As everyone is obligated to stay indoors because of COVID-19, people’s reliance on technology for communication and entertainment has increased. Correspondingly, there is a rise in cyberbullying, bullying done over online platforms. Similarly to physical bullying, bystanders are often present in situations with cyberbullying.
Bystanders can fuel the confidence of cyberbullies through their actions or lack of actions. Simple acts, such as commenting, liking, and sharing posts, and following the bullies’ content, show the complacency or support of onlookers. Bullies, knowing that their actions are well-received, feel more powerful, and as a result, they can potentially harm or humiliate their victims even more.
A social psychological theory called the bystander effect, or bystander apathy, refers to how people are less likely to offer help when others are present. Conducted by Robert Thornberg in 2007, the experiment highlights the reasons why children do not intervene with bullying, which includes wanting to mind their own business, avoiding being targeted or embarrassed, seeing others doing nothing as well, and feeling like others should help instead.
Cyberbullying will not cease if nothing is done. To be an upstander, flagging content that may be offensive, reporting bullies, and reaching out to victims will help. When a bystander becomes an upstander in a safe and effective way, the bully knows that their behavior is not tolerated. Upstanders can also inspire bystanders to support the victim and can reduce the negative effects of cyberbullying.