Who is responsible for the harm and psychological problems that people suffer after being exposed to maliciously distributed content on digital platforms, and how?

“Tragedy of Cyberbullying” by Bernie Goldbach is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

In the information age where the internet is developing rapidly, new focal points appear every day and then disappear quickly into the internet. It is easy for some hate speech to arise from the content of these focal points. According to the United Nations (2011), hate speech is any sort of communication that utilises disparaging and discriminatory words towards someone based on their race, gender, gender identification, nationality, or other characteristics.

Many people are subjected to cyberbullying as a result of content that is maliciously distributed on the internet. In addition to cyberbullying, there are also people who are unknowingly recorded porn and posted on Twitter. Also in the context of Covid-19, Asian teenagers are more vulnerable to cyberbullying. This blog will examine the evolution of cyberbullying, strive to define the idea of cyberbullying, provide several viewpoints on detecting cyberbullying, and sort out the present means and ways of reaction from social media, which is at the epicentre of the storm.

Formation and Frequency of Cyberbullying

Bullying is a problem that has been a part of human society since its inception because everyone has different origins, body types, skin colours, etc. With the addition of the ‘internet’ and the online context, bullying seems to be even more prevalent. It is also because everyone is relatively private on the internet that the bullying discourse is more exposed. Characters in the public eye have long been the target of cyberbullying, and some performers have even experienced it for portraying repulsive parts.

Cyberbullying” by Diari La Veu is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

In the early days of the internet age, cyberbullying was occasional and mostly caused by social events. Netizens then resorted to intimidation and harassment based on IP addresses. Today, however, with the rapid spread of mobile internet and the growing space of online channels, cyberbullying is no longer an occasional torrent, but something that happens regularly and in which almost everyone has participated. In the process, the sectors that are affected by cyberbullying have moved from society to a variety of fields including entertainment and culture, and the individuals who are bullied now include, among others, newsmakers and public personalities. Apart from those who have done something morally wrong being cyberbullied, there are also people who are cyberbullied because of their private lives, while there are also people who are cyberbullied simply because they have played a bad role in a certain TV series.

At one stage, Zhang Yue, who plays Lin Youyou in Nothing But Thirty, was cyberbullied. In the comments under the Weibo she posted, there were people claiming to kill her for playing a third party in the drama. In this case, cyberbullying was taken to extremes with a mask of justice. Also in social media, where massive amounts of data are uploaded every day, many people feel that their statements will not cause any consequences and simply delete their statements and pretend nothing happened when things get heated up.

Reasons for the Prevalence of Cyberbullying

Both the means of distribution and the mechanisms of participation in social media contribute to cyberbullying. Firstly, in social media, personal accounts exist in the form of nicknames, avatars, personalised signatures, regions, etc. All this information can have no relevance to the real situation, and in this virtual image presentation, the perception of authenticity is weakened. In this context, people are under less psychological pressure and are more likely to say things they would not normally say under moral constraints, and such words can easily cause harm to others with the socialised dissemination of information. At the same time, online fragmented language is predominantly simple and can easily be misunderstood by others thus breeding conflict and causing cyberbullying.

Macbook Pro Keyboard” by eGuidry is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The more important thing is still the mechanism of social media engagement. Likes, comments, and retweets on social media are more emotionally skewed. Whereas participants in the anger norm condition received more likes for choosing angry tweets (Brady et al,. 2021). Secondly, social media is linked to many commercial interests. Social media content is pushed with the aim of maximising traffic, while emotional content can make viewers more empathetic. The tech sector sometimes lobbies for issues that undermine the public interest, and public interest issues no longer have value in themselves (Popiel, 2018), with commercial interests dominating above all else. Finally, as the internet has become an inseparable part of life, group activities have become increasingly powerful. However, conflicts between group activities are more likely to arise, leading to frequent and difficult to contain negative communication, which can lead to large-scale cyberbullying.

Who is Responsible? How to Stop Cyberbullying?

Oftentimes, when a person is faced with cyberbullying there is nothing that can be done about it except to shut it down, and the damage already done will not be lessened. Apart from the law, families and individuals, social media platforms should also take the initiative to play more of a role.

Social Media Icons Color Splash Montage – Banner” by Visual Content is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Many platforms have specific guidelines for preventing online violence, often including how to identify, prevent and respond to online violence. Twitter, for example, has refined ‘threats of violence’ – requiring users not to show an intention to commit violence against a specific person or group of people, including “I will” “I’m going to” or “I plan to”, and statements such as “If you do xx, I’ll do xx”. TikTok has default settings for users under 16, such as private accounts and no private messaging, while Instagram has a Parent’s Guide to provide advice to parents and guardians. The platform proactively detects violent content, and prompts and filters it before it is posted. For example, comments on Instagram that are flagged by the AI as potentially offensive or intended to harass others are filtered by a ‘hide offensive comments’ filter, which is the default setting. Also, when content is posted that is detected as potentially offensive, users will be prompted to re-edit it.

At the same time, the platform will also combine the requirements of relevant policies to focus on cyberbullying and improve procedures. The platform’s response lies not only in content ecology aspects such as privacy protection, violent information blocking and illegal account handling, but also in improving the algorithm pushing mechanism and opposing the traffic-only theory, balancing the overall relationship between commercial competition and social responsibility. In addition to the platforms themselves, Internet Governance Forum could also come up with more regulations to limit cyberbullying. For instance, all accounts on the platform are required to have a real name, and if bad content is monitored as being posted under that name, all accounts of that person are immediately stopped.

Cyberbullying is the result of the dark side of human nature being unleashed to its fullest extent in the Internet age. There is no way to stop every instance of cyberbullying, because it is often triggered by a small incident that happens before anyone is aware of it. But one can do what one can to reduce the irreversible damage caused by cyberbullying. In the meantime, create a peaceful online environment with the help of national governments, social media platforms and Internet Governance Forums.

Reference List

Brady, W. J., McLoughlin, K., Doan, T. N., & Crockett, M. J. (2021). How social learning amplifies moral outrage expression in online social networks. Science Advances, 7(33). https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abe5641

Popiel. (2018). The Tech Lobby: Tracing the Contours of New Media Elite Lobbying Power. Communication, Culture & Critique, 11(4), 566–585. https://doi.org/10.1093/ccc/tcy027