Cyberbullying, Online Shaming and COVID


It’s been an extremely challenging year for many people. The pandemic has everyone on edge and many are retreating to their devices as a distraction of reality. Sadly social media and the internet can be a sea of negativity as well as hateful content.

Rise in online usage

From school lessons and office work to physical exercise and doctors’ appointments – more aspects of people’s daily social and professional lives are moving online as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

According to the L1ght, an organization that tracks online harassment, there has been a 70% increase in cyberbullying in just a few months. Aside from the increase in technology use, there are other factors contributing to the rise in online hate

  • Increased stress: The pandemic has been highly stressful and confusing for everyone. Oftentimes when kids feel stressed or confused, it leads to acting or lashing out at others, arguing among friends and risk-taking behaviors in response. 
  • Isolation: Mandatory stay-at-home orders can cause feelings of loneliness, which can lead to fragmented relationships. Some kids may have limited access to the internet, which can make them feel further isolated. In return, they may make mean or cruel comments in frustration, especially if they feel like they are out of the loop within their friend groups. 
  • Decreased supervision online: With many parents trying to balance working from home, helping with schoolwork and managing this new world, they aren’t available to pay close attention to what their kids are doing online. 
  • Boredom: Kids sometimes engage in cyberbullying because they are bored, lonely or want attention. Because the pandemic worsens these issues, it can lead to mean behavior online. Some kids bully to relieve stress, but also because they are bored. 

Adults acting like children

Whether it’s neighbors policing neighbors, mask shaming or our heated political election, this past year we have seen grown-ups acting worst than most kids online. Parents (especially) need to pause before they react to comments or post questionable content online. Believe it or not, you are your child’s biggest influence — by you behaving inappropriately on social media, it gives them the greenlight to act the same way.

Online Hate Doesn't Take Time-Off 4

Unfortunately mean-people, such as bullies and cyberbullies, don’t take holidays or vacations.  On the contrary, they are the type of individuals that are on the clock 24/7 – 365 days a year.

Since we know this, it is imperative we also know how to equip not only our children, but ourselves to better handle situations when they happen – especially online.

First there has to be a clear understanding that no-one is immune to cyberbullying or online shaming.  Anyone can be a target of another person’s cruelty.

  1. Never engage with the bully or the person that is harassing you.  Never have any of your friends retaliate in your defense.
  2. Save, copy, print out — any evidence.  Print screen can be the easiest way.
  3. Block and report the person to the social media site you are using.
  4. Never meet anyone in person.
  5. Tell someone you trust.  Hopefully a parent or a trusted adult. If you are an adult, talk to a friend. Being insulted or harmed online is painful at all ages.

3 Steps for building digital resilience

As someone that has been completely humiliated, shamed and bullied online (and survived), I know that if I was prepared with the knowledge I know today, I still would have struggled with the emotional pain and distress. I don’t believe anyone wants to be berated or harassed especially on the world-wide-web.

With that – it’s about learning what I know today and that’s to build your digital resilience to protect you from the toxicity of the internet and give you the tools and coping skills to better handle the hate.

  1. Prepare yourself for the ugly-side of social media and the internet. You can’t control how people act, but you can control how you respond to them (or not respond to them).
  2. Know how to block, mute and report abusive content and users on all the social platforms you are using. Take a few minutes to read the terms of service about what constitutes online hateful behavior. You will be a stronger reporter.
  3. Understand that online is not reality! That’s according to  research looking at online honesty, which found that “online deception is the rule, not the exception.” Use your critical thinking skills. Never forward or repeat misinformation.

Finally never forget that like you, cruel and mean people won’t be taking the holidays off. They will be online too. Do your best to be an upstander especially during this trying time. If you see your friend struggling or being harassed, reach out to them. If you are reading hateful or harmful content — flag it as abusive. Do your part as a responsible and respectful digital citizen.

For more resources and wisdom for dealing with online hate order Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate. It makes the perfect gift, especially during this time.