The paper represents research on the issue of cyberbullying (Internet bullying), which has become extremely widespread nowadays. The research question of the paper is to identify the essential psychological, social, and emotional consequences of cyberbullying on young people, college students. The literature review on the issue of cyberbullying and its consequences shows numerous approaches to deal with the issue and resolve the most uncommon consequences of illegal Internet usage. In addition, based on the literature review, the methodology was identified. It comprised of 10 people, who were interviewed to identify their attitude towards the cyberbullying. The results showed that almost all participants have been exposed to cyberbullying at least one time in their lives. Furthermore, the majority of the respondents confirmed that they were engaged in cyberbullying because of vengeance intention, and found it very helpful. Further investigation is planned to cover the possible coping strategies to provide support to the cyberbullying victims.
Cyberbullying and Young People
Currently, cyberbullying has become a hot topic for discussions among not only parents and teachers at educational institutions, but also within government, especially in relation to the increasing incidence of suicide. In fact, the distribution of the cyberbullying phenomenon is associated with the development of Internet technologies. Increased instances of Internet addiction lead to cyberbullying and aggression among adolescents. This type of aggression is common among teenagers, college and university students; since the identity of the offender remains anonymous, they feel free to engage in different violent behaviors.
The electronic means of communication are available to everyone, allowing offenders to catch up with the victim anytime and anywhere. In addition, the Internet helps speed up the transmission of information. After appearing on the web, the information is out of control, and, consequently, the insults, humiliation, unpleasant pictures, video can circulate indefinitely. Recently, the phenomenon of teen bullying was discussed and restricted by attentive teachers and parents. However, due to the modern interactive means of communication, this initiative is not easy to exercise. Today, there is a serious problem associated with letting children go online, such as cyberbullying, since it has negative psychological and physiological consequences on teens.
Cyberbullying has negative social, psychological, and emotional consequences on both offenders and victims and creates an unpleasant and undesired environment for young people.
This paper is aimed to answer the following research question,
What social, psychological, and emotional consequences do cyberbullying have on college students?
To investigate what has been studied before on the subject and to establish a theoretical framework, it is significant to review the most recent literature devoted to the topic of cyberbullying. According to a statistical investigation conducted by Dredge, Gleeson, and de la Piedad Garcia (2015), the cyberbullying phenomenon exists in many countries such as the USA, the UK, and Australia. The local Ministries of Education of those countries are forced to pay more attention to this problem. Hence, according to statistics, in English-speaking countries, the manifestations of cyberbullying are faced by more than one-third of adolescents aged 16-21 (Dredge et al., 2015). In Europe and the United States, the issue of cyberbullying has been relevant for a long time. After a few suicides committed because of online aggression, the parliaments of individual states in the US have passed laws by which such aggressors are punishable: a conviction can result in up to several years in prison. Dredge et al. (2015) note that in Europe, however, the scholars began to pay attention to the issue of cyberbullying recently, despite the fact that the problem at the moment is very acute. It is possible to judge the size of the phenomena by the content of weekly news, which covers incidents of severe cyberbullying often coupled with physical violence (Dredge et al., 2015). The authors of the research claim that according to the allegations of psychologists, in Europe, every third child suffers from cyberbullying (Dredge et al., 2015). Currently, the phenomenon of bullying has moved from the real to the virtual environment and has become much stronger and much more dangerous.
Chang et al. (2015) define the phenomenon of cyberbullying as a deliberate, often-recurring harassing of an adolescent through means of electronic technologies, including insulting and threatening messages, distribution of personal information as well as photos and videos of the victim across the network. Cyberbullying entails consequences that affect the state of mental health: development disorders, mental disorders, psycho-emotional instability, constant feeling of anxiety, fear, paranoia development (Chang et al., 2015). Concerning the physical health, which is connected with the psychological and emotional state of a person, the scholars state that a victim is likely to experience depression, decreased immunity, frequent headaches, heart pains, memory impairment, short attention span, tics, what can lead to serious diseases, such as gastric ulcer, neurosis, diabetes mellitus (Chang et al., 2015). It affects the social skills of the college students, who often demonstrate the unwillingness to communicate, loss of social contacts, isolation, lower educational achievement, the reluctance to go to college, truancy, inactivity in the classroom, and low scores.
The analysis of the reasons helps determine how cyberbullying affects adolescent personality. According to Hong et al. (2016), the most difficult period in the lives of adolescents starts at the age of 13-14 years old and continues up to college graduation (Hong et al., 2016). At this time, due to self-doubts and an acute sense of inferiority, the adolescents become hypochondriac and are exposed to very strong pressure. Hence, Hong et al. (2016) note that an adolescent actively resists rules that limit his/her independence and opposes parent’s care and control. Moreover, he/she asks to respect his/her personality and calls for human dignity and equality. During this period, the relationship of college students with their peers, friends, and classmates become more complicated. Communication with fellow peers is of great value. On the one hand, as Hong et al. (2016) points out, the adolescent’s need for communication, collaboration, collective life, friendship is obvious. On the other hand, they are characterized by the desire to be accepted, recognized, respected, and approved by their friends. Often, the need for belongingness makes some adolescents commit rash acts, behave as aggressors towards the weaker peers, and in so doing increase their self-esteem and prestige (Hong et al., 2016). In this regard, Hong et al. (2016) tend to believe that adolescence is the most important stage in the development of human health. During this period of anxiety and doubt, violence against the person often leads to irreparable losses. This may explain the fact that healthy and happy adolescents after leaving school and entering a college become depressed.
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According to the study by Depaolis and Williford (2015), an adolescent victim of cyberbullying faces a large number of psychological, pedagogical, physiological (health), and social issues. Violations occurring during cyberbullying affect all levels of functioning of the adolescent. They lead to persistent personality changes that prevent him/her from the ability to realize themselves in the future. First, Depaolis and Williford (2015) state that it is paramount to consider the influence of cyberbullying on the social life of an adolescent, as such consequences appear at an early stage. The signal social issues caused by cyberbullying include invisibility, lack of a desire to make contact with parents and friends; avoidance of college and other companies; the loss of communication skills; maladjustment, disintegration, and also deviant behavior (Depaolis and Williford, 2015). In pedagogical and psychological terms, cyberbullying affects the following components of adolescent development. First, it leads to reduced student achievements and reluctance to attend an educational institution, truancy. Secondly, a person makes unstable assessments and is characterized by low educational activity. Besides, the authors state that caused by cyberbullying both social and educational depression is a manifestation of more serious problems, i.e. psychological depression (Depaolis and Williford, 2015). The psychological state of an adolescent is very important, because such trauma affects all levels of a child’s life, and leaves a permanent mark. According to Depaolis and Williford (2015), the effects of psychological cyberbullying are serious, since they include the reduction of self-esteem, loss of self-confidence, violation of psychological development, mental disorders, psycho-emotional instability, constant feeling of anxiety, fear, paranoia, and thoughts of suicide.
According to the research by Faucher, Jackson, and Cassidy (2015), cyberbullying, electronic bullying, online social cruelty represent a separate line of harassment, defined as intentional aggressive actions performed systematically during some time and implemented by a group or an individual, using electronic forms of communication and against the victim, who cannot easily protect him/herself. Faucher, Jackson, and Cassidy (2015) highlight the fact that cyberbullying involves the use of e-mail, instant messages, web pages, blogs, forums and chats, MMS and SMS messaging online games and other information communication technologies. This is a very new area of research, which does not have an established terminological system. In addition, the authors suggest that similar to traditional bullying, cyberbullying can be direct or indirect. Direct cyberbullying manifests in a direct attack on a child through messages (Faucher, Jackson, & Cassidy, 2015). The indirect victim appears in the process of cyberbullying depending on whether it involves other people (both children and adults), who do not give their consent. Herein, Faucher, Jackson, and Cassidy (2015) note that a persecutor can crack an online account of a victim, mimic a host and send messages from this account, destroying the object’s communicative field and creating doubt in his/her moral qualities. Moreover, the authors illustrate their statements with examples. One of the most threatening situations is when the intruder publishes information on the web, which actually puts a person in danger, for example, he/she can place on victim’s behalf an ad for sex partners, etc. (Faucher, Jackson & Cassidy, 2015). Finally, Faucher, Jackson, and Cassidy (2015) state that similar to traditional bullying cyberbullying puts actions on a continuum, which makes it impossible to recognize the behavior of some people as harassment. However, some of aggressor’s behaviors can lead even to the death of the victim (Faucher, Jackson & Cassidy, 2015). Consequently, the authors continue to enumerate the types of cyberbullying and their impact on people. Hence, Faucher, Jackson, and Cassidy (2015) believe that a similar meaning, but less manipulative and more directly aggressive, has a term called cyberstalking. It presupposes electronic communications aimed to harass a victim through repeated messages, which cause anxiety and irritation due to threats of malpractice or injury. The victims of cyberstalking can become the recipient of messages or members of his/her family (Faucher, Jackson & Cassidy, 2015). In addition, shame, anxiety or fear can be caused by the so-called sexting (sexting, a mix of two words, sex and text) (Faucher, Jackson & Cassidy, 2015). This practice includes mailing or publication of photos and video materials with naked and half-naked people. The older adolescents are, the more likely they are involved in sexting. According to the survey conducted by Faucher, Jackson & Cassidy (2015), 10% of young people from 18 to 24 years old have sent or published images of themselves with sexual overtones, 15% of them have directly received such a message from someone else.
Exclusion from the community to which people feel they belong can be experienced as social death. In this regard, Young et al. (2016) show in their article that exception/ostracism of online communities can occur in any password-protected environment or through the removal from‘friends list.’ The experiment by Young et al. (2016) demonstrated that the deletion of the Internet community member lowers his/her self-esteem and helps ensure that in this community, he/she starts to behave in a proper way (Young et al., 2016). Often, after the exclusion, a person joins other groups (in particular, thematically similar to the first community), where he/she can partially cope with the negative experiences, because numerous ‘accomplices’ give a person inspiration and strengthens his/her faith in the possibility to escape the stigma on his/her own or with the help of the new group members. If there is no direct reason, a former victim can engage in similar indirect harassment, which is conducted in isolation and due to the rejection of some group members.
Herein, Cross, Lester, & Barnes (2015) state that to enhance the sense of humiliation in the victims, the persecutors spread a video of the attack on the Internet, letting thousands of spectators watch and comment on it. Unfortunately, uploading a video on the Internet is much easier than removing it from there. Thus, as Cross, Lester, & Barnes (2015) mention, the main way of persecution on the Internet include involvement of the community of the victim into his/her personal life (involving many witnesses at times reinforces shame, fear, helplessness, and rejection); uncontrolled spread of any (false, shameful, confidential) information; provocation of active feedback from the victim (Cross, Lester & Barnes, 2015). The aim of cyberbullying is the deterioration of the emotional state of the victim and/or the destruction of his/her social relations.
Similarly to the traditional harassment, cyberbullying involves systematic aggressiveness and inequality in the power of the persecutor and the victim. However, in this regard, Cross, Lester, Barnes, Cardoso, and Hadwen (2015) note that the power within the cyberspace has its peculiar features since anonymous stalker can hide behind the false identities and access a huge audience, giving heed to rumors and slander. In addition, the victim of harassment can be reached through electronic devices anytime and anywhere (Cross, Lester, Barnes, Cardoso & Hadwen, 2015). If the regular pursuer can be stopped with moral arguments, the cyberbullying practically does not require a person to interrupt his/her main activity. In fact, he/she is not distracted from any tasks, i.e., this is a very comfortable way to increase the level of adrenaline. Cross, Lester, Barnes, Cardoso & Hadwen (2015) believe that the specifics of cyberbullying include anonymity, continuity, countless invisible witnesses, the absence of feedback, and the phenomenon of release. These are the most powerful tools to influence negatively the victim’s psychological state and socialization skills. Unlike traditional bullying, where the person knows the aggressor and can try to avoid him/her, cyberstalker is anonymous (Cross, Lester, Barnes, Cardoso & Hadwen, 2015). The victim does not know whether one or several pursuers participate in the process. This uncertainty increases anxiety, and the victim can begin to fantasize about the power and strength of the aggressor and in his/her connections, increasing the personal feelings of insecurity and vulnerability, drawing on his/her own past experience. Thus, cyberbullying can be particularly dangerous for children and adolescents with traumatic experiences or those, who have experienced rejection within the family.
Concerning the difficult consequences of cyberbullying, Carter and Wilson (2015) denote that the uncertainty is reinforced by continuity since the persecution over the Internet and cell phones does not stop, day or night. Moreover, one published evidence can act as a reusable tool for harassment, raising new painful comments for the victim, apart from the fact that the target can reread the received abusive or threatening texts and experience re-traumatization (Carter & Wilson, 2015). Since Internet has a communicative function and is a space for socialization, the victim may view a bullying situation as a complete loss of opportunities for relationship building, development, and socialization (Carter & Wilson, 2015). In a fear of persecution, the child is worried to be deprived of access to the network. In addition, Carter and Wilson (2015) state that emotional feedback regulates human interactions; without it, there is no other way to measure violent behavior. The victim also cannot see the pursuer, and, therefore, cannot observe the expression of his/her face, interpret his/her tone. Such limitations make it difficult for him/her to read the meanings embedded in the message of the bully. Lack of emotional content in emails and instant messages often leads to misunderstandings between participants of communication and at the same time to an underestimation of the misunderstanding (Carter & Wilson, 2015). Thus, communication is distorted form both directions at the same time, and participants may not be aware of it. Although sometimes community members are clearly attached to the offender or the victim, there are many silent witnesses, who serve as a support of a pursuer, do not interfere with his/her actions and strengthen the already humiliating and painful experiences of the victim. Presumably, Carter and Wilson (2015) note that for the witnesses of the electronic violence it is easier to join the aggressor because they do not require any physical effort or social skills to do so. Along with this, the authors state that the most physically weak adolescents can actively persecute their strong peers, using modern technologies. In addition, the anonymity and lack of face-to-face interaction make it easy to forget about the human element in interaction and perceive what is happening as a simulation, or a computer game. Permitted online anonymity changes people’s behavior to a great extent. An opportunity not to be identified makes a person feel secure and free (or, as it is frequently referred to, disinhibition). It means that no threat of punishment and social disapproval is hanging over their shoulders, making the adolescents free from taking responsibility for their actions and statements.
Thus, Internet users face many various aggressive behaviors on the web. It is not always a conscious choice, but it carries risks. In fact, a couple of actions can be done to prevent cyberbullying. According to Lapidot-Lefler and Dolev-Cohen (2015), the struggle against annoying behavior on the Internet is divided into two directions. On the one hand, the development of technical devices can restrict unwanted content (filters, censorship, etc.) from appearing in social networks, various alarm buttons (such a ‘complain’ button) have to be located on the websites, and advanced privacy settings need to be available to all users (Lapidot-Lefler & Dolev-Cohen, 2015). On the other hand, Internet users have to be educated on basic safety rules and trained to engage in correct behavior towards other users. There are special web sites devoted to improving Internet literacy and teaching the correct, non-aggressive and non-victim behavior on the Internet (Lapidot-Lefler & Dolev-Cohen, 2015). In particular, certain actions on the Internet have to be discussed during such educational courses. For example, it has to be explained that a person who mails someone’s nude photograph is behaving badly and/or disrespectfully online, or spying on others. These recommendations are mainly focused on the technical side of the problem (as one can block messages from the aggressor and report the situation of violation of rights), and emphasize the importance of control over a person’s online activities. However, the actual psychological side of cyberbullying, as Lapidot-Lefler and Dolev-Cohen (2015) highlight, is the experience and behavior of the victim, the attacker and the observer, and the chance to cooperate with them. Hence, such recommendations suggest important and helpful steps in case a cyberbullying. In a situation of traditional bullying and cyberbullying in a particular community (e.g., study group at a college), the psychologist is aimed at changing the quality of relationships within the group, instead of altering the value of power and dominance-submission patterns. Along with this, it is paramount to form a relationship based on mutual respect and cooperation (Lapidot-Lefler & Dolev-Cohen, 2015). In a situation of cyberbullying, in the absence of a ‘real’ relationship between the victim and the aggressor, apparently, the primary target of the psychologist must become the personal boundaries of the victims and their sustainability skills. In any case, Lapidot-Lefler and Dolev-Cohen (2015) finally note that the students should learn on their own to make decisions consciously, understand the intentions of the bully. The Internet is a good platform that can help develop these skills.
The ability to avoid personal contact with aggressive interactions leads to the depersonalization of participants, the feeling that the bully is not real, and eventually to the fact that the persecution is even more severe in its infinity. In this regard, Olumide, Adams, and Amodu (2016) have a strong conviction that the transfer of such communication experience, with the loss of sensitivity and lack of reliance on the feedback, in ‘real-life’ is characterized by a very different response medium. In fact, the adolescent during the meeting might face his/her social incompetence. This underscores the need to develop psychological programs aimed at the improvement of communication skills among adolescents and young people. The originality and the possible threat of communication on the Internet are not fully reflected yet. Olumide, Adams, and Amodu (2016) have identified a number of differences in communication on the Internet and in reality. However, there is no straightforward ‘security’ and distinct ethical standards in online behavior. In this regard, a regular occurrence of unpleasant and sometimes tragic situations takes place. Olumide, Adams, and Amodu (2016) state that especially in social networks, now there is a wave of revelations of various crimes in the context of which a variety of personal information of the offender’s life has been actively replicated and published. It is very difficult to dissolve cases when publicity is opposed to staying silent having a positive effect on the community, and when it totally violates personal boundaries, and (even within professional journalism) starts to engage in cyberbullying. It is very important especially for children and adolescent audiences to develop an informed and valuable attitude to his/her behavior on the Internet and broadcast a consistent system of precautions to reduce the risk that a young person becomes a victim or an initiator of cyberbullying.
In order to comprehensively answer the research question of the present paper, it is important to have 10 (ten) interviews conducted. These interviews were aimed at finding the college students who had ever personally experienced cyberbullying, such as language abuse, depression, or another difficulty. Based on the information shared by the students, it is relevant to conduct the analysis of the possible consequences of cyberbullying and reveal the impacts it has on college students.
According to the conducted interviews, ten questioned adolescents are active users of the Internet and have accounts in popular social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, etc. Time spent on chatting online ranged between 5-9 hours per day (regardless of their need to study in the college). As a result, the survey identified that 5 out of 10 college students have been victims of cyberbullying at least once. An interesting fact is that 7 of them have acted as cyberbullies because they believe that aggression is necessary when responding to aggression. Only 3 students were exposed to cyberbullying and would never act as cyber bullies because they realize that such actions would offend the other person, and might lead to irreparable consequences (Hong et al., 2016).
3 students out of 10 surveyed adolescents have never experienced the unpleasant treatment in the network and have not subjected others in such situations (Hong et al., 2016). 7 college students suggested that they acted as cyberbullies because it reinforced their credibility among their friends and they found it funny (Hong et al., 2016). The incidences of cyberbullying were different (Hong et al., 2016). Out of 10 young people, cyberbullying was encountered several times per month by 4 persons, 3 adolescents stated that they faced it every six months, and 3 persons responded that they experienced cyberbullying not more than several times a year (Hong et al., 2016). The option of “several times a week” was not mentioned by any of the respondents.
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According to the interview, the majority of college students are exposed to the following types of cyberbullying: flaming (i.e. the exchange of short emotional cues between two or more people that takes place on the public pages); attacks (the repeated offensive messages directed at the victim (for example, hundreds of messages, constant calls) with an overload of personal communication channels); libel (i.e. spreading the false information and insulting (text messages, photos, songs)); imposture (when the pursuer has positioned himself as a victim, using his/her password to access the account in social networks, blogs, etc., or has created a page on behalf of the victim); happy slapping (videos with scenes of violence, beatings, kicks, and degrading the victim) (Hong et al., 2016).
The findings prove the fact that cyberbullying inevitably has a negative impact on all aspects of college students’ lives because of the experienced deterioration of social skills, and real threats to one’s physical health (intentions to commit suicide). Precisely, because of their age, adolescents are the most vulnerable group. Any action that degrades an adolescent causes serious damage (Hong et al., 2016). In the case of cyberbullying, the information of victims’ experiences is public knowledge, as threats and humiliation on the network are continuously shared. That is why, now, it is important to build the most productive theoretical model to provide high-quality assistance to adolescent victims of cyberbullying.
Finally, the majority of adolescents, who have been/are the victims of cyberbullying, are characterized by a high level of anxiety, frustration, and rigidity (Hong et al., 2016). High occurrence rates of these emotional states have a negative impact on the social and educational side of life, on the emotional state, and on the psychological and physical health of adolescents, and therefore there is a need for stabilization through purposeful work.
Discussion and Implications for Future Research
After analyzing the literature on the topic and conducting the interview, it is possible to state that the bullies realize the situation and can analyze it, as they have taken the actions. A cyberbully generally has a high status in the group and is able to influence other members. However, cyberbullying cannot be fully controlled by the offender, since it is only one of the feed ideas, which has a strong influence on the rest of the cyberbullying cases. In that case, if the offender suddenly wants to stop illegal actions against the victim, his/her partners will continue them, but they are impossible to be influenced (Cross, Lester, Barnes, Cardoso & Hadwen, 2015). This virtual space can be perceived as an ‘unreal’ world, wherein everything is ‘not real’, in contrast to the consequences, which are quite real; but until that time, the offender does not think about them (Slovak, Crabbs & Stryffeler, 2015).
If in the real world, the absolute and total freedom of speech is not possible, due to numerous filters, morality and culture restrictions. A man is often careful in his statements, and hostile, aggressive behavior interferes with his successful social adaptation in society, unlike the virtual world, which is mainly ruled by completely different values. Cyberagressors do not necessarily have to have physical strength, authority and influence on peers to feel superior (Ortega-Barin, Buelga & Cava, 2016). Cyberbullying can also affect the victim, leaving no space and time in which a person might feel protected. Hence, it is possible to draw the following conclusions. First, cyberbullying has an equally strong effect on the different generations (an adolescent, and, for example, a school teacher both can become a victim). Secondly, cyberbullying has specific characteristics and, thirdly, there is a new need to develop psychological tools (as well as online resources that will be most relevant for cyberbullying), which will help with the prevention of this phenomenon and will assist adolescents, as the most frequent users of social networks. The social, psychological, and emotional state of a person is easily harmed by the particularities and characteristics of cyberbullying (Hong et al., 2016). The consequences of cyberbullying manifest in fear, which blocks reasonable thinking and prevents a victim from a healthy or normal lifestyle. Hence, to deal professionally with cyberbullying and its consequences, it is significant to provide the psychological support, which can reduce the psychological tension of the victim (Zych, Ortega-Ruiz, & Del Rey, 2015). Furthermore, it is significant to improve the legislative basis and familiarize Internet users with upgraded laws on cyberbullying (Paullet & Pinchot, 2014). In this regard, future research has to be aimed at discovering and elaborating the mechanisms of support for the victims of cyberbullying to be able to address the challenge in a proper and professional way.
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