after it’s already been posted. Once you say it or post it, you own it.
Bullying is a large problem in our society and the effects can affect an entire community if or when a victim gives in to the pressure. Some people may say that bullying is simply a right-of-passage and that people being bullied just need to learn to be “tough.” I do not agree. Exerting any negative power over another human being is never a “right” that anyone should have. I know people, grown adults, who never got over instances of being bullied when they were young. The hurt, anger, and embarrassment remains long after the actions cease.
Every person reacts differently to whatever stimuli come his or her way. A major flaw to the bully’s way of thinking is that he or she assumes to know how the victim should feel or should be able to handle the harassment. It is impossible to know all the stressors of another person. It’s impossible to know where the breaking point rests.
Bullying takes on many forms. Most people may associate physical force or harmful words as being the main form of bullying. In reality, exerting any type of negative power over another human being, such as isolating or intimidating them, fits the stereotype of what a bully really is.
October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. Educate yourself and your children about both sides of the bullying issue--being the bully and being the victim. It’s all about the right to live in peace.