As we have continued to make rapid technological advancements, the social order in its
nature – has been most impacted. As new disciplines and job descriptions, previously
unthinkable, become more applicable since their emergence thanks to these revolutionary strides
we’ve made over the years. With the penetration of the cyber world view in almost all aspects of
society as a consequence of the digital revolution in information and communication
technologies that have seen the rise of personal computers, smartphones, internet solutions, etc.
these innovations have become so deeply entrenched in our consciousness as a society. They
have come with their fair share of positive (immense and far-reaching) and negative (the ones
that have worked against as a result of embracing them wrongly) benefits. It is now difficult to
envision the modern world devoid of all these advancements. WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook,
Skype, E-mails, and SMS/MMS are but some examples of digital forms of communication that
have turn out to be the catch of the day today.
Bullying, in original essence, has been a part of us since time immemorial. It has been
used by individuals exhibiting habitual cruelty to exploit people’s vulnerability from positions
perceived as being of relative power. In schools, bullying can be about as old as the schools
themselves, with scientific research on this topic emerging way later, with the first publication on
the discourse having been written by Peter-Paul Heinemann. The book's title Mobbning –
Gruppvåld bland barn och vuxna translated into English, means "Mobbing – Group Aggression
Against Boys and Girls.” It was published more than four decades ago. At the same time, the one
individual who can be considered the father of bullying research has to be Dan Olweus is, on
account o his book Forskning on Skolmobbning. In English, it means “Aggression in Schools:
Bullies and Whipping Boys” (Olweus, 1978) that came out 30 years ago. Heinemann's interest
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started off limited to group aggression, but later, Oluwes' came in and centered on bullying,
having shifted from the use of the term "mobbing.” He did this based on his belief that bullying
was not restricted to group aggression only. He remarked that even person-to-person aggression
could be observed in light of bullying. It draws a distinction from other forms of aggressive
behavior with respect to these two aspects:
i. Repetition (contrary to aggression, a behavior has to be repeated severally to be
considered an act of bullying).
ii. Power Imbalance (this implies that the aggressor has a certain supremacy to
which they continually abuse the victim without them being able to retaliate).
This undesirable aggressive behavior of intimidation, abuse, harassment, insults, and
coercion, by and large, involves the use of force and threats. Traditionally, bullying has been
direct (person-to-person), incorporating physical and verbal forms. Still, in recent years with the
steady rise of social media exposure, it has swiftly transcended to online platforms morphing into
cyberbullying. Within the past two decades, cyberbullying (the electronic variety of old-style
bullying) has received critical attention in the scientific world and the media. It can be described
as a deliberate, aggressive action performed by an individual or a group of persons by use of
electronic forms of communication repetitively and over time against a victim(s) who cannot
defend themselves without difficulty (Smith, Mahdavi, Carvalho, Fisher, Russell, & Tippett,
2008). Here, we will focus on the following three elements as we consider a case;
i. Outing or trickery involves the disclosure and distribution of someone's secrets or
offensive material online or using deception to uncover secrets or embarrassing
info that is then distributed online.
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ii. Trolling. Deliberately posting suggestive messages about delicate matters
produces conflict, disturbs people, and lures them into "flaming" or fighting.
iii. Stalking. It involves persistently sending messages that comprise threats of harm
or are exceedingly intimidating, participating in other online actions that make an
individual(s) afraid for their safety.
The case we'll consider is from a 16-year old from Manchester, Tennessee, who went by
Channing Smith. On September 23 rd , last year, the boy took his own life after explicit
conversions involving him and another young man went online. These texts were posted by
friends on Snapchat and Instagram in the form of screenshots, after which Channing shot and
killed himself. They portrayed the teenager as bi-sexual. Before this fatal incident, he was a
student at Coffee County Central High School. His account gained popularity after an emotional
note about the suicide posted on Facebook by his elder brother Joshua Smith caught people's
attention who, in another post, criticized the school Channing attended, alleging that the school
administration hadn’t taken sufficient measures following his brother’s death. He went on to
assert his disappointment on the interview he had with CNN. He claimed that the school failed to
mention Channing's case on any of their social media outlets or even reach out to the family of
the late. In response to these complaints, the school, through its Director Charles Lawsons,
affirmed that they were not in a position to comment on the situation.
My argument is that the actions by the friends who posted the images reached the three
thresholds that qualify their act as one of cyberbullying. They might have tricked him into
unlocking his phone for them, then after screenshotting, the particulars of the conversation went
ahead and posted them on images online. This action later led to the development of stalking
incidents that compelled the youngster to commit suicide. Secrets being confidential and of much
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value to an individual, coercing one into disclosing them, or retrieving them in such
reprehensible means should be a punishable offense. It's pretty much more like breaking in a
person's home and stealing their belongings. In my opinion, these “friend(s)” should be held
responsible for his reckless actions based on the latter allusion.
Research has suggested that depression can and should be identified as a factor that could
account for a higher incidence of suicidal behaviors in both males and females the world over.
This depression factor might be a causative factor to the low rates of general suicidal behavior in
males worldwide. But since men take way much more lethal means than females, the rates of
death in males are significantly higher globally (Freeman, A et al., 2017). Another possible cause
for deferring rates of suicide is existing Psychosocial risk factors. It has been observed that these
contribute to the discrepancy of rates between male and female suicidal behavior and thus in the
world generally. Rates of unemployment and retirement benefits across nations can account for
Suicide has never been well-understand, and as such, research on the issue is sure to
continue with governments increasing funding through their health ministries for further studies
on the subject. Criminalizing it has and will always face insurmountable challenges. If a
conclusion is to be arrived at, we can't look at the matter only in the scope of morality only
because numerous other considerable factors are ever at play. Each suicide can be preceded by a
psychological strain resulting from value conflict, unattainable ambitions, relative denial, and
coping deficit. To dismiss it as abnormal, one has to, in no doubt, prove the underlying factors
such as social integration and social structure that lead an individual to attempt suicide is
rational. This reality can never be realized because these factors are mostly unknown to us, with
the chance of them having been pre-existent in the individual for months or years even.
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Freeman, A., Mergl, R., Kohls, E., Székely, A., Gusmao, R., Arensman, E., Koburger, N.,
Hegerl, U., & Rummel-Kluge, C. (2017). A cross-national study on gender differences in
suicide intent. BMC Psychiatry, 17(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-017-1398-8
Olweus, D. (1978). Aggression in the schools bullies and whipping boys. Washington (D.C.):
Smith, P. K, Mahdavi, J., Carvalho, M., Fisher, S., Russell, S., & Tippett, N. (2008).
Cyberbullying: its nature and impact in secondary school pupils. Journal of Child
Psychology and Psychiatry, 49(4), 376–385.