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Silver Linings in a World of Trolls and Bullies

Updated: Sep 4, 2020


Who would have predicted as humans evolved and technology excelled over the centuries, that there would be a strong presence of bullies and trolls harassing and intimidating people of all ages?


Trolling and Cyber-bulling have wreaked havoc on victims since the age of social media. This article will describe not only the impact of these behaviors on victims, but also tips on how to help yourself or loved ones overcome the wrath.

Cyberbullying and internet trolling are forms of online harassment and aggression (Zezulka & Seigfried-Spellar, 2016). Both have received heightened attention because of suicides in recent years related to this online harassment and cyber aggression; however, the attention is hardly making a strong enough impact for prevention and not nearly enough attention to deter the presence of these online trolls and bullies.

Cyberbullying is an “aggressive, intentional act carried out by a group or individual, using electronic forms of contact, repeatedly and over time against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself” (Zezulka & Seigfried-Spellar, 2016). Victims of cyberbullies experience a range of psychosocial impacts in ways that are still being studied, but certainly can be related to self-esteem, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, and poor school or work performance.

Internet trolling, an act similar to cyberbullying, is a form of online harassment. It is described as “a repetitive, disruptive online deviant behavior by an individual toward other individuals or groups” (Case & King, 2018). It has become “increasingly problematic” with the rise of social media users and accounts. Online trolls do not traditionally know their victims and tend to take enjoyment out of the havoc they wreak.

Both cyberbulling and trolling are influenced by the anonymous nature of the internet and the fact that “online disinhibition plays a role in both forms of cyber aggression.” (Zezulka & Seigfried-Spellar, 2016). Online harassment impacts psychological, social, and physical health of victims; a fact only realized about a decade ago. It is now known that the impact of harassment can long linger.

Cybervictimization is related to disruptions in relationships, experiencing increased feelings of loneliness, isolation, and withdrawal, as well as increased hopelessness and helplessness. Victims of cyberbullies tend to lose the ability to trust others (Nixon, 2014), and experience social anxiety. “Moreover, youth who were targets of cyberbullying reported increased feelings of embarrassment, hurt, self-blame, and fear” (Nixon). In addition, research shows that targets of cyberbullying are almost twice as likely to attempt suicide.

The first step to intervention and prevention is to raise the awareness of the existence and damage of cyberbullying and troll victimization. If a child is old enough to use a smart phone, education about the potential of online harassment becomes paramount. Parental, educator, healthcare professional, and youth education related to the impact of cyberbullying and troll victimization, also becomes necessary.


Awareness of the detrimental impact, and awareness of the need for acts of prevention are the keys to help. Modeling appropriate healthy and effective communication in person and online is also warranted, so children and others can follow the lead. Supporting others who are experiencing victimization can be impactful as well.

The emerging international public health concern related to cyberbullying and trolling will give rise to more research and eventually more guidelines and rules to follow online. While freedom of speech is an “unalienable right”, so is freedom to experience a healthy life, free from abuse and harassment.

Do not hesitate to reach out for help should you or your loved one experience either form of harassment before long-term effects seriously harm overall well-being, or worse. Online therapy has been recommended as a source of treatment that can be very beneficial (Foody, Samara, & Carlbring, 2015).

Also help your loved ones know that the words of trolls and bullies do not define them. No doubt does aggression and harassment hurt, a lot; but many times even these moments allow for opportunities to learn and grow. The most difficult experiences can also be defining moments to enhance empathy, believe even stronger in oneself, understand who will stand by you, and can sometimes can help a person decide to take a path to help others overcome aggression. Without a doubt, support can cinch these positive outcomes.

Teresa Jacobson is a Doctor of Behavioral Health and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor providing HIPAA-compliant telehealth counseling to Ohio adults. Feel free to reach out to her to enhance your overall well-being, teresa@jacobsoncounseling.org or www.jacobsoncounseling.org (513) 234-9184.



References

Case, C. J., and King, D. L. (2018). Internet trolling victimization: An empirical examination of incidence in undergraduate business students. Research in Higher Education Journal, 34.

Foody, M., Samara, M., and Carlbring, P. (2015). A review of cyberbullying and suggestions for online psychological therapy. Elsevier 2:235-242.

Nixon, C. L. (2014). Current perspectives: the impact of cyberbullying on adolescent health. Adolescent Health, Medicine and Therapeutics. 5: 143-158.

Zezulka, L., A. (2016). Differentiating cyberbullies and internet trolls by personality characteristics and self-esteem. Purdue e-Pubs. https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgtpubs/1

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