The loss by the Canadian team in the quarter finals of the most recent junior world hockey championship has once again demonstrated that social media can unfortunately be misused, reminding us that the problem of cyberbullying has grown exponentially in the last decade (Smith & Berkkun, 2017). After missing a penalty shot in overtime against Finland, Maxime Comtois was exposed to a full-blown cyberbullying session. A sad episode similar to what Quebec speedskater Kim Boutin experienced during the last Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.
That said, what characterizes cyberbullying or cyberhate versus so-called traditional bullying? Are the causes the same? What are the consequences? And most of all, how do you prevent and address this issue? Etc. All these questions have led us to offer you our next two blogs, which we hope will demystify this phenomenon. This first text will primarily focus on better understanding the specific problem and the resulting consequences for the victims. The second will focus on the causes and possible solutions.
Cyberbullying or cyberhate
First, we have to be careful about the definition we give to the term cyberbullying. The cyberbullying experienced by Comtois and Boutin and the cyberbullying that occurs between peers at school or in local sports are two different, but unacceptable phenomena. In many cases, cyberbullying between peers “is just” the electronic extension of traditional bullying (Gini, Card & Pozzoli, 2018). However, Comtois’s recent detractors had no relationship with him other than that facilitated by the web. Unlike cyberbullying between peers, which the young Canadian captain experienced takes root elsewhere than in the actual relationship between two people. In this case, certain authors speak of cyberhate (Blaya, 2018). Nevertheless, numerous factors associated with cyberbullying ensure that it is still hard to obtain a unanimous definition, if it is not the one we see on computer platforms. In fact, the criteria associated with traditional bullying are: the intention to hurt the other person; the assumption of power in the relationship of strength between the aggressor and the victim; and finally, the repetitive nature of the bullying behaviour. Yet, cyberbullying is not limited to this definition or these criteria.
Indeed, certain characteristics specific to this problem are a game-changer. In the context of cyberbullying, one major difference lies in the capacity, if not to say the facility, to disseminate it, combined with the permanent character of the aggressions. In fact, a single comment published on the social media can be shared by anyone and quickly become viral when reproduced not only by those who want to feed the hate, but also those who want to denounce or mitigate the unacceptable remarks. Moreover, despite the good intentions of moderators and managers of social media who attempt to limit the scope of such messages, once published, nothing can stop a person who has already been able to “preserve” some of these comments—nothing completely disappears from the Internet! —always leaving open the possibility of any photo or comment reappearing at any time. That is why, at first glance, the repetitive character is not already present when a bully acts only once in a specific event. However, research shows that the victimization experienced, along with the resulting consequences become recurrent due to the messages that are shared or “liked” over and over again.
Which leads us to bring up the consequences for the victims. To do this, refer to the interview granted to us by Chantal Machabée last fall when she recounted to us what she experienced in terms of cyberbullying to get an idea of the major consequences that this phenomenon leads to. “… this unhealthy and harmful reality didn’t have its place and should no longer be tolerated and least of all normalized. When I think back on the consequences and negative impacts on my family and myself, these daily attacks (dozens of messages per day) had become heavy to bear.”
In addition to the permanent nature of cyberbullying which could generate a strong dose of anxiety and insecurity, the anonymousness of this type of violence must be considered as another very alarming factor. Research shows that the feelings of insecurity or anxiety are compounded by this anonymity, since the victim first has doubts about their entourage (friends, family, acquaintances, etc.), wondering if one of them is the aggressor and also wondering who in their network could have read or, even worse, spread these unfortunate comments. (Blaya, 2015).
In short, as you see, and like Maxime Comtois recently said, “Cyberbullying is a current threat. No one should have to go through it.” A quotation that makes sense and shows why this problem should be taken seriously and why it requires us to take it so seriously. Watch for our next blog to learn more.
In the meantime, if you or someone you know is dealing with a situation of cyberbullying, contact Sport’Aide, the Centre Cyber-aide or one of the resources mentioned below.
Blaya, C. (2018). Cyberhate: A review and content analysis of intervention strategies. Aggression and Violent Behavior.
Cusson, M. (2006). La délinquance, une vie choisie. J.-M. Tremblay.
Debarbieux, É. (2008). Dix Commandements contre la violence à l’école (Les). Odile Jacob.
Gini, G., Card, N. A., & Pozzoli, T. (2018). A meta-analysis of the differential relations of traditional and cyber-victimization with internalizing problems. Aggressive behavior, 44(2), 185-198.
Tétreault, C. (2018). Jeunes connectés, parents informés. Midi Trente Éditions.
«Cyberbullying is a current threat. No one should have to go through it.»