Changing Face of Bullying

Who, how, and what is a bully today?
Rahman Mohamed

When you think of a bully the first image that often comes to mind is the school bully, the biggest boy in the school yard who’s holding up the little guy’s collar and demanding lunch money.  There’s more to bullying than the big boy.

A bully is a blustering, browbeating person, especially one who is habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to others who are weaker, smaller.  Whether it’s the stereotypical schoolyard boy or the mean boss who makes others work over time, traditionally it refers to a single individual who makes life harder for others.  Today bullying is categorized in multiple forms.  The bully can be an individual or a group that makes life hard for someone or a group, the victim.

Physical bullying is common in schools, the most common image.  Physical assault, the one who comes behind jumps on a shoulder and demands credit cards while holding a knife at the throat is bullying.  The one who assaults is threatening.  Whether or not the one being assaulted is physically bigger the person becomes the victim: smaller, weaker than the bully.  The victim is in danger.

Sexual harassment is form of bullying.  Gaining more awareness today through the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment is someone who threatens or intimidates someone else to do something that is defined a sexual misconduct, something sexual against will.  This can mean someone using threats.  Threats can be physical – forced acts if the victim chooses not to, bribing – using the threat of withholding if the victim doesn’t cooperate, or verbal – insulting the victim if there isn’t cooperation.

Cyberbullying is new on the playground.  It’s using technology to make someone a victim.  It can take many forms: threats to reveal pictures, using social media to make life harder, or sending SPAM and emails to the victim, friends, and family.  Cyberbullying can be more dangerous than traditional physical bullying.  After being used Hashtags can bring multiple Tweets, pictures, on other posts together.  All the posts that use the same hashtag on social media , good or bad, can be seen together.  Multiple bad posts, posts that speak about negative, can make life harder.

The structure of the World Wide Web allows everyone, worldwide, to hypothetically have access to anything on the Web.  There are secrets – private posts, passwords, and others, but most of what you see is public; this post and site is public, anyone on Earth, or the Space Station who has access to the Web can see it.  With or without a hashtag, posted publicly, an image or sound that’s private or shows someone in a negative way can scar a victim psychologically, on the Web, and make life harder.

One of the most common forms of bullying is social bullying.  Sometimes it is unintentional but it can be intentional.  Social bullying uses words or social actions, actions that influence the behaviour of others without physical contact.  Most often it leads a victim to feel loneliness.  If the victim is young social bullying can lower self-esteem, self-confidence, and make the self-image of victim, the person sees themself as a victim who will always be a victim.  It can bring mental health difficulties such as PTSD, committing crime, suicide or lead to using drugs.

Popularity is the most common form of social bullying; people rally around a single person because of one or more reasons that makes that person socially better to be around, more popular, than others.  Intentionally or unintentionally the one who doesn’t fit into the group is excluded, made lonely.  On the schoolyard the nerd is often a victim of social bullying; while people rally around the boy who is the best in a sport or the girl who is best dressed the nerd is left out because of love for academics; for most kids academics isn’t popular outside the classroom; you’re not supposed to do anything related to the classroom like reading or writing on the playground whether or not you’re reading Harry Potter or writing a novel that you plan to use make millions before you leave school.

Research has shown competition can be beneficial in self-development, self-growth and behaviour at any age.  It plays a role in inspiring and motivating someone to become the best whether it’s in school or at the desk (the best average or the most sales).  At the same time it can play a role in social bullying.  The “Best” in one – sports, academics, or more often the one who’s best in all is often the most popular.  The best isn’t necessarily the one with the highest average, the most goals, or most sales; it can be the most creative, outspoken, the one who passes most, encourages most, gets people the most coffee – takes initiative ignores weakness, concentrating on strength (putting more effort into science and soccer than English and football; concentrating on making people happy and networking rather than weakness in marketing).

Social bullying also takes the form of discrimination.  A group of people or a person who is discriminatory uses social actions to downgrade others, individuals or groups; the one or group against whom the discrimination is targeted is the victim; the one or group conducting the discrimination is the bully.  Discrimination is a form of social bullying built on stereotypes – all nerds are the same, all with long hair are the same.  Racism is discrimination based on a single skin colour, culture, nation, or religion – all North Koreans are the same, all Muslims are the same, all Blacks are the same, all hockey fans are the same.  Discrimination is a form of social bullying often directed at a single person that effect a group when it is found out – a single person given an evil look or a word on the sidewalk gives negative feelings and separation from mainstream society by all who have similarities with the discriminated when they hear about the action.

Stigma of mental health can be classified as social bullying.  Not willing to talk about it someone with mental health can isolate or exclude.  Not wanting to listen or passing immediate judgement, often unintentionally, makes someone a social bully.

Physical and cyberbullying often invoke fear among the ones who share similarities.  A women raped in a park brings fear to other women who use the same park.  Someone punched for writing poetry in the schoolyard makes others afraid to write poetry in public.  A hashtag that makes others laugh at a person brings fear that they might be a victim and face the laugh.

It’s advised by many to stand up to bullies; today it can be hard.  A physical bully can be physically stronger – more weapons, muscles, height, weight, etc.  It’s often a group that challenges or stands up to the physical bully.

Social and cyberbullying are harder to fight.  Whether it’s a group or someone alone, social bullies often have freedom on their side, freedom of speech, expression, etc.  Social bullying often involves many bullies – a group of people making a person or another group feel weaker, making it the victim.  The victim has freedom from abuse and other freedoms but they can be harder to use in a public setting; the victim might have to take the bully to court to stand up.  Here the bully can make itself the victim, being forced to go to court.

The hardest part of standing up to cyberbullying is knowing who did it – who started the hashtag, who posted the first picture.  Other users on web “Like” the photo or use the hashtag.  This contributes to cyberbullying, helps the bully and lowers the victim.  Users can be worldwide.  Standing up to or prosecuting cyberbullies can be hard; they can one, ten, 100, 1000, or all users on the Web; they can be worldwide, from Beijing to New York to London to Cairo.

Standing up to social and cyberbullying is often done with help from strangers.  It can be a stranger on the street who says “Don’t do that”; it can be a Cairo user who helps a New York user – provides online encouragement, support, and uses positive posts against the bullies.  The Beijing user might take the first step for the London user, posting stop to the cyberbully.

Unless brought up in an environment where it was normal, a physical bully is often aware that what is being done is bullying.  Although they are often done knowingly, social and cyberbullying can be done unknowingly – saying something to someone in an elevator and not knowing it offends, not saying hi unknowingly making the other feel discriminated, not shaking a hand making someone feel alone, expressing thoughts in a post with a hashtag, or even liking what is seen as funny picture not knowing it was posted to embarrass.

Today bullying has changed.  Who is bullied, how someone is bullied, how bullies are confronted, who does the confronting and who helps has changed.

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