October is National Bullying Prevention Month – but it's a problem that affects online communities year-round. Nearly 1 in 4 teenagers (23.2%) say they've faced cyberbullying over the past month.
While it's somewhat encouraging to see cyberbullying taper off toward late adolescence, its effect on younger teens can have adverse effects during their formative years.
According to the Cyberbullying Resource Center, kids who are bullied online are more likely to struggle academically, psychologically, and behaviorally. Research also has shown that cyberbullying significantly increases the risk of suicide among young people, further emphasizing its severity as an online problem with potentially devastating offline consequences.
How is cyberbullying different?
While it may seem obvious, it's important to note how cyberbullying differs from typical schoolyard bullying:
- Persistence: While traditional bullying generally stops at the end of the school day, cyberbullying can continue 24-7 due to the "always connected" nature of today's online culture.
- Permanence: Bullying and humiliation can last for a longer time and be seen by more people online. This can have a prolonged impact on future employment prospects, college admissions, and social interactions for victims.
- Harder to Notice: Teachers and parents may not witness cyberbullying take place, which makes it more difficult to recognize and often harder for victims' complaints to be taken seriously.
As this video from StopBullying.gov explains, the effects of bullying often are amplified when it's done over online channels like email, social media, messaging apps, or forums:
Continuous, targeted harassment in online communities can be detrimental for users and the platform hosting them. This is especially true for youth-oriented platforms like eLearning and gaming sites. Cyberbullying doesn't just create an unpleasant user experience, it also can sink retention rates and damage the commercial viability of the platform itself.
Simply put: Cyberbullying is toxic to communities and bad for business.
How can communities stop cyberbullying?
Online platforms must take the initiative to combat cyberbullying. A comprehensive Trust & Safety operation is essential, especially one that can scale with a growing platform's user numbers.
While specific anti-bullying efforts will differ by platform, here are a few points to keep in mind:
Set clear, transparent policies: Clearly defined community guidelines set the tone for any online platform. It's imperative to prominently state that harassment and cyberbullying will not be tolerated, and will result in removal from the platform.
Give warnings for mild offenses: Not everyone who lashes out at another user is a cyberbully – always consider the context. First-time offenders often will self-correct if they're notified of problematic behavior before it spirals out of control.
Promote healthy behavior: Incentivizing healthy behavior among users helps foster a positive community that's more resilient to toxicity. Blizzard Entertainment reported a 40% reduction in toxic behavior among Overwatch players after implementing an endorsement system for users to reward good teammates and sportsmanship.
Those are the basics – if you'd like to learn more about reducing cyberbullying and cultivating a thriving online community, check out our resources below: