Anti-Bullying: Cyberbullies and the “Online Disinhibition Effect”


Cyberbullying—Charlotte Dawson, TV personality from New Zealand, was recently hospitalized after a suicide attempt because she was harassed by numerous people on Twitter, some of whom went as far as to tell her to kill herself. Then there was the more recent event where news anchor Jennifer Livingston in La Crosse, Wisconsin was sent a hurtful email attacking her about being overweight as a public personality. Most of these people are nice, normal people in real life. So what makes them act so horribly online?

 Concerned teenage girl with a laptop

Therapists agree there is a trend toward the "online disinhibition effect.” Basically, people feel more anonymous online and, therefore, do things they wouldn’t do in a face-to-face or more personal situation. Sometimes, the effect can result positively as people open up and are more friendly, or are willing to share more with friends life. This result is called “benign disinhibition.”

But other times, the effect is negative. It can result in “toxic disinhibition,” where the person feels they are protected by their anonymity, and that they can say hurtful things with no negative consequences to their actions.

This clearly isn’t the case, but it is true that the chance of negative repercussions for that particular person are diminished because of the distance (online). Negative consequences instead fall on the person being bullied online, with sometimes disastrous results.

Because of the disconnect of the Internet, the attacker may never know just how much they’ve hurt the person they attacked.

Cyberbullying is not excusable, no matter how inconsequential the comment may seem at the time. Parents need to talk with their children about the consequences of cyberbullying, whether they are the perpetrators or the victims.

There are steps you can take to detect and prevent cyberbullying with your children. Parental controls software can help monitor your children’s Internet activity, so cyberbullying can be caught before it gets out of control.

Parents have to set the example. Actions speak louder than words.

 How do you keep your kids safe online? How do you encourage them to prevent bullying at school and online?

Russ Warner is President & CEO of ContentWatch, maker of Net Nanny, top-rated desktop and mobile web filter ( He is used as an expert source in the national press on a regular basis and speaks regularly on the topic of Internet and mobile safety. Warner was asked to speak at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on what parents can do to help their children navigate the digital age and was recently quoted in the NY Post. Under Warner’s leadership, ContentWatch leads an ongoing Internet safety campaign and has conducted seminars for the local Utah media, the Utah Coalition Against Pornography, and numerous schools.

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