Let's be straight-up for a minute, guys. Cyberbullying is a real, legit thing that exists in 2018 - and it's horrible.
For some reason, cyberbullying has a strange reputation. If you tell someone you're being bullied online, they may think it's nothing or just 'drama' - like something that happens online has no real consequences, no matter how terrible it makes you feel and so it's not worth getting concerned about.
People often say "if you're being cyberbullied, just turn off the computer and move on." But the reality is that you can't turn off the way the bullying makes you feel.
I know from firsthand experience. As someone who writes for a living, not everyone will agree with what you say or create.
Some people know how to express themselves. Other people turn to calling you names. Even worse, some people will harass you with constant name-calling and maybe even some threats. I've personally had this happen to me more times than I can count, and trust me, it's a super toxic thing to deal with. People, for some reason, feel like hiding behind a screen gives them carte blanche to say whatever they want, without any consequences (that they can see).
Although I deal with this stuff often, it's actually one of my friends' stories that has me shook.
Lots of people think cyberbullying is an issue that affects children only. And while it, unfortunately, does affect kids at a crazy rate - with nearly one in two youths having experienced bullying in the last four weeks - it's not exclusive to one age group.
One of my close friends actually got cyberbullied to the point of it causing her to fail one of her core university classes last year, at the age of 27.
It started as something as basic as having a disagreement with one of her classmates and the disagreement escalated. But at one point, the classmate started posting comments on my friend's photos that could be considered straight-up rude... they weren't mean enough for my friend to speak up just yet, though.
Eventually, the comments escalated, things were getting worse, and then when that wasn't enough, the girl started DMing my friend. She would say things that were really uncalled for every single day and at one point, she even started falsely accusing her of things, just to get a reaction out of her.
It was to the point where the girl got some of her friends involved too, and whenever my friend would post selfies or other photos, this group of people would comment on them relentlessly and just drag her for no reason.
Meanwhile, my friend's best method to deal with this was to just ignore it. In reality, it made her feel super anxious, insecure, confused and a little victimized... but she figured not acknowledging this girl and her group of friends was the way to go.
Her goal was to avoid confronting this person in real life as much as she could; but unfortunately, that meant she'd also skip class when it wasn't absolutely necessary to go in, just to avoid the person behind the rude posts.
This also meant that she ended up missing way too many classes to catch up. Even though she figured she could skip class, avoid the person, and still pass - that wasn't the case and she failed. Since it was a core class she needed to get her diploma, she had to wait until it was offered again the next year to retake it, so it delayed her graduation and took a good chunk out of her GPA.
The harassment had also gotten so bad that she ended up shutting down all her social media accounts. To this day she still avoids social media like the plague, and hasn't reopened any of her accounts.
Looking back on my friend's story, there were different ways the cyberbullying could have been dealt with. For example, she could have reported the main account to Facebook, or even looped her professor in on what was going on.
And if I had been personally there when all of this was going on, I also know that it would've been super key for me to get involved as a witness - in the right way - too.
People who witness cyberbullying have a key role in helping to stop it, too. On my end, if I had seen the comments on my friend's photos, I could have reported the accounts myself as well. And if I had known the perpetrator, I could have maybe took her aside and personally told her that what she was doing wasn't cool. Or I could have at least told my friend straight-up that I supported her, no matter what.
For my friend, things didn't need to end with a failed class and a total social media purge - and if we both had been aware of what to do, I'm certain they wouldn't have. After all, online bullying has real-world consequences, but you don't have to suffer in silence... especially thanks to TELUS and their #RiseAbove initiative.
TELUS' #RiseAbove campaign aims to help empower kids - and people of all ages - against online bullying and is a huge resource for parents, teachers and students looking to help young people rise above online bullying. The campaign site is full of resources and tips on how to start conversations and deal with cyberbullying, whether you're a student, teacher, witness, parent or anything in between.
Not only does this campaign aim to put an end to cyberbullying, but #RiseAbove also hopes to inspire young people to take charge and become productive, positive people in their community. Meaning that everyone - from victims to perpetrators themselves - can more than benefit from TELUS' initiative!