Cyber-bullying is the deliberate and systematic harassing or defaming of an individual through derogatory postings and comments on the Internet.

In some cases the material posted can be disguised as professional opinion, as the opinion of a group of people or as coming from an organization or even a supposed trusted source. At times, the cyber-bully will weave in known information about the target of their behaviour and then distort the known information so as to reflect poorly upon their victim. What should be a virtue of their target is twisted into a criticism. At times the postings are so outlandish so as to lose credibility on their own merit.

The intent of cyber-bullying is to bring harm to the person targeted whether that harm is emotional, psychological, relational, professional, reputation, economic or otherwise. The person targeted by the cyber-bully may be of any age. Children, teenagers, young adults middle aged adults and older adults may be victimized by a cyber-bully. Businesses may also be targeted.

Typically, the cyber-bully is someone who is either jealous of or believes themselves to have been thwarted or angered by the target of their behaviour. When jealous of their target, the cyber-bully believes they are elevated in stature to the degree their target is devalued. If feeling thwarted or angered by their target, the behaviour is directed towards righting a perceived wrong.

Most often if the cyber-bully does feel thwarted or angered it was on the basis of their being held accountable or responsible for other inappropriate behavior or for not having facilitated or enabled the cyber-bully’s personal and selfish desire or self-gratification at the expense of another. In this context, the behaviour of the cyber-bully is vindictive, believing their target is deserving of their scorn, humiliation and deceit.

Cyber-bullies flourish on the Internet. The internet provides a fertile breading ground as the cyber-bully can find numerous opportunities to defame their target in anonymity. It is that anonymity that gives the cyber-bully a false sense of strength.

Nefarious companies have arisen on the Internet providing sanctuary for cyber-bullies to survive and actually thrive. There are websites dedicated to allowing persons to post their venomous content with impunity and with no opportunity for the target of the slanderous or harassing content to have the content easily removed. Other nefarious companies have arisen that promote the ability to have the content removed that the target is otherwise incapable of, but at exorbitant costs. While not known for sure, this provides the impression that the websites that provide refuge for cyber-bullies to post with impunity and the websites that boast the ability to remove such content at great expense may have one and the same ownership thus actually manipulating the availability of cyber-bullies into a financial opportunity.

At times there may be precious little that the victim can do to defend themselves directly from the attack of a cyber-bully. However and perhaps more indirectly, there are several things a target can do, including:

1) Recognize, as most will, the diatribes of the cyber-bully against their target is the evidence that the person posting is indeed a cyber-bully – an abusive person or persons;

2) Do not respond or seek to defend yourself but rather, let your personal behaviour and reputation speak for itself;

3) Do not be shamed or embarrassed by the cyber-bully’s postings. Indeed given the postings are a reflection on the cyber-bully and evidence of them as abusive, feel free to comment to others as you deem appropriate that you have been targeted by a cyber-bully. Cyber-bullies like to see the target of their postings humiliated and isolated. This is true in most abusive situations. By not falling prey to the cyber-bully’s intent, you empower yourself over the cyber-bully.

4) If and when you learn the identity of the cyber-bully, bring the full extent of the law to the situation; if at work, notify your employer; if in a school or an institutional setting, notify the head or human resources.

5) If you are overwhelmed or scared, the result of a cyber-bully attack, do seek support for yourself.

If you or a loved one is the target of a cyber-bully, it would be my pleasure to be of service should the need arise. You are not alone. And by the way, if you are the target of a cyber-bully, it just may be because you have done something right.

Author's Bio: 

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
(905) 628-4847
Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America and was the first social worker to sit on the Ontario Board for Collaborative Family Law.