What goes on in a person’s mind that leads them to bully another individual online?
Dr Michael Hamarneh, a consultant clinical psychologist at the Mediclinic City Hospital in Dubai, told Gulf News: “People are different. There may be some people who have bad intentions and could be getting online for the purpose of finding a vulnerable person. They go online looking for potential victims such as children, women or other individuals or group of individuals to take advantage of and perpetrate certain acts and behaviours. They may want to take advantage of somebody, similar to identity theft. They may be angry, upset or resentful and may engage in harassment, bullying or other behaviours that are considered unlawful. It could be someone from a broken relationship getting back at women or men.”
With women being more vulnerable to severe forms of sexual harassment and stalking, as stated by the US-based Pew Research Center in a report, one wonders why it is happening.
Hamarneh said: “Sexual harassment may be committed by both genders, but men are considered more aggressive typically. It’s a general characteristic and they are more likely to engage in behaviours that are meant to intimidate or humiliate, whether the behaviour is sexual in nature or not. And if they want to dominate somebody, they start to look for women or other vulnerable individuals to victimise. But, if they don’t have a healthy outlook or attitudes towards women, they are more likely to engage in behaviours that support their negative views.”
The cloak of anonymity boosts the confidence of cyberbullies, according to Hamarneh.
He said: “Cyberbullying is a crime. While people are doing it anonymously, from places where their IP addresses cannot be tracked for example, it is much easier for them to perpetrate a crime without being tracked. The fear of punishment, in such cases, is perceived to be less. This encourages bullying. When people are afraid of punishment, repercussion of their actions and know that they can be caught, it works as a deterrent. If you’re anonymous, you feel safer. It makes people more daring and take more risks because they’re not afraid of the consequences.”
When it comes to bullying, online and in person are not very different, states Hamarneh.
He said: “The intent is the same, to harass, bother or pick on someone. Just the medium is what makes the difference. People may post comments online or send text messages to make fun of you, that’s not very different from doing it in person. Yes, it may be more pronounced when done in schools for example. But, when it’s done online, bullies can give their victims the impression that they’re watching all their moves. There is a potential risk for blackmail.”
So how do victims deal with it?
Hamarneh said: “The bottom line is that the internet, along with social media, is isolating people from real life experiences and social interactions. My advice is people shouldn’t spend a lot of time online. Children don’t even know how to interact in person, because they spend a lot of time chatting away on their phones. Be reasonable with your internet usage. And if cyberbullying still happens, talk to somebody about it. It is important to not engage in it. The fact that there are consequences and that it’s considered a crime is definitely a deterrent. Does it stop everybody? No, but the law is absolutely helpful in reducing the instances. The number could be much higher if the laws did not exist.”