It's up to all of us to stop online bullying


Cyberbullying is on the rise. More parentsacross the world are reporting their children being cyberbullied.

At first glance, you may assume this behaviour is an unfortunate consequence of a generation raised online. But it’s not other children setting the standard for modern cyberbullying. Instead, it’s set by adult influencers who profit off “cringe culture.”

TikTok and YouTube have thousands of videos of adults going viral for laughing at content posted by children. The insults hurled at kids online would be identified as severe bullying if said on school grounds.

When we support this behaviour, we’re sending the message to children that it’s okay to be mean to their peers—as long as their insults are funny.

When I first learned what cyberbullying was, it had a very specific definition. It was the mid 2000s, and social media was just emerging. Cyberbullying only meant mean text messages or emails sent relentlessly to a victim.

Times have changed. Social media apps and websites like TikTok and Instagram have made everybody an online content creator. Cyberbullying is no longer being carried out by classmates, but by strangers online.

Mocking and sarcastic comments can be disastrous to a person’s mental health and emotional wellbeing. Unlike traditional bullying, cyberbullying is omnipresent, and can feel never-ending to the victim.

This doesn’t mean we have to be nice all the time. In some cases, content creators “cringing” at videos can be harmless.

In cases of “punching up”—when someone makes fun of a more powerful person or group—nobody really gets hurt. Creating comedy out of mocking celebrities, politicians, and corporations is a natural extension of critiquing public figures.

Online cringe culture is problematic because it’s rarely aimed at those with power. Instead, it usually mocks children and teenagers who’ve never been in the public eye before. Their only error was posting a “cringey” or awkward video. It’s common for these “cringey” videos to be recorded without their consent and posted by friends, family members, or even strangers.  

By interacting with and boosting videos of content creators mocking children, we’re sending the message to children that this kind of behaviour is acceptable. This same bullying behaviour can manifest in classrooms and schools as kids try to mimic their favourite online creators.

I’m not exempt from this behaviour. I have often laughed at a video or image of a young person on social media that was never intended to be funny. It’s easy to forget how a like or comment can impact someone, especially if you were not the one to make the joke in the first place.

Before sharing a cringey video with our friends or liking an insulting comment, think first about who your action may be hurting. Will you be laughing at a child? Did they post the video themselves, or was it filmed without their consent?

If the video was never intended to be funny in the first place, it might be better to just keep scrolling.

Kirby is a fourth-year Global Development Studies student and one of The Journal’s Features Editors.

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