Social media and rapidly increasing rates of technological development has seen us more connected than ever before. But with this comes a downside — it has provided new avenues for people to act maliciously, and so we have seen the rise of cyberbullying.
Much like traditional bullying, cyberbullying is both an attack on — and abuse of — rights, including the rights of individuals to freedom of speech. And if recent statistics are to be believed, cyberbullying will continue to grow more prevalent until we stop it. It is critical to implement measures to counter cyberbullying and preserve individuals’ rights to freedom of speech.
A widely accepted definition lists cyberbullying as “an aggressive, intentional act or behavior that is carried out by a group or an individual, using electronic forms of contact, repeatedly and over time against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself.” The act takes many forms, including doxxing, trolling, cyberstalking, hate speech, and harassment.
While cyberbullying might take different shapes, the intent is always the same: to cause mental, emotional, and sometimes physical harm to victims. It is common for victims of cyberbullying to have suicidal thoughts, experience poor self-esteem, and develop a sense of alienation from society.
But cyberbullying has more far-reaching consequences for personal liberties than traditional bullying — particularly because it’s so difficult to track cases of online bullying.
Worse, evading cyberbullying gets more difficult the more pervasive online life becomes. While we can escape bullying in real life by avoiding certain people or locations, it’s not so easy to avoid a platform that’s crucial to finding employment, like LinkedIn.
As libertarians, we know that freedom of speech is the key to a free society, and we know that because people generally seek to improve their lives, in an open marketplace of ideas the best ideas tend to win out.
Therefore, because cyberbullying silences ideas — that is, because it cramps the style of the free marketplace of ideas — in a way, it’s an affront to us all.
Searching “how to prevent cyberbullying” on Google brings up approximately 3,650,000 results, the vast majority of which include generic tips like “monitor your child’s account,” “restrict social media activity,” and so on.
These results suggest that the fault for bullying lies with victims, and that people must do more to protect themselves online. However, these little life hacks can only do so much.
It would be easy, of course, to resort to demanding strict laws that define cyberbullying and spell out punishments for perpetrators. We could insist that governments set up dedicated cyberbullying “task forces” and saddle them with the responsibility of tracking cases. Countries like Australia have done just that.
However, to be more efficient and proactive, let’s demand that social media companies take cyberbullying seriously and have policies to check online behaviour. For example, those companies should respond to reports of bullying within 24 hours. They also must take action against those found to be guilty of cyberbullying.
Social media companies are already incentivized to provide safe, enjoyable online spaces for their users; after all, that’s one way in which they can bring more users aboard. So this truly isn’t asking too much.
Besides, if a social media platform can’t reach those bare-minimum standards to protect against cyberbullying, it’s not deserving of our time. There are plenty of other platforms that can and are.
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