A new term that has emerged over the last 10 or so years is “cyberbullying”. As the name would suggest, cyberbullying is the act of bullying someone, but over the Internet. Bullying has always been somewhat of an issue in a world where everyone is trying to prove that they are tough or smart or strong, but cyberbullying made things even worse in a few ways.
First, there is the fact that many people will say things online that they would never say in person. This creates an environment where many people are saying worse things about people just by sheer nature of the fact that they will never have to face the consequences.
It has been speculated that many of the things that President Trump tweets are just along these lines. He will call people out, usually journalists, and say nasty things about them in order to knock them down. This is an effective strategy for the bully if it elevates their social status, which it obviously has in some part for Donald Trump.
The next issue comes from the level of anonymity that occurs on the Internet. Facebook requires at least some accountability, but Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube make it possible for many people to say terrible things just because no one is able to identify them.
If you’ve ever browsed through some YouTube comments, you have probably seen how insane things can get. This is due to the combination of anonymity and the identity that commenters wrap up in their comments. For every comment someone makes, they are trying to communicate something about themselves or align themselves with a certain group. This creates a “my tribe versus your tribe” sort of debate that quickly devolves to name-calling.
In recent events, we saw Milo Yiannopoulos get banned from Twitter for leading an anti-feminist campaign of online abuse against the stars of the new Ghostbusters. Leslie Jones was taking the brunt of the attacks and eventually appealed to Twitter to ban Milo for the abuse. This has led to numerous free speech debates, but hasn’t lessened the level of cyberbullying that is occurring.
The solution to all of this isn’t yet clear. Do we get rid of anonymity? Should people be responsible for what they said online just as if they said it in person? The only thing that is clear is that the social networks are going to have to change fast in order to preserve themselves.