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Understanding the different types of cyber bullying to create safer online spaces


Johannesburg, 03 Jun 2024
Cyber bullying can take many forms.
Cyber bullying can take many forms.

Despite the countless benefits that technology brings to our daily lives, the digital age also has a dark side, enabling bullies to abuse their victims from behind the anonymity of a computer screen. Just like physical bullying, cyber bullying can take many forms and include a variety of acts that can cause long-lasting emotional and physical harm, even after the bullying has stopped.

This is according to Candice Toprek, Underwriting Lead: Personal Cyber at iTOO Special Risks, who points out that the proliferation of social media and digital communication platforms has facilitated the spread of online bullying.

“Cyber bullying is defined as the repeated and intentional use of electronic communications to humiliate, intimidate, harass, frighten or threaten another person. While being picked on is one of the most common characteristics of bullying, online harassment takes on countless different forms, with children being particularly vulnerable to this type of behaviour,” she explains.

Unfortunately, blocking the perpetrator is not always effective in stopping cyber bullying, as abusers can use multiple platforms and accounts to continue their abusive behaviour. Children often have to deal with cyber bullying from countless angles, which is why it can be so persistent and potentially damaging.”

Toprek notes that for parents and educators to effectively protect children from harmful online behaviour and to create a safer digital space, a better understanding of what encompasses cyber bullying is required.

Types of cyber bullying include:

  • Social exclusion

Social exclusion is the deliberate act of leaving someone out. It can take many forms, such as a child being purposely excluded from a group or party that everyone is talking about, or being left out of message threads or conversations that involve mutual friends.

  • Harassment

This is a broad category that can apply to many instances of cyber bullying. However, there is a distinction between bullying and harassment. Bullying refers to actions that cause physical or emotional harm to another person, but when the victim belongs to a protected class, such as race, religion, gender, disability or other characteristics, the behaviour is considered harassment.

  • Outing or doxing

Outing or doxing is the act of revealing personal or sensitive information about an individual without their consent with the intent to cause them harm or humiliation. In the case of cyber bullying, doxing might involve exposing private photos or messages of an individual without their permission and sharing them publicly.

  • Trickery

Similar to outing, trickery has an added element of deception. In such cases, bullies will befriend their targets to gain their trust. Once trust is gained, they will share the victim’s secrets and private information maliciously.

  • Cyber stalking

Cyber stalking is the use of technology to make someone else afraid or concerned about their safety. This is a particularly serious and potentially harmful form of cyber bullying and can include making threats via text, instant message, e-mail or social media; sextortion; tracking a person’s online movements and actions; or posting harassing or threatening statements about a person online.

  • Dissing

Dissing is a term used to describe a type of bullying where the perpetrator shares harmful information about their victim, either through public posts or private messages. The purpose of dissing is to ruin the victim’s reputation or relationships with others. Typically, the perpetrator has a personal relationship with the victim, such as a friend or acquaintance.

  • Trolling

Trolling is the deliberate act of posting comments online that are meant to provoke negative reactions and create conflict, such as making inflammatory or attacking remarks in a Reddit thread or social media group. Trolling bullies usually don’t have a personal relationship with their victims and are more interested in causing trouble and inciting negative emotions.

  • Flaming or roasting

Flaming is a type of personal attack that is more direct and personal than trolling. It usually takes place in a social setting such as a social media group or chat forum. It typically includes the use of profane language and insulting comments to intimidate the victim.

“When a parent discovers that their child is a victim of cyber bullying, they should reassure them that they are loved and supported. Get your child to step away from the computer or device and take a break,” says Toprek.

“If you can identify the bully, consider talking with their parents or contacting your child’s school. If bullying is happening online, it might also be happening offline. It is important to empower your child with specific steps that he or she can take to break the cycle of cyber bullying.”