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Adult Cyberbullying Is More Common Than You Think

New study: How online hate is impacting all ages and ways we can turn it around.

How common is cyberbullying among adults?

The answer is fairly simple: the internet can be a cesspool of trolls and haters of all ages. Online harassment isn't only about children—more and more, we read headlines of grown-ups acting badly on social media.

In a study entitled “How Common Is Cyberbullying Among Adults? Exploring Gender, Ethnic, and Age Differences in the Prevalence of Cyberbullying,” researchers divided the national sample into age cohorts and compared whether the participants had ever been a target of cyberbullying and whether they had had such an experience within the past month.

“This study, which reported cyberbullying’s prevalence based on various subgroups, provides important information that will allow for the development of more targeted prevention and treatment programs,” says Editor-in-Chief Brenda K. Wiederhold, Ph.D.

A mental health advocate says adults can be worse than teenagers when it comes to online harassment, as this major study shows two out of five young adults have been cyberbullied.

The research showed that almost 15 percent of the participants had ever been a target of cyberbullying. Young adults (18-25 years) experienced the highest levels of cyberbullying (during both the lifetime and past month time frames), but substantial lifetime cyberbullying was reported by older age groups as well, including those 26-35 years (24 percent) and 46-55 years (13 percent), up to the 66+ age group (6.5 percent).

Celebrity online bullying has no boundaries

What's more troubling than witnessing hate in cyberspace, is realizing it's being perpetuated by people that should know better—adults.

Celebrities are the most targeted online; in the book Shame Nation, there is a complete chapter dedicated to famous people that have been the victim of harassment, shame, and digital abuse. Being a public figure, the average person assumes it gives them permission to criticize, hurt, and harm them with their keypads. The fact is, just because someone has reached a level of fame, doesn't mean they are no longer a human being with feelings. There is a live person behind that screen when trolls post vicious messages—it not only hurts the target, but also their friends and family.

Just recently after being attacked on social media, co-host of The View, Meghan McCain had to tell her fans and followers that for the time being, she was turning off the comments on her Instagram page with the following message;

Turning off commenting on Instagram for the time being. I have a family and young people in my life that can read it. You can disagree with my politics all you want but the abuse and threats is too far.

Actor Idris Elba also announced he is quitting social media because he found it's a breeding ground for negativity, online bullying, and leads him to feel depressed.

Singer Goo Hara's death by apparent suicide at the young age of 28 years old uncovered the horrific personal attacks of cyberbullying she was dealing with.

The most disturbing trend among all this hateful online behavior is that it's usually the grown-ups that are throwing the cyber-trash. The same people who should be responsible, respectful, and know to lead with kindness.

What we can learn from celebrities

You don't have to be a famous person to deal with digital drama and discourse online. Many of us have been targets of cyberbullying, or maybe we have found ourselves posting a snarky comment that we have regretted.

1. Bad things happen to good people.

2. Cyberbullying (shaming) doesn't define who we are.

3. It's OK to take a break from social media.

Three ways to survive cyberbullying

It's inevitable, if you spend time on any social platform, there will be times of contention. Cyberbullying is human behavior, sadly we will probably never be able to eradicate it 100 percent. Although we can't control how others behave online, we can take steps to improve our own experiences and behavior and how we respond to the negativity.

1. Being an upstander. If you receive a mean meme, witness a hurtful comment, or see someone struggling with digital harassment—do something.

  • Report and flag the abusive content to the social platform.
  • Never forward, engage or 'like' malicious content.
  • Reach out to someone hurting online. (Private message, text, email. Any form of communication so they know they're not alone).

2. Limit our sharing online. Not everything we do offline needs to be documented on our social networks.

  • Emotional sharing. If you're arguing with your partner or having a meltdown with your teen, social media is not the place to vent your personal laundry. What may start out as helpful advice can quickly turn into hurtful adversaries. Cyber-friends are not cyber-therapists.
  • Inappropriate sharing. Sexting can be considered the new flirting. Many adults engage in this type of behavior; however, know that what goes online has the distinct possibility to be publicly shared at some point.
  • Know your audience. Before you share your content, who is your audience (family, friends, work colleagues, cyber-acquaintances)? As we approach another election year, be aware of where you're posting and prepared for the consequences.

3. Know when it's time to take a digital-break. Like many celebrities have learned, it's OK to check-out of social media. Taking more time to enjoy people face-to-face will actually help you have more empathy for those online.

How common is cyberbullying among adults? Very—but as grown-ups, we have the maturity to control ourselves and use our keypad with compassion and kindness. We must be the example.


How Common Is Cyberbullying Among Adults? Exploring Gender, Ethnic, and Age Differences in the Prevalence of Cyberbullying” by Meng-Jie Wang, Kumar Yogeeswaran, Nadia P. Andrews, Diala R. Hawi and Chris G. Sibley, 7 November 2019, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.

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