Dr. Sameer Hinduja, Co-Director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and Professor of Criminology at Florida Atlantic University, explains: “Our research is showing that youth want to do the right thing when they see others being harassed or attacked online. Their conscience is pricked, and they feel compelled to act in some way.” Dr. Hinduja recommends that you at least do *something* instead of ignoring the abuse or telling yourself it’s not your problem to deal with. He adds, “Believe in your ability to make a positive change, just like you would hope someone else would if you were being cyberbullied. Just do something—anything—to help and encourage the person being targeted.”
So, what can you do if your friends are experiencing bullying?
- Help a friend or others targeted by online hate. Lucy Thomas, one of the founders of Project Rockit, Australia’s youth-driven movement against (cyber)bullying, notes that one of the most awful parts of (cyber)bullying is feeling totally humiliated in front of a huge public audience—this is a super isolating experience. Here’s what she recommends: “Even if you aren’t confident enough to stand up for someone in the moment or it doesn’t feel safe, you can still send them a private message or chat with them face-to-face to let them know you don’t agree with the way they’re being treated. It seems small but can honestly change a person’s life.”
- Be cautious not to escalate the problem if you plan to challenge the person directly. However, it’s okay to say you don’t like what they’re doing. Lucy explains that being the right kind of ally doesn’t mean picking a fight with the person who is giving your friend a hard time. What you could try instead is interrupting nasty comments with a distraction or posting positive content to show you have your friend’s back. If the bully knows that his target has support, they are less likely to continue harassing them.
- Resist the urge to retaliate. Project Rockit experts stress that there is no sense in repaying hate with hate. “Retaliating only keeps the cycle of (cyber)bullying going. Besides, we’ve got to keep in mind that those who hate from behind a screen are not truly anonymous. Neither are you!” You definitely don’t want to provide your attackers with ammunition that could be used against you later. If you stay strong in treating others online as you would offline, you’ll find it much easier to remain connected to who you really are, even in the face of (cyber)bullying.
- Make your world a better place. Some words of empowerment from the team at The Diana Award, an organization that provides resources and support for people who are experiencing bullying behavior: “If you’ve experienced bullying, what you went through wasn’t great, but hopefully you resolved it and became stronger and more resilient as a consequence. Now use that experience as a learning or teaching moment, empower others who find themselves in a similar situation, guide them, and stand up quietly or loudly when you next see the same sort of behavior.”