English: A graph showing where electronic aggr...

English: A graph showing where electronic aggression occurs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in August 2012, Campbell Live ran an experiment to see how many people would intervene if they witnessed children being bullied. It showed that many people simply walked by, rather than intervening. This has been attributed to what is known as ‘The bystander Effect”, or Genovese Syndrome. This is a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases where individuals do not offer any means of help in an emergency situation to the victim when other people are present. The probability of help has often appeared to be inversely related to the number of bystanders; in other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help. The mere presence of other bystanders greatly decreases intervention. In general, this is believed to happen because as the number of bystanders increases, any given bystander is less likely to notice the situation, interpret the incident as a problem, and less likely to assume responsibility for taking action.
Despite the large number of individuals who do not approve of bullying, there are very few who will intervene on behalf of a victim. Most people remain bystanders, and may accept the bullying or even support the bully. In 85% of bullying incidents, bystanders are involved in teasing the victim or egging on the bully. When the bully encounters no negative response from observers, it encourages continuation of the behaviour.
But what about cyber-bullying? Would you intervene if you witnessed bullying on the internet? It’s a lot harder to make the right call when the situation involves avatars and screen names, rather than real flesh and blood in front of you. Unlike physical bullying, electronic bullies can remain virtually anonymous using temporary email accounts, pseudonyms in chat rooms, instant messaging programs, cell-phone text messaging, and other Internet venues to mask their identity; this perhaps frees them from normative and social constraints on their behavior. Additionally, electronic forums often lack supervision. While chat hosts regularly observe the dialog in some chat rooms in an effort to police conversations and evict offensive individuals, personal messages sent between users (such as electronic mail or text messages) are viewable only by the sender and the recipient, thereby outside the regulatory reach of such authorities. In addition, when teenagers know more about computers and cellular phones than their parents or guardians, they are therefore able to operate the technologies without concern that a parent will discover their experience with bullying (whether as a victim or offender). Moreover, bullies can gang up on their victims on electronic pages more efficiently than they do in traditional bullying, since there is no limit to the number of people who can join in, following a bullying statement.
Many people will be aware of the recent case of Canadian teenager Amanda Todd, who committed suicide on October 10, 2012, after being repeatedly harassed over a long period of time via Facebook, e-mail, Text Message, and even physical attacks at her home and school. Before Amanda died, she posted a you-tube video which shows her using flashcards to document the abuse she had suffered. After her death the video went viral. Todd’s suicide received widespread, international media coverage, much of which included a link to Todd’s YouTube video and an email address provided by the RCMP appealing for information from the public. Within 24 hours of the appeal, over 400 tips were received. The RCMP has stated their investigation was hindered by the amount of false information in online postings after Todd’s death, and scams claiming to raise money for her family. Since her suicide, more than one million Facebook users have “liked” Todd’s Facebook memorial page. Mingled among the positive support and comments are continuing attack posts and images from strangers and those claiming to be her former classmates, such as a message stating ” “I’m so happy she’s dead now.” After one man’s derogatory Facebook comments about Todd’s death were reported to his employer, the Grafton-Fraser Mr. Big & Tall clothing chain confirmed that he was no longer an employee. On October 19, 2012, New Zealand Police said they were questioning a 17-year-old boy from Raglan who allegedly posted “inappropriate and disturbing images” on a memorial page for Todd. Police removed the images and shut down the boy’s Facebook page.  ( http://www.bnowire.com/?p=835 ) I was recently faced with a situation on a Facebook page. Some students from a Christchurch Private Boys school, St. Bede‘s College, were involved in posting hurtful, bullying comments on their own and other facebook pages, as well as disturbing pictures that clearly had been altered by the bullies. I discovered the young girl that was the subject of the bullying, and learned that since the bullying began, she had made an attempt on her life, and had been hospitalised as a result. Yet the bullying continued. Some of the posts had been made on pages where adults had been present, yet none of these comments had been moderated, and the main offender had even been made admin of one of the pages. 10The above picture was made after the offender had heard that the victim of his bullying had harmed herself as a result of the torment.The boy in the picture is the boy responsible for the bullying. The other posts are also highly offensive. I have been a victim of bullying, even in adulthood, so have never been one to allow it to happen when I see it occurring, and i believe that it should be the same in cyber-space. I took screen shots of all the offending material, and emailed it to the head of St. Bede’s College. I received the following response – “I have spoken to Michael and asked him to remove all the offensive material from his Facebook site. I have also pointed out that while the content is unacceptable there is also a definite example of harassment and bullying occurring here. We have clear policies and procedures around cyber-bullying and he has been made aware of these. Once again thank you letting us know.” After the head of the school asked him to take down the material, I checked and it was still there, along with posts clearly scoffing about being able to get away with the behaviour. I emailed the school once again and informed them that only some posts had been removed, but many comments still remained, like posts saying the girl should “drink bleach like Amanda Todd” and “I have made your R.I.P page again, perhaps we will get to use it this time”. I suggested the both the offender and the school were not taking this seriously. They responded with – “The issue with the boy involved is to do with his empathy with people. What you are seeing is not so much that he is not taking it seriously but rather his understanding of what constitutes appropriate material and comments. I will speak to him again and hopefully all the material will be gone.” I also suggested that the boy’s parents be informed of his online behaviour, but the head of school did not respond to this. This gives me little faith in our private school system of their handling of bullying and cyber bullying. That is one area where public schools trump private ones. St. Bede’s has a long history with turning a blind eye to bullying behaviour, my father and his four brothers attended the school, and my two brothers also, and all were faced with bullying at some point or another, some to a highly damaging degree. I think that bullying needs to be a criminal offence, when it involves offenders posting serious and harmful comments and images, like the tormenting ones that I saw, and the one’s involved with the Amanda Todd case. What are your thoughts on cyber bullying?


7 thoughts on “Social Experiment – What would you do if you witnessed bullying?

  1. I don’t have very well thought-out thoughts on cyber bullying. I think it’s wrong, and it would be great if it could be a criminal charge. I just think that people could also use it to frame people. If someone hacked into an account and then bullied people, it could take a long time to determine what really happened. Having known people who are wrongly convicted of non-cyber crimes, I can only imagine how hard it would be come to tease out the truth in some cases. In other cases, of course, it would be clear. I think it would be good to have sites have a bit more of a capacity for folks to block people who are bullying them. I know that wouldn’t be a full solution, but being able to block people from any of our social pages could perhaps be at least one step towards more power. But the damage that is already done is hard to remedy. I have faith that things will change for the better in the future as lots of people become more open-minded, but there is much work to be done for sure. The more we talk about it like you are doing, the better!!

    • I definitely agree, that it is a difficult situation to monitor, and I think that another problem is that it’s often a case of he said-she said, with no real proof that it has occurred. that’s why when I witnessed it happening live, through pure chance that it appeared on my newsfeed, I took screen shots of the bullying occurring, as it can be very hard to prove on a hearsay basis. I think that quite often we leave issues of bullying to the children and schools to sort out. I don’t even have children, but I couldn’t sit there and ignore it simply because I have no vested interest. I was appalled at the school’s lack of concern for the victim, and that’s why I think that their needs to be a duty of care placed on schools who are aware of bullying taking place but do nothing to act. I’m not sure about other countries, but it has become a large problem in our schools, and has been engrained in kid’s behaviour over decades. It definitely needs to be looked at, at the very least.

      • Definitely, maybe teaching kids about the bystander effect would be useful. Once we see our patterns and unconscious tendencies, it sometimes is easier to address them. There could also be rewards for catching bullies, ways of making it really clear that it’s not okay.

  2. I completely agree. I think that teaching kids about empathy would be beneficial too, but also I think that teenagers who lack empathy are concerning, in terms of their future bahaviour. in high school I set up a program where younger kids were buddied up with the older, prefects of the school, so they had someone they could go to in the event of them being bullied. As far as I am aware this program is still in operation. I guess one issue NZ schools, particularly private schools have is that they have a “boys will be boys”, “Kids will be kids” attitude, and can be dismissive of cases of bullying, like what I witnessed the other day. We don’t seem to have this issue as much with public schools.

  3. Hi, your topic is very en vogue these days.Yes, the bystander syndrome seems to be a common occurance in all kinds of situations and elements of the Milgramm experiments can be observed where a person does or doesent perform acts that conflict with their personal conscience. I recommend, when using social media never to respond spontaneously to any remark that is hurtful or to a remark I perceive to be personal. This has to do with the different levels of awareness and conciousness.Remember how often we tore up a letter we were writing to someone explaining an emotional state. Well, the same thought and care is advisable when “socialising” on the internet. Take time out to process what you find is targeting your feelings, your self esteem and so forth. Is this person’s opinion that important? Do I know who I am yet or am I still searching ?
    Anyway, what I would really like to point out is; that the expression “committing suicide” is obselete. Since 1993 suicide is no longer a crime (in Ireland anyway) and we now talk about a person suiciding themselves. We know that the person thinking about suicide sends out several “invitations” to a person or persons of their choice. It is now known that speaking about suicide never pushes anyone to actually proceed. On the contrary we are advised to address the matter openly and enquire if he/she is contemplating ending their life. Active listening is the key here and please do not try to rationalise too much. The person is in an exceptional state of mind and basically is looking for reasons to live. Therefore after we listen to the reasons for dying we enquire abot reasons for living. (people are also reasons) Then we go about keeping the person safe by removing the chosen method from their reach – providing they are not on a height and ready to jum In that case we try to make a “contract” of postponement and achieve agreement about seeking out help from a trusted individual and a “professional” – Many of us have actually saved lives by being a good friend so do look out for friends whose behaviour might be altering…Sorry for rambling. Happy Christmas -N

    • Thanks for reading my article! You make some very good points, however I think you may have misunderstood some of the things that I said. The comments that I read on the internet were not directed at me, they were directed towards a child who had consequently harmed herself as a result. I think being politically correct in the terminology surrounding suicide is kind of beside the point also, but your comments on this are very true and correct about the support needed by someone in this position. The comments made by the bully were not responded to in a ‘spontaneous’ manner, they were responded to because bullying is unacceptable and as an adult who had witnessed it, I felt I had a duty of care to report it to the child’s school. I guess I’m not really sure what you were trying to say? Merry Xmas to you also 🙂

  4. A good strategy against bullies is to limit their possibilities of finding targets. We need a way to turn potential targets of bullying into confident individuals who can defend themselves if need be. Bullies don’t pick fights they know they will lose.


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