The dark side of the Internet, by Ilaria Cicione

In today’s internet era, social media are the most common means of communication. Social networks and apps like WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook are used by countless numbers of people to chat and share things. Unfortunately, these means are often used by young people also to threaten and mock their classmates.
This phenomenon is called cyberbullying and it is on the increase. The Italian press and TV news report episodes almost every day, making cyberbullying a real and urgent problem. To deal with this, we should ask ourselves why some people are harassed. Victims are often mocked because of their physical appearance, their race or sexual orientation. In general, they are considered a target of physical and emotional violence by those who feel powerful.

The data on episodes of cyberbullying are alarming. As the psychologist Maura Manca reports in her article, 8.5% of 14-19 year-olds and 10% of 11-13 year-old teenagers were cyberbullied last year. According to Manca, cyberbullied victims are often excluded from WhatsApp group chats created by their classmates. Bullies often share pictures of their victims with the group chat to mock them. They also write insults and threat. And that is not all, because victims are often filmed while being beaten by bullies. These videos are generally shared with the group chat or posted onto social networks. In my opinion this can be the most humiliating experience, because it makes people feel helpless in front of everybody. Even worse, none of the classmates dares to denounce this violence. A lot of young people prefer not to say anything because they are afraid of bullies. In this way, they become accomplices and they are as guilty as the bullies themselves.

Cyberbullying has many negative consequences for its victims. According to Telefono Azzurro, an Italian non-profit organisation which protects children rights, cyberbullied teenagers tend to have psychological problems, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Some have also attempted or committed suicide. I think that this is the worst side of cyberbullying because the psychological problems are more damaging than the physical ones. They can also last for many years after the episode of violence.

In order to avoid these problems, cyberbullied people have to be helped. The question is how. Many websites and blogs deal with this topic, for example the Telefono Azzurro website. These websites explain what cyberbullying is, how to recognise it and how to help victims. They advise parents to observe any behavioural change in their children and to check what they do when they are online. They also advise young victims to talk with their parents or with their teachers without feeling ashamed. Adults can help them to report the violence. Furthermore, people who see someone being cyberbullied are encouraged to report the episode and not to remain in silence.

However, there are also some teenagers who have decided to fight against cyberbullying. For example, the MaBasta! (Stop Now!) movement, established by a group of Italian students, aims to help cyberbullied and bullied people. This group represents a positive signal: it can make victims feel less alone and supported by their peers.

I think that parents and teachers should play a decisive role in teaching teenagers to use the Internet in a responsible way, without hurting anyone. Most of all, bullies should understand that harassment, even if it is virtual, can really destroy someone. As I said, cyberbullied victims may suffer the effects of being bullied for many years. For example, they may have difficulties in bonding with people and trusting them. Bullies need help too, as they are people who have troubles, perhaps with a lot of anger and determined to hurt someone else to vent their frustration. Therefore, it is important that both bullies and victims talk with someone, maybe a psychologist, who can help them to solve their problems.

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