Bullying on social networks and online platforms, cyber harassment is a real scourge for mental health. You may have already heard about this form of harassment, which is becoming more and more widespread. Nevertheless, it is not said that we all know exactly what it is, who it affects, what its repercussions are… And above all how to take part in its prevention. That’s why we’re going to explain in this article what we mean by cyberbullying and how to act against this phenomenon. 

Where does it come from? 

In recent years, we have witnessed and participated in the development of online platforms, including social networks. Although this emergence has a considerable positive impact, it brings with it many victims in its path. Violence, harassment, false reality, scams, sexual exploitation… These are the main risks that affect young people through the use of these means of communication. Indeed, these generations are strongly connected, they are the targets and sometimes even the prey. Prey of virtual aggressors. Phone in the pocket, computer in the bag, connected watch in the hand… our mode of socialization and consumption has changed. We are not going to talk about the addictive risk and dependence on networks but about the current danger we hear a lot about: cyber harassment. 

This extension of digital technology has brought with it undesirable behaviors such as cyber violence. Indeed, when we are behind our screens, we feel protected and can control our actions. It is from this feeling of protection that destructive behaviors for others arise.  

Cyberbullying: what? how? who? 

Cyberstalking is repeated and long-lasting violence perpetrated by an individual or a group of individuals via online means of communication against a person who is a victim of these acts and is not capable of defending himself or herself. Unlike stalking, cyberstalking has specific characteristics. As mentioned above, users feel protected and powerful. They even become insensitive and indifferent to the suffering of their victims. Abusers no longer realize and are no longer aware of the damage their actions have on their victims. On the other hand, the victim is left with a considerable amount of powerlessness, especially when she cannot identify her abuser. Anonymity is another important factor that promotes cyber stalking, it further reinforces the feeling of impunity. Moreover, cyber harassed people cannot act on the aggressive publications they are victims of. They find themselves in a forced position of passivity and have no control over what is published. 

Although cyberstalking occurs online and promises anonymity, the victim often knows the perpetrator in one of their living spaces. In addition, cyberstalkers often have a dual status. They are sometimes victims of harassment/cyberstalking themselves or former victims. 

What are the psychological consequences? 

We will now discuss the possible consequences of cyberbullying. They are not automatic and depend on the way you deal with cyberbullying. Mental health is the aspect most affected. Victims can suffer from anxiety and depression. Being a victim of cyberstalking can also mean being afraid and constantly angry. These specific emotional repercussions are reflected in behaviours. Indeed, cyberstalkers are likely to develop violent and aggressive behaviours in turn to release the tension inside them and to regain their self-esteem. They may engage in risky behaviors, especially substance abuse such as drugs or alcohol. 
Victims find themselves in a state of psychological distress that also affects their sleep. The hetero or self-aggressiveness they may display is detrimental to their social relationships which are impoverished along with their social skills. In addition, they may lose self-esteem and self-confidence because of the criticism and abusive words they receive. Cyberbullying also impacts the school environment. They may become unmotivated, fail at school, have trouble concentrating and attend classes less and less. This online violence can even drive victims to suicide. 

What to do about it? 

To prevent cyberbullying, it’s important to know what it is and to be aware of the damage it does. We can also help a loved one who is being cyberbullied. To do this, you need to know how to spot the signs or behaviors that suggest cyberbullying. There are some important signs to look out for, such as withdrawal, which in everyday life can manifest itself as a sudden loss of friends. Your loved one or friend may also become highly anxious. Anxiety can also manifest itself physiologically through headaches, stomach aches, fatigue… You may notice some sudden aggressiveness that was not part of your loved one’s behavior before. This aggressiveness can be directed towards your loved one’s own family, friends or against himself. To help your loved one, I suggest that you first communicate with them and listen to their concerns.  Showing interest and empathy will allow them to open up to you and share their feelings. You need to give them a space based on the trust you have in each other and the strength of your relationship so that they can feel safe and understood. 

If you are a victim of cyber-stalking, you need to know that people never deserve to be stalked, and that it is not their fault. Cyberstalking is never personal, it is only the projections of your stalkers who are sometimes victims or victims of violence themselves. 

It is even more important now to be aware of the weight of our words and our actions online. Everyone and their fellow human beings live their words, feel them and suffer from them. If you are a victim of cyberbullying, contact 3018 as soon as you can and want to.  This form of violence leaves no respite for victims as it crosses social boundaries. Their lives are invaded, no matter what they do or where they go, which reinforces the feeling of powerlessness. Contrary to what one might think, virtual actions can actually destroy a real life. Don’t underestimate your role, even if you witness cyberstalking, you can act and help. 

Blaya, C. (2018). Le cyberharcèlement chez les jeunes. Enfance3, 421‑439. https://www.cairn.info/journal-enfance-2018-3-page-421.htm

Blava, C. (2015). Les programmes d’intervention contre la cyberviolence et le cyberharcèlement : quels moyens, quelle efficacité ? Cyberviolence et école, 131‑153. https://doi.org/10.4000/dse.843

Blaya, C. (2020). Cyberviolence, cyberharcèlement et cyberhaine : conséquences et facteurs de protection. Le journal des psychologues382, 38‑43. https://www.cairn.info/revue-le-journal-des-psychologues-2020-10-page-38.htm