Cyberbullying involves various forms of intimidation and threats delivered electronically. We’ve already talked about threatening emails or other forms of delivering intimidating messages. A few other cyberbullying strategies deserve attention.
Sending inappropriate material. The perpetrator sends unwanted material (typically pictures or video) to the victim. This material may be pornographic or violent or offensive to the victim in some other way. Inappropriate material may be sent anonymously, via a hacked account (falsely setting up the owner of the sender’s account as the offender, thereby victimizing two people at once), or in a very brazen play, under the actual name and account of the offender.
Posting private or false information about the victim online. The perpetrator posts unwanted information about the victim online. The posting may be in some forum that the offender controls (like their own blog or Facebook page), or a more public forum (such as Twitter), or may involve posting comments to forums controlled by the victim (such as the victim’s Facebook page). The information posted may be fabricated (or at least distorted), or it may be accurate information that should have remained private. For example, a photo might capture the victim in a compromising situation and then get posted without their permission, thus damaging the victim’s reputation. In any case, the goal of the offender is to discredit or impugn the victim publicly.
Impersonation. The perpetrator impersonates the victim to cause confusion for friends and followers with the goal of discrediting or otherwise impugning the victim. With access to the victim’s accounts (for example, by knowing passwords, or by having possession of the victim’s cell phone) a perpetrator may hijack the identity of the victim and then act out publicly in ways that damage the reputation of the victim.
Impersonation may also take place without actual access to the victim’s account. For example, a perpetrator may create a Facebook account with the name of the victim (since there are plenty of people in the world with the same name, this doesn’t set off any flags for Facebook or other social networking sites). The perpetrator then grabs pictures and other material from the victim’s actual site in order to masquerade as the victim. The offender then establishes relationships with the victim’s actual friends, perhaps sending messages to them that their old account has been hacked. Once the false account has been populated with the victim’s friends, the offender is ready to wreak havoc in a variety of ways, offending friends, burning bridges, or otherwise putting on a public performance intended to embarrass and damage the victim.
Warning wars. In many systems, when a user reports another user for inappropriate behaviors, the first response of system administrators is to suspend the accused account while they check into the allegations. When no misbehavior is discovered, the account is restored. In some environments, such as gaming, a perpetrator can repeatedly accuse the victim of inappropriate behavior, causing the victim’s account to be regularly suspended. Even though account privileges are eventually restored and no tangible damage may come to the victim, the result is an intrusive, disruptive, and potentially time consuming cost incurred by the victim with essentially no cost to the offender.
Group intimidation. A group of perpetrators band together to gang up on a victim. Many of the strategies of group intimidation look similar to individual cyberbullying behaviors, but the scale grows, and responding becomes proportionally more difficult.
Proxy bullying. This form of cyberbullying utilizes all of the previously discussed forms of cyberbullying, but is different in that it seeks to get someone else to do the perpetrator’s dirty work. If an account is hacked, for example, the perpetrator may enter into a number of forums and begin to post offensive comments that bring the wrath of an entire community down upon the victim. In some cases, the perpetrator may actually post correct contact information for the victim and invite others to act out against the victim. In some of the most extreme examples I’ve seen, perpetrators have posed online as the victim, and then entered into relationships with predators or other sexual deviants and then set up a rendezvous for the online predator to meet the victim, providing actual home address or other contact information. It goes without saying that this form of acting out can be extremely dangerous and goes well beyond the digital equivalent of a playground black eye.