Cyber-bullying has become an extended component of regular bullying behavior. Many who are cyber-bullied are also bullied off-line through emotional manipulation in addition to sometimes being victimized with various types of physical assault and battery. The emotional feelings that the victim has from the online harassment are therefore further amplified causing greater problems with various levels of depression, fear, anxiety, stress, and other psychological, cognitive and sociological health problems present. The sociological behavioral responses, which can be external or internal in nature, can lead to self-destructive social behaviors (i.e., becoming socially involved with others who participate as a group or individually in self-destructive behaviors) that can then further increase the emotional and psychological feelings that developed because of being a victim of the actions of someone who bullied and / or cyber-bullied them.
If the person that is doing the cyber-bullying is someone who the victim was once friends with, or thought they were still friends with only to discover that friendship was a ploy, or is done by someone who is either a family member or has been close to them like a family member, the emotions that the victim will experience due to the action can be more devastating than when done by others. Victims may tend to believe that something is wrong with them, when there is nothing wrong with them, or believe that they need to change something about themselves that someone else does not like, when there is no need to change anything.
There are many responses that a victim may have, the most devastating of which is taking their own life. In some of these instances the damage has been done so greatly by the person who is doing the act against the victim that the victim feels there will never be a way to recover. The feelings of not being able to recover are not always just psychological but felt by the victim emotionally that their dignity and integrity has been so damaged and that recovery will never happen. They feel as if they are at a loss so great and with no ability to see that recovery is possible they then take their life. In analysis this can be seen by looking for patterns and wording that has been found in cases where the victims have tried to speak out, or in notes that have sometimes been left, or in the way in which the perpetrators themselves have spoken to the victim and others, not just verbally but written.
Perpetrators in these instances do not care how badly they have caused pain to the victim. They do not care how badly they have ruined the victim’s relationships with others. Perpetrators of cyber-bullying also do not always care about how their actions toward the victim causes hurt with those who know the victims. They do not “see” (and that is in the literal sense) that their actions can break relationships, friendships and trust between the victim and others who the perpetrator has enticed to believe the lies. Because the perpetrator(s) cannot “see” the emotions, the facial responses, the sociological responses, the psychological responses at the moment in which the victim “reads” the dishonest, harmful, cruel and demeaning words they wrote against the victim in order to cause harm of some sort the perpetrator is not going to always feel guilt or remorse. In fact, the perpetrator is often likely to increase the problem by making claim that the victim is over reacting to what was, in the perpetrators mind – or what they will tell others, just a joke. The perpetrator will attempt to justify their actions by saying that the victims response to the perpetrators cyber-bullying should count as proof to the claim that was made. This can further cause victimization as it will increase the problems and create further doubt and belief in the minds of others that the perpetrator was possibly right when that is not necessarily the case.
Children, and even adults in some cases, who are going through this may develop distrust where they do not know who they can turn to, who they can trust to listen to them, to know that their emotions are not false, that their hurt is not a response to a psychological issue, and that the lies were wrong. When individuals start saying to the victim: “Oh it is okay! We will help you to get through your issues;” when there was not an issue there to begin with, they are increasing the effect of the perpetrators actions upon the victim, further victimizing the victim and giving satisfaction of success to the perpetrator.
Such satisfaction has been elicited by criminals of different acts in the past through various case studies done by many different experts over the years. In studying these cases and the patterns one can find the connection of where desensitization of the perpetrator feeling remorse can start. Part of that desensitization process can be found in the perpetrator’s feelings of accomplishment of repeatedly being able to get others to turn away from, or further help increase the desired affect or response that is wanted upon or by the victim. The perpetrator then does not feel remorse for their actions but instead satisfaction and the problem with this is that in other situations, or criminal acts, a pattern can develop and in that pattern the perpetrator will not feel remorse or sympathy for crimes they committed, nor will they care. The perpetrator disassociates themselves from acceptance of responsibility for their act. In this manner cyber-bullying behavior can become a precursor to much more devastating criminal behavior in the future where absence of remorse could be present. In addition, the criminal act itself can be just as, if not even more so, sickening as the processes devised and used by serial criminals (including serial pedophiles, serial murders, and even terrorist groups).
With the perpetrator’s ability to victimize remotely, to be able to not feel emotional remorse for their action and yet to feel satisfaction if their actions cause enough damage to the victim up to and including the victim committing suicide to escape, we as society face a great problem. As such trend continues the starting of a new avenue for terrorist acts, or murder through psychological manipulation to commit suicide, becomes a concern. In societies across the world we have already seen such psychological manipulation done by terrorist groups and those same psychological effects are being seen in victims who have had to face cyber-bullying at such great lengths that they commit suicide.
Cyber-terrorism has already been defined and even quoted by James A. Lewis in his 2002 report Assessing the Risks of Cyber-terrorism, Cyber war, and Other Cyber Threats written for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In this 2002 report Lewis quotes cyber-terrorism as being defined as, “the use of computer network tools to shut down critical national infrastructures (such as energy, transportation, government operations) or to coerce or intimidate a government or civilian population” (pg. 1) (emphasis mine). The use of coercion and intimidation in this sense can, and does, include psychological manipulation which can, and has, been found to have caused individuals to commit acts of suicide from another individual that incited the victim to that point. One question that is asked is whether our laws and judicial system can help in prevention and reduction of these issues to which the answer is: sure they can, but those laws are meaningless if we do not have the means in which to prepare professionals to tackle the issues along with many other factors that are necessary.
Some states, such as Indiana, have already put into place laws that would account for criminal prosecution of those who use such tactics as psychological manipulation. Indiana legislators in 1976 actually put into place two separate criminal homicide statutes that account for suicide caused by another individual. The two statutes are IC 35-42-1-2 and IC 35-42-1-2.5(b). The statute that would follow in line with suicide that is caused due to the psychological manipulation, harassment, and deception of another individual through electronic mediums (or cyber-bullying) is found within IC 35-42-1-2 and listed as a Class B Felony.
While it is good that Indiana has this code, there are a few problems that could make prosecution and investigations done by law enforcement of such crime difficult. Some of these problems are:
- The ability to determine if there was actual and directly intended psychological manipulation from the suspect toward the victim;
- Whether or not there is an actual need in law to state specifically that the suspect must make a specific statement in which to encourage the victim to commit suicide, or if through a pattern of psychological manipulation with the absence of a specific statement that encourages the victim to commit suicide satisfies the specific elements of direct intent to which the crime specifically can be charged;
- The determination of whether or not there should be a level of classification of intent if the suspect is either a minor or an adult;
- The determination of whether a parent / guardian should be also held accountable if the suspect is a minor and if that accountability should extend to the adult participating also in the act, and if not participating in the act whether that adult should be held accountable on a basis of neglecting parental responsibility of the minors activities;
- If more than one individual participated should all be charged and to what degree should the charges be;
- What other criminal statutes does the crime fall under and has the criminal elements of intent been clearly determined by the act(s) committed;
- Should educators be held to some level of accountability if they failed to help provide assistance when sought by either the minor or the minor’s parent / guardian and if so should that accountability fall within a negligent criminal account, a civil action or both – and if a criminal account who would be the one to be criminally charged;
- Just as it is with the question prior to educators should the same be applied to employers and if so to what degree;
- Lastly, and certainly not least, one major consideration falls within this question: Who has jurisdiction to file the crime: the state or the feds, and under what conditions?
The problem is clearly an issue, the need for continued research is definite, the cost economically is astronomical, and working on developing means for truly effective prevention to help victims and prevention in the area of crime is going to need continual support. There is a large need for cross training and education where there will be more individuals who specifically can handle these areas and who can help other professions. Our colleges and universities recognize this and are working towards tackling the need, and they could use the assistance of others across the board on this front. But, people also need to understand that the changes in technology are rapid and coming up with a sure fire way to tackle the problem is going to take time, and there is no guarantee that a sure fire answer will ever be completely found.
For additional resources on these areas you can view the following:
American Association of Suicidology
Indiana mom charged with neglect after son’s suicide
Emotional intelligence, machiavellianism and emotional manipulation: does EI have a dark side?
Tactics of manipulation. Journal of personality and social psychology, 52(6), 1219-1229.
Attorney General of New Jersey, State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation. (2000)
Social psychological methods of emotion elicitation.
The sociology and psychology of terrorism: who becomes a terrorist and why.
Indiana state suicide prevention plan.
Assessing the risks of cyber terrorism, cyber war and cyber threats
Suicide in Indiana 2001-2005: a report on suicide completions and attempts.
Psychological manipulation and induced psychological illness.
The use of the internet for terrorist purposes.
Quadrennial homeland security review report: a strategic framework for a secure homeland (Pgs. 54 – 58).
DISCLAIMER: The information found within this article is for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as the giving of psychological or legal advice. For psychological advice and assistance do seek help from a psychologist licensed within your state. For legal advice seek assistance from a licensed attorney admitted to practice in your state