Cyberbullying vs trolling: here’s how to tell them apart

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Perhaps more than anything else, the contemporary Internet is a place of opinions. We’ve even come up with entirely new terminologies for the different ways you can chat online. Flame wars. scuba diving. reply guys. And, of course, trolling.

While the meaning of trolling has become generalized to mean something close to “bullying” as it has grown in popularity, it is actually a very specific type of cyberbullying. Trolling is when someone deliberately says something inflammatory, upsetting, rude, and generally off-topic in order to derail a conversation people are having online.

A troll is the guy who appears in a conversation between a group of geologists to declare that the earth is flat or the person on 4chan who posts swastikas “4 the lulz”. Usually their goal is to wreak havoc, while hurting people’s feelings is the secondary bonus. A bully’s main goal, on the other hand, is usually to tear someone down.

But whatever the goal, people are being hurt online by ordinary bullies and trolls looking for havoc. Therefore, the intention of the jolt behind the keyboard does not matter, as the impact is largely the same.

Cyberbullying Statistics

Often when we talk about cyberbullying, we are talking about children and teenagers. That’s because our pre-internet definition of bullying has almost always been based on what happens “on the playground,” or between kids. According to a 2019 study by the Cyberbullying Research Center, 36.5% of of middle school and high school students have been victims of cyberbullying at some point in their life.

But cyberbullying affects people of all ages. You might even argue that trolling is often the adult evolution of cyberbullying, so if you’re an adult and have been the victim of cyberbullying or trolling, you’re not alone. According to the Pew Research Center, 41% of American adults have experienced some kind of online harassment and 75% have witnessed cyberbullying.

How to Stop Cyberbullying and Trolling

Cyberbullying and trolling happens on the internet – just check out any commentary section of a major newspaper and you’ll see that even “reputable” sites have to deal with it. But, unsurprisingly, most cyberbullying and trolling happens on social media and through multiplayer video games. Here’s what to do if you encounter it in the wild.

1. Don’t feed the trolls.

It’s a phrase that mostly has to do with “traditional” trolling, i.e. people just trying to stir things up. They’re most common on sites like Twitter and Reddit, where users aren’t logged in in real life, but you’ll also see them popping up in places like Instagram and Facebook.

2. Block, block, block.

Feel free to use this block button! If someone is harassing you online, you have no reason to listen. Every social media site, your text messages, your emails – everything has a block button these days. Hit it!

3. Report to the platform

If the harassment is happening on a social media site or gaming platform, be sure to take screenshots or recordings before blocking and report it directly on the site. This increases the likelihood that the person will be censored by the platform or even kicked out. Cyberbullying.org has a great resource on how to report cyberbullying to some of the most popular social media and gaming sites.

4. Report it to the police

Depending on where you live and the severity of the cyberbullying, you can also report the incident to your local police. In the United States, there is no federal law that deals with cyberbullying, but every state has anti-bullying laws and all but two (Alaska and Wisconsin) specifically mention cyberbullying. So if you’re worried about your physical safety — or want to see greater consequences for a cyberbully — you might want to consider filing a police report.

5. Make your profiles private

It sucks to have to go private because someone is bullying you, but sometimes it’s necessary. Making your profiles private means bullies have fewer ways to get you. And, as a bonus, it provides an extra layer of protection against cybercriminals who can use the information you post online to create elaborate phishing schemes or steal your identity.

We are all digital citizens these days, spending more and more time online. And that means we all have to figure out how to coexist there, without engaging in cyberbullying or trolling behaviors.

That doesn’t mean it’s not okay to voice your opinion online. As we said: The Internet is a place of opinions. The online world has enabled more people than ever before in human history to voice their opinions and have them heard, at least by a select group of other people. And it’s great! But it also opens up a whole new world of bullying – and that’s just something none of us need.

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