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Dear Reader,

One possible initiator of self-harm can be bullying.  Bullying of some shape or form has been around for ages.  Cyber-bullying is defined as using electronic means (cell phones, text messages, email, social media sites, private messaging, etc.) to harass, threaten, or intimidate someone. It doesn’t seem surprising that the internet can be used to communicate hate, but even still there’s a lot of controversy surrounding the whole issue.

I try not to read too much into jokes I see or snide comments I hear, but it’s always difficult not to be affected.  From the general comments I see on my Facebook news feed day to day, many people want to argue that cyber bullying “isn’t even real”.

Why doesn’t everyone think cyber-bullying is a problem?

  • You can avoid it:  People may start sending you nasty messaging or making obscene comments on your profile of whatever social media site.  So?  For most sites you can block or report users.  Yes, that’s true.  You can block people.  But that’s usually not going to solve the problem 100%.  It’s hard to forget a negative remark, especially if it attacks something personal to you.  If you aren’t so keen with your weight and someone comments it, it’s probably going to be upsetting.  If you’ve been struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicide and someone says that you should go through with them, it can be difficult to continue resisting the urge.  So even if you can successfully block the person and stop their comments, you may still be affected by that which was said previously.  And in cases of extreme cyber-bullying, blocking the perpetrator might not stop them.  Someone make continue making more and more fake accounts just to get under your skin.
  • It’s just words.  “Real life” bullies can physically harm you.  Okay, yes, you can’t punch someone through the computer screen (and hopefully that isn’t invented soon).  But even with in-person bullying the physical assault might not be the worst part.  I know in some cases it can get extremely bad and I’m not saying physical assault is less terrible than verbal.  The point I’m making is that verbal assault is also terrible.

Why is it a problem?

  • It’s rampant.   I’ve personally seen cases of it very often on social media sites I’ve been on.  Usually on the less extreme end, where the offender insults you for a while but doesn’t continue harassment afterwards.  I’ve seen cyber-bullying when an individual posts pictures of him/herself and is insulted on appearance.  Or something as trivial as stating an opinion on a public post and being called stupid because it doesn’t match the thought process of the bully.
  • It can be public.  Although some bullying can be done via private messaging, a lot can be done publicly.  The world wide web is a huge audience.  And while a huge audience can be beneficial when witnesses see the bullying and support you, sometimes they may gang up with the bully.
  • Anonymity.  Some sites give the option to submit things anonymously.  Anonymity isn’t always a bad thing.  Maybe you want to send someone  a sweet compliment but would be too embarrassed for that person to know it’s you.  Maybe you want to state your opinion on something but fear being attacked.  Anonymity can be helpful in these instances.  But on the other hand, sometimes it is used as a disguise to harass people.
  • People have already been affected by it.  Some individuals are self-harming or committing suicide because of being bullied online.  In my opinion, that alone makes this a serious issue.

Now instead of more general cyber bullying remarks, I want to discuss something specific.  Recently fourteen-year-old Hannah Smith hanged herself after being bullied on a social media site called Ask.fm.  Through this site you can ask other users questions and have the option to be anonymous.  As I said before, an anonymous feature can be abused and used to hurt people.  But what is most controversial about this issue is that when the company traced the IP addresses of the posters, the majority of these were from Hannah’s computer.  This idea may seem strange to many.  Some of the bullies were real, but most of the comments were from Hannah.  From the standpoint of a person who self-harms, this isn’t all too shocking.  As I’ve said before, self-harm is more than just cuts or burns.  In fact, it’s more than just physical abuse.  Belittling yourself relentlessly can also be a form of self-harm.  Although I’m nowhere near the same situation Hannah was in, I have verbally abused myself time and time again.  I’ve sent hate mail to my own email address, calling myself useless and stupid.  Usually whenever I cut myself I will call myself harsh names or tell myself that I’m worthless.  And when I try to avoid self-harm by writing down my thoughts, the ideas are usually quite cruel against myself.  And I did all of this without ever really being bullied (a few cruel comments here and there, but nothing severe).  It’s not surprising to me that someone who was bullied would do the same to herself.  Maybe not as an alternative to self-harm, but as a form of self-harm itself.  As I said before, it’s not hard to start believing what the bullies tell you.

I brought up the last point because lately whenever I read about Hannah Smith’s death from posts on social media sites, I see so many responses about how she was weak-skinned for letting comments affect her.  Comments like that, as well as the ones that say cyber bullying isn’t a “real” form of bullying, bug me immensely.  Okay, maybe cruel comments towards you don’t hurt you.  Good for you!  And I’m not even being sarcastic; that is really good.  But they can hurt some people and it doesn’t mean that person is weak.  It means he is hurting.  And when we see someone hurting, we should want to help.

With never-ending support,

The empathetic activist