The rapid development of the digital world has eased the circulation of harmful, problematic content. In a way that is no longer surprising, damaging, and obstructive behaviour that takes place in our everyday lives is now taking place ‘online’ as well. This sort of content is known to have a range of significant, harmful impacts on one’s personal being, which includes one’s mental health, education, lack of privacy, and social life. Despite the clear understanding of how harmful content such as bullying, harassment, violent content, hate, and porn may be to our lives, the Government and other responsible private parties might not have taken enough action to stop or at least reduce the circulation of such content. However, we should also consider how the digital world has developed to a stage where it acts as a platform that promotes the freedom of speech. Freedom of speech allows us to benefit from the ability to express ourselves, giving us a significant amount of control over the content disseminated on the Internet; therefore, it requires the understanding that there is a clear limit to how much the Government and other responsible private parties can regulate it.
Cyberbullying: What is it and what are the effects?
In a simple definition, cyberbullying is a form of bullying that utilizes technology and digital tools, such as social networking sites, instant messaging, and video games. From mean, threatening text messages to posting content to hurt someone else, the idea of cyberbullying is just an extension of an ongoing societal issue (Ben-Joseph, 2022). Bullying has been an ongoing societal issue due to various factors that are never absolute. These factors may range from an expression of anger, poor upbringing, influence from violent games and movies, attention-seeking behaviour, and a position of power (Tidy, 2021). The rise of cyberbullying is simply due to the development of the digital world that results in the convenience and ease of expressing ourselves, whether positive or negative.
Cyberbullying can affect both cyberbullies and victims with various short-term or long-term effects and consequences. The consequences for cyberbullies may be suspension from school for kids and teenagers and severe legal action for adults (Ben-Joseph, 2022). When it comes to victims, the effects may range from negatively influencing one’s general well-being and mental health to low life satisfaction, enjoyment, and self-esteem. Studies have addressed the importance of considering cyberbullying as “a risk factor for the psychological adjustments of individuals and adolescents in particular” (Longobardi et al., 2022). More specifically, the study provided a specific and in-depth explanation of potential mechanisms that may explain the link between cybervictimization and non-suicidal self-injury, which further signifies the severity of cyberbullying and its effects on mental health (Longobardi et al., 2022).
Furthermore, cyberbullying may result in victims having low life satisfaction, enjoyment, and self-esteem. For example, cyberbullied individuals in their workplace environment may develop anxiety associated explicitly with their workplace, leading to a lower level of satisfaction and commitment toward their workplace (Camacho et al., 2018). Whereas in a school setting, victims of cyberbullying are associated with lower school satisfaction and higher dropout rates (Camacho et al., 2018). Cyberbullying may also lower an individual’s enjoyment towards a particular habit or activity. An individual may once have a high interest in working out, playing sports, or fashion and being proud of what they are doing, they end up posting it on social media. When it ends up with these individuals receiving hateful and mean comments online, they may end up no longer enjoying the things they used to enjoy the most. Last but not least, a study conducted to determine the relationship between middle school students experience with cyberbullying and their self-esteem level showed a statistically significant relationship between the two (Patchin & Hinduja, 2010). Both cyberbullying victims and offenders have significantly lower levels of self-esteem than those who are not (Patchin & Hinduja, 2010).
How Violence in Media Affects Behaviour
Even from a very young age, the media we consume, such as movies, TV programs, video games, and many more include violence. For many years, scientific research on media violence and its harmful effects on human behaviour have shown four main ones: aggression, desensitization, fear, and negative messages (Murray, 2000). It is saddening because humans are forced to face the unfortunate reality that the average American child spends 3-5 hours each day watching television, children’s TV shows contain about 25 violent acts of violence, and more than 60 percent of TV programs contain violence (Levy, 2017). The shift towards a more digital world has furthermore eased the creation and consumption of media containing violence.
In 1961, psychologist Albert Bandura conducted the first research that links media violence to aggressive behaviour in children. Through his research, he can conclude that due to children tending to learn through imitating others, children who watch content that promotes violence tend to portray a more aggressive behaviour (Levy, 2017). It also applies in adulthood as research proved that adults who often consume media that includes violence as children are twice more likely to physically abuse their spouses (Levy, 2017). Furthermore, violence in media, especially in video games, can lead to the desensitization of humans, meaning they are less shocked by violence, less sensitive to pain, and less likely to empathize with victims of violence. The above is clearly proven by the fact that in WW2, only 20 percent of soldiers were able to shoot the enemy. In contrast, during the Vietnam War, after the establishment of new training procedures where soldiers practiced shooting human figures instead of bullseyes, 90 percent of soldiers could shoot and kill without hesitation (Levy, 2017). To conclude, violence in media promotes a negative message that aggression and violence are painless and acceptable solutions to problems.
So, Who is Responsible and How Do We Stop This?
The main characters of the digital platform include its users, the Government, and the tech companies who create the platforms. The Government can be seen as the most powerful of the three in regulating the Internet, taking an example from China’s Internet censorship which blocks many US websites such as Instagram, Facebook, and several Google services (Xu & Albert, 2017). However, despite the Government having so much power over regulating digital platforms, it is still not enough, as the dissemination of problematic content on the Internet is still an ongoing issue.
Various digital platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok all have their own community guidelines that are aimed at ensuring a safe environment for their users. These platforms have the power to remove content or ban users that do not follow their set guidelines. For example, in short, Instagram’s community guidelines states: “We want Instagram to continue to be an authentic and safe place for inspiration and expression. Help us foster this community. Post only your own photos and videos and always follow the law. Respect everyone on Instagram, do not spam people or post nudity” (Community Guidelines, n.d.). Alongside the ‘short,’ Instagram’s community guidelines also include specific explanations of what they want users to do and not to do. Despite these efforts, digital platforms can only regulate content to an extent, as cyberbullying, violent content, hate, and pornography are still circulating.
So, if the Government and platforms themselves are not powerful enough to stop the spread of such content, it simply means that users must recognize the danger and consequences and learn how to self-regulate. The Government with its laws, platforms with its community guidelines and actions, and users with its self-regulation can definitely make the digital world a better and safer place for everyone.
Ben-Joseph, E. P. (Ed.). (2022, August). Cyberbullying (for teens) – nemours kidshealth. KidsHealth. Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/cyberbullying.html
Camacho, S., Hassanein, K., & Head, M. (2018). Cyberbullying impacts on victims’ satisfaction with information and communication technologies: The role of Perceived Cyberbullying Severity. Information & Management, 55(4), 494–507. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.im.2017.11.004
Community Guidelines. (n.d.). Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://help.instagram.com/477434105621119
Levy, T. (2017, September 13). How violence in media affects children’s behavior. Evergreen Psychotherapy Center. Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://www.evergreenpsychotherapycenter.com/violence-media-affects-childrens-behavior/
Longobardi, C., Thornberg, R., & Morese, R. (2021). Editorial: Cyberbullying and Mental Health: An Interdisciplinary Perspective. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 827106–827106. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.827106
Patchin, J. W., & Hinduja, S. (2010). Cyberbullying and Self-Esteem. The Journal of School Health, 80(12), 614–621. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1746-1561.2010.00548.x
Tidy, D. C. (2021, February 16). Bullying: Causes and prevention. Patient.info. Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://patient.info/childrens-health/bullying-leaflet
Xu, B., & Albert, E. (2017, February 17). Media censorship in China. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/media-censorship-china
YouTube. (2017). YouTube. Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0WbSOpIlqY.