What is online harassment and Cyber-bulling and what do we do to avoid them as university students

Cyberspace provides an opportunity for us to freely share our views and opinion on online platforms. Rather than the physical world, online space, in some way, provides a deeper sense of privacy and anonymity for people to share their views and express themselves more freely. Since there is no actual “physical existing space”, we do not have to know each other to have a conversation and/or share our opinion. However, this sense of freedom and anonymity also gives more opportunity for people to online-harassing the others. At the same time, as mentioned before, there is no physical existing space online, therefore we might feel that there is no where to hide when we feel uncomfortable with certain way of communication. (What is cyber-bullying. n.d.) Online harassment and cyber-bullying were identified as any media of communication that marginalizes or discriminates a person or a group on their basic characteristic.(Castaño-Pulgarín, S. A., Suárez-Betancur, N., Vega, L. M. T., & López, H. M. H. 2021.) They might be seen as one of the forms below:(Stop bullying. 2020.)

Repeating of unpleasant messages
Spreading and telling of rumor and lies
Using fake account to spam and harass people
Exclusion of other people to online engagement
Spreading unwanted pictures, videos and other forms of media
Making false claim about someone
Encourage someone to suicide
And much more…

Many professionals has shown that the online harassment and cyber-bullying causes serious emotional damages and lower self esteem according to Jääskeläinen’s article. (Jääskeläinen, T. 2020.) This article also suggests that sometimes people, especially teenagers and children, produces hate speeches and online harassment without intentions. Therefore, it is important to be notified of both the dominant online harassment and cyber-bullying, which are the ways of communication directly, and the recessive online harassment and cyber-bullying, which may be harmful to others indirectly. We all know that making other people feel uncomfortable might not be the first intention. Therefore, it is important to be able to identify some forms of online harassment and cyber-bullying, and to avoid them as both an activist and victim. We will need to both know how to avoid harassing others and avoid being hurt if someone harasses you. The following paragraphs will identify those ways of online harassment and cyber-bullying, and provide some possible suggestions of what to do with them.

Some online harassment is the way of communication that is usually harmful and make others feel uncomfortable directly. Here are five common forms of dominant online harassment and cyber-bullying:

Online Racism
Online racism was one of the most debated topics in the media industry. According to the article “Platformed racism: the mediation and circulation of an Australian race-based controversy on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube”, the authors discussed a recent controversy of an incidence of the racism on the Australian football player. The authors suggest that social media acts as an amplifier and manufacturer platform of racist discourse. Therefore, it provides us an insight that social media might cause more damage on the internet than in person, because as the author says, publishing a comment online is way easier than saying this to a person in real life. And we need to realize this is not only applying as racism, but also in other topic such as gender inequality and sexual harassment. We must always be notified that publishing things on social media is always easier, and causes more mental harm to a person via online platform.

Due to the fact stated above that social media is a platform that facilitates the spread of online racist hatred, the author also suggests that there should be a strategy on avoiding spreading online racist discourse, Facebook published a series of rule, as shown in the below picture, suggested that a well defined and detailed rules has been published to legalize the things as been said online.(Facebook Community Standard. N.d.) It was good to see a progress like a rule setting, and it is a pleasure to see that the restriction of the use of social media regarding racism speech has been put forward.

  • gender discrimination

One of the high-profile cases is the death and rape threat received by one of the most famous game developers, Anita Sarkeesian, which challenges her female stereotype in video game industry. Not only did she receive lots of threatening messages, moreover, one detractor created a video game that encourages people to punch on her face with one click of the mouse. This high profile case of cyber-bullying suggests to us that everyone could be cyber-bullied, even if she was already one of the most famous and excellent game developer who creates excellent games. This will suggest to us that being cyber-bullied is not our problems, and we should not put ourselves down and think that we are bullied because we are not doing good enough.

  • Outing and doxxing

Outing and doxxing are defined as the action of exposing and spreading personal information and media through the internet without consent, which is often involved with the home, school and work addresses, other contacting media such as phone numbers and emails, private pictures such as naked picture, and so on. The outing and doxxing is easy to cause mental damage because one may feel exposed or ashamed.

The same case from gender discrimination suggests that the public celebrity is very likely to be exposed to outing and doxxing because every detail of their information is transparent to the public. As shown in the screenshot down, as the screenshot of some threat of Anita Sarkeesian, they appear to be threatening Anita through the fact that they have doxxed the home address and it becomes a threat to her. This case study shows that the ones who dox others might use their personal information to threaten the victims and verbally bullies the victims.

Resource from: https://www.vocativ.com/culture/society/anita-sarkeesian-threats/index.html

On the other hand, the article by Douglas suggests that sometimes doxxing might be reasonable, such as revealing a wrongdoing incident. It was debated that the anonymity and obscurity on the internet environment might facilitate the wrongdoing actions, and it is a necessity for those activist of the wrongdoing to experience the responsibility by sharing some of their information to break the anonymity. However, I personally feel that is dangerous to leave this right to the social media users, because people seem to identify wrongdoing actions differently. Therefore, the action such as reviewing the wrongdoing one’s personal information should be kept on the platform, instead of the users to maintain the information safety for everyone. And the platform may have a more serious strategy to the wrongdoing actions, instead of the users to take control of this punishment themselves.

  • Extremist Content and Hate Speech

Extremist content and hate speech are another form of critical online harassment and cyber-bullying factor. A case study would be the Christchurch massacre in 2019 in New Zealand. The incident was that a 29 years old Australian man preparing and did a shooting action in a Muslim mosque, and he also did a live stream on social media. When looking at this case study, the social media only acts as a distributor of this crime. However, the book which was written by Sparrow suggested that, unlike years ago when the fascist were popular, social media intensifies what they call the “fascist” type of action process and present their “fascist idea” online with a click in a finger. (pp32. Sparrow, J. 2019)

The author provides us an insight that the social media could act as a catalyst for online harassment and cyber-bullying, and the discourse spreads faster than previous, especially after the popularization and normalization of the troll culture.

Not only did the mentioned aspects of online harassment and cyber-bullying cause mental negative effect, but there are some examples of issues might be seen as an underlying threat that causes online harassment and cyber-bullying. They often refer to a kind of public opinion or ethic that suggests people what is right or wrong, which might not be the case. It is also important to notify those underlying opinions, and recognize that they might not be the case, even if they seem normalized in the public views.

Recessive Online Harassment and Cyber-bullying

  • The Sense of Beauty

Nowadays, due to the growth of production of the photo-editing apps and social media, the sense of beauty has been largely grown, and become one of the most important aspect of a person’s portrayal to themselves. However, because of the largely use of photo-editing tools, some influencers on social media portraits themselves to an unrealistic and in-achievable beauty, which normalizes the portrait of beauty, which might cause mental damage to people that is not “as beautiful” to them.

Moreover, the normalization of “looking beautiful” has shaped a perspective in some people’s minds that there is a certain standard to a sense of beauty, especially for a female’s face and body. Because of this normalization of the beauty standard, it was found that people tend to comment negatively on the post of people who do not look “as beautiful”, which causes the victims mental health problem.

This type of action that highlights the importance of physical appearance as a benchmark to beauty is seemingly to sexualize and materialize appearance and looking, which then will cause gender discrimination. Some common comments would be “a female should have big breasts and skinny body because that looks healthy”, or “a man should have muscles and the men who is too thin and white looks girly”. Those types of comments then leads to the gender discrimination and opposition of the genders.

Therefore, to address this issue, we should be able to overlook those standard and develop our sense of beauty. It is necessary to challenge those standard and benchmark and question whether they are the “true” standard of beauty.

  • The Memes

Meme is usually an image, video, or a piece of text, usually has a sense of humor, that usually passes from person to person, usually through social media. (Munson, O. 2022. What is a meme?) Memes are usually fast generated and quickly spread between people, and it becomes an every-day information that we see through online. As Burton mentioned in the article that meme is an indirect tool for the expression of the political forces, (Burton, J. 2019.) the memes influences people’s value and mindset indirectly.

However, as the meme being humorous, sometimes it has offensive content to certain people or group, that makes them feel offense or uncomfortable. This spread of meme and joke might cause online harassment and cyber-bullying.

Not only that, the creation and normalization of memes might cause an less serious- taking of certain important issues. This might invisibly cause mental health harm to people that the serious problem is ignored through meme as a joke-like media. Therefore, it is common that people causes harm to others without noticing, because this joke-like atmosphere and culture created by the media of meme.

Therefore, to response to this issue, it is always important for us to put into consideration before creating, spreading and sharing memes. And be careful with the potential offensive discourse contained in the meme. Also, as a victim if you see memes that are offensive, it is important to recognize the seriousness of the issue and be able to challenge the creation and spreading of the meme, and avoid putting yourself down because of the joke-like meme and think that if you are over thinking.

The two aspects mentioned above are two key underlying phenomenon that could potentially cause online harassment and cyber-bullying. Together with the topic mentioned on the first half of the body, the dominant online harassment and cyber-bullying, it is essential to generalize some can-do to these problems in the following paragraphs.

So what do we do?

Since we are all users of the internet cyberspace, it is crucial to understand some can-do from both the activist side and the victim side. Here are some suggestions for when you are creating and sharing content as the activist:

  • Be mindful of what you post: When you creating and sharing content online, be mindful if the content is offensive or uncomfortable to people, such as contain of sexual and violence content.
  • Take care of other people’s privacy: When you sharing content about others, be mindful of asking consent to the one you post and make sure not to expose unwanted content of others.
  • At the same time, we are all “potential victims” to online harassment and cyber-bullying. Here are some suggestions to what you may do if you receive online harassment and cyber bullying:
  • Protect your privacy: Due to the fast spreading culture of the internet, it is crucial to protect our privacy, as mentioned in the “outing and doxxing” section. Potentially, you may avoid posting sensitive and private information about yourself online.
  • Talk to a close friend or family: it is sympathized that if you are cyber-bullied. Therefore, it will be helpful to talk to a close, trust-worthy friend or family member. They might have helpful suggestions or you might feel better after you talk about it.
  • Report the harassment: It is important that the online platform is notified with who (as the account or member) that does the bullying action. Reporting the online bullying to the platform helps the social media to know and that they could take strategy to the serious action.
  • Educate yourself: Educate yourself and set up a good, positive value is important to against online harassment and cyber-bullying. When you truly understand what is right or wrong, you will be psychologically strong enough that to recognize the one who says offensive content was wrong instead of you.


(N.d.) https://transparency.fb.com/en-gb/policies/community-standards/

(N.d.) https://www.childnet.com/blog/what-is-cyberbullying-and-what-can-i-do-about-it/

Burton, J. (2019). Look at Us, We Have Anxiety: Youth, Memes, and the Power of Online Cultural Politics. Canadian Children, 44(3), 3–17. https://doi.org/10.18357/jcs00019171

Castaño-Pulgarín, S. A., Suárez-Betancur, N., Vega, L. M. T., & López, H. M. H. (2021). Internet, social media and online hate speech. Systematic review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 58, 101608–. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.avb.2021.101608

Douglas, D. (2016). doxxing: a conceptual analysis. Ethics and Information Technology, 18(3), 199–210. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-016-9406-0


Jääskeläinen, T. (2020). Countering hate speech through arts and arts education: Addressing intersections and policy implications. Policy Futures in Education, 18(3), 344–357. https://doi.org/10.1177/1478210319848953

Pp32. Sparrow, J. (2019). Fascists among Us: Online Hate and the Christchurch Massacre. Scribe Publications.

Wingfield, N. (2014). https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/16/technology/gamergate-women-video-game-threats-anita-sarkeesian.html

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