Cyberbullying: The Anonymous Killer

More than 20 per cent of cyber bullying victims have considered suicide. By Stephanie Toms.

On January 4th, David Molak, a 16-year-old boy from Texas, was found hanged in his back yard following months of abuse and torment over the social media app Instagram. The brother of the deceased, Cliff Molak, has since gone public to help raise awareness about cyber bullying and the impact it can have on today’s society. 

“In today’s age, bullies don’t push you into lockers, they don’t tell their victims to meet them behind the school’s dumpster after class, they cower behind user names and fake profiles from miles away constantly berating and abusing good, innocent people.” wrote Molak, in his latest viral Facebook post. “The recent advances in social media have given our generation a freedom of which has never been seen before. Freedom is a beautiful thing, however as freedom and personal liberties expand (and they rapidly are), there needs to be an equal expansion of personal accountability. Right now there is no expansion of personal accountability.”

In a recent poll by the Anti Bullying Alliance, studies showed that over 55 per cent of children across the globe had come to terms with cyber bullying being a part of every day life online. Similarly, The British Psychological Society revealed that approximately 90 per cent of the younger generation are signed up to some form of social media account, with 92 per cent of teens reportedly logging in each and every day.

With the allure of the internet celebrity on the rise, viewers and followers are beginning to start their own blogs and websites in a bid to both connect with, as well as reach a similar level of success as their idols, such as Zoe Sugg of Zoella and Alfie Deyes of Pointless blogs. In turn, these individuals are exposing themselves to potential online abuse and anonymous messages from others, without their parent’s or guardian’s knowledge.

More young people are creating social accounts to connect with their favourite internet stars [Source: Stephanie Toms]

More young people are creating social accounts to connect with their favourite internet stars [Source: Stephanie Toms]

"Social media wasn't as big as it is now when I was in school. The main sites where Bebo or Formspring [an anonymous question and answer based website] - and even then as a child I'd be subjected to anonymous messages in the form of cyber bullying,” says Lucinda Burgress-Farwell, a social media assistant. “Even in my twenties, people I had been to school with would leave nasty comments on my blog. With social media as prevalent as it is today and children using it from as young as 9 or 10 years old, it's scary to think of what they may see or be put through with societies constant need for narcissistic vanity.  At least now cyber bullying is an acknowledged crime, but that still requires young people to speak up if it happens to them, and often they may be threatened not to.”

In 2015 it was estimated that there were over 25 thousand child counselling sessions held, with over 7 thousand of these cases relating to online bullying and internet safety. In addition to this, the NSPCC reported that there has also been a change in the way that children contact the ChildLine, with more than 70 per cent of counselling sessions taking place via online chat or email communication. Prior to the growth of the internet, the majority of contact was made through the use of telephone calls and/or written communication.

In a recent study by the anti-bullying group Ditch The Label, it was reported that 20 per cent of young victims of cyber bullying have thought about suicide. 1 in 10 victims are reported to attempt it. Suicide is currently the third leading cause of death in 15 to 24-year-olds, with over 4,500 youths falling victim to this tragedy each year.

However, it’s not just the younger generation struggling with the emotional impact of social media.

“I received death threats to my children”, says Emma White, a full-time ‘mummy blogger’ at the Jigsaw Parenting Blog. “Because of my open honesty about being a bipolar mum I was left vile comments about my parenting skills - did my children eat from dog bowls, should people phone social services, my children would have been better off being aborted than have a crazy mother like me. They somehow got my phone number and address - I am guessing from my domain name search as it was public - and left vile messages on my answer phone. They made up a Facebook hate page and - after posting my address online, receiving threats to attack my home and eventually setting it on fire - I involved the police. It thankfully stopped in time after they received no retaliation from myself. But it left many emotional scars.”

But for many, the luxury of involving the law isn’t always an option. Due to the majority of (often anonymous) online abusers hiding behind an internet screen, the evidence of online bullying can be hard to categorise as ‘abuse’, since it can be difficult to accurately pin-point the intent and tone behind the written word.

As it currently stands in the UK, there is no official law for the act of cyber bullying, making it almost impossible for victims to file a successful case against the abuser. There are however a number of existing laws applicable to online harassment, including the Communications Act 2003 and the Defamation Act 2013.

“Ask FM/Formspring are horrible websites,” says Stephanie Tweedie - a former by joining them all you're doing is opening yourself up to the bullies that are too afraid to say things to your face so have to hide behind a computer screen instead. I wasn't on it for long before I closed my account because I found it was shattering my confidence and I would come away feeling so miserable after checking it.  At the time I was in a relationship and I was facing problems and trust issues after going on there to see my inbox filled with rumours about my boyfriend cheating on me. Those websites cause more problems than they're worth, in some cases it's gone as far as people taking their own lives because they haven't been able to handle the sheer amount of nasty messages. I'd advise anyone to stay well away from them, in the hope they'll just eventually close them all down!”

Despite anonymity in the online community, there are many ways for internet service providers and the police to track abusive emails and messages. For the majority of ISP (Internet Service Providers) there is a contact email address included in the ‘Terms of Service’ specifically reserved for concerns regarding cyber bullying.

Further help and advice on cyber bullying and internet abuse can be obtained by contacting your local harassment helplines.

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