We are in the throes of a cyberbullying crisis.
Young men are still being tormented by the same physical bullying our parents’ generation grew up with every day, only now it’s being compounded by the act of sharing violent and verbally abusive behaviour online to publicly humiliate victims.
This is a scene, sadly, so familiar to so many young guys:
A Childwise report found teenage boys spend the longest amount of time staring at a screen of some description – an average of eight hours every single day.
In other words they spend eight hours a day under threat from cyberbullying.
It’s a sad reality faced everyday by young men like Ryan Woollard, 22, from Leeds, who thought his life was over when he was brutally beaten up by bullies in act of violence which was filmed and shared online.
Speaking exclusively to UNILAD, Ryan recalled one of many daily attacks:
In high school, during lunch break, this kid came up to me. I’d never even seen him before. He sucker punched me and I fell back and hit my head on the ground.
All I remember is feeling fists on my face. My eyes were all groggy so I couldn’t really see what was going on. I didn’t find out until later that night they’d all filmed it and put it all over the internet.
You can watch him tell his story below:
Ryan was just 12 years old when this public humiliation left him feeling suicidal.
His story is particularly poignant at this time, as cyber-bullying becomes ever more pervasive and damaging to young people growing up in the 21st century.
Axe, in collaboration with bullying charity Ditch the Label and research partner Promundo, has delivered the harsh reality in a new report, after talking to young men aged 18-24 about their experiences.
The 1,068 men – representative of young men of all incomes, education, and ethnic groups, as well as from urban and rural settings, across all geographic regions in the US – confirmed the fears.
More than three in five of these guys have been physically bullied. Of the young men asked, three in four had been called names for the way they look and the same shockingly high number have had rumours or gossip spread about them online.
Moreover, a third of the young men had been bullied for their perceived sexuality.
The statistics are unsettling, with alarming numbers of guys bullying and being bullied.
Truth is, the boundaries between acceptable behaviours online and offline are blurred and bullying is everywhere; from the playground to the workplace; from online gaming platforms to social media.
Indeed, a third of the men in the study admitted they’ve personally bullied another man.
In the past, bullying often stopped at the school gates but now the dangers follow us everywhere, sitting in the pockets of victims on their smartphones.
With the rise of social media, the cyberbullying crisis is impossible to ignore.
It’s been raised in programmes like 13 Reasons Why to much controversy:
In pain-staking detail the much-maligned but well-meaning Netflix show documents the journey of a young woman called Hannah, from cyberbullying and slut-shaming to sexual abuse which ultimately leads her to take her own life.
Indeed, when we talk about the cyberbullying crisis, the discourse often revolves around the female experience, which mustn’t be swept under the rug.
But with the modern tropes of masculinity ever-changing, guys are subjected to stereotyping and the unbelievable suffering it can cause in the same way girls have been for centuries.
The effects of this are being amplified by the ‘Man Box‘: A structure of societal expectations to ‘act tough’ and ‘man up’ which traps males from an early age.
Research shows guys who think being a man is all about aggression and self-reliance – notions of toxic masculinity they are taught as young boys by certain sections of society – are more likely to be cyberbullies.
In other words, harmful ideas about masculinity are stopping them from being open to different forms of self-expression and empathising with guys who are different to them.
Axe found guys trapped by these expectations also believe men should act tough, even when they’re scared – so they tend not to speak out about cyberbullying.
This culture of silence makes them bottle up their emotions, which can eventually lead to mental health issues and further violence.
Stereotypes on how a ‘real man’ should look are reinforced, filter by filter – and all over our TV screens thanks to programmes such as Love Island – and nasty comments are intensified through the anonymity of social media.
Over half of young men think anonymity encourages bullying online, as users can now bully each other without accountability or fear of real-world consequences.
It’s no surprise 70 per cent of the participants wish social networks would be quicker to block bullies, especially when you consider two in five guys have had negative comments about the way they look posted on social media.
A devastating quarter of all men have had someone post hurtful or mean jokes, rumours, or gossip about them online.
This constant sharing can lead to darker instances of image-based sexual abuse:
Indeed, a further two in five have seen unflattering images of them posted on the internet without their approval and almost a third of guys have seen a message they wrote screen-shotted and shared without their permission.
Davey Wavey, a YouTuber who was victimised by revenge porn at college told UNILAD why, for so many years, he blamed himself for his suffering.
His answers are sadly in tune with the trappings of toxic masculinity – through no fault of his own.
Now 34, he recalled:
At the time, I remember being angry. I wanted someone to blame, and it seemed logical to blame myself.
I took the pictures. I included my face in the images. I sent them to people. I took a number of risks, so it seemed only natural to blame myself.
Thankfully attitudes towards the nature of revenge porn have changed and victim-blaming, even internalised, is widely accepted as wrong.
But the LGBT+ star was left feeling he’d lost the online space where Davey, who was born and raised in a small Rhode Island town, had previously felt safe to be himself.
It also had a huge impact on self-confidence in his physicality and sexuality.
Indeed, the study found guys are mocked, criticised and humiliated over their appearance in the same way girls have always been taunted by naysayers regarding their looks.
The study demonstrated how attitudes justifying bullying – for instance, those who incorrectly believe ‘people who look weird or look different are asking to be teased’ were statistically linked with a tendency to being a bully.
This can start as a casual dig about ‘cheap sneakers’ or a social media comment lambasting some for having ‘gay hair’ – whatever the hell that means – but it can go much further, and severely impact a person’s well-being.
80 per cent of young guys have witnessed mean name calling because of the way someone looks while 60 per cent of them have witnessed someone be excluded because of the way they look.
Bravely, 40 per cent of the participants admitted they had been socially excluded because of their looks and a shocking 50 per cent of all young men often think about changing their appearance solely to avoid bullying.
This is having a serious effect – both on and offline – leading to depressive tendencies for everyone involved.
Think 13 Reasons Why is the stuff of fiction? Just ask Felix Alexander’s mum, Lucy:
Felix took his own life in April 2016 after suffering six years of persistent bullying on and offline.
So, in this climate, how do you tackle bullying which exists in the virtual realm and stop young men like Felix feeling there’s no escape?
It’s a question Liam Hackett, CEO of Ditch the Label, asks himself all the time:
Cyberbullying has become such a big issue because we aren’t being equipped with the social and critical skills needed for the internet, which can sometimes be a minefield of anonymity and trolling.
As a result, we benchmark our online lives against others. Suddenly, ours aren’t as glamorous or attractive, which fuels low self-esteem and can encourage bullying behaviours.
He continued to outline Ditch the Label’s work, saying:
At Ditch the Label, we’re now being inundated with support requests from young people who are being cyberbullied, and it’s time to say ‘enough is enough’.
We need to tackle harmful ideas about masculinity, make those who bully recognise the real life impact that their actions are having and finally, empower others to step in and intervene when they see bullying take place.
Luckily, half of guys who don’t like it when they see someone being bullied have intervened in person and a third stepped in to defend someone receiving negative comments about their appearance online.
But the ‘Man Box’ is still holding others back from getting involved as those within it showed lower levels of empathy, which has a significant link to the likelihood of bullying intervention.
The report states there’s good reason to stand up for someone else, and found respondents who intervened to stop bullying actually experienced higher levels of life satisfaction.
The bottom line is bullying affects all guys – and it’s only with deeply felt societal shifts we can change.
To learn more about cyberbullying, tune into the Social Media Week LA panel discussion, ‘From Fake Friends to Flaming’, on Wednesday 13 June.
If you’re being bullied, please don’t suffer in silence. You can chat to a mentor at Ditch The Label, anytime, anywhere, with total anonymity.
Alternatively, contact Bullying UK (Part of Family Lives) on 0808 800 2222. The helpline service is open 9am – 9pm, Monday to Friday and 10am – 3pm Saturday and Sunday.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, and want to speak to someone in confidence, please don’t suffer alone. Call Samaritans for free on their anonymous 24-hour phone line on 116 123.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]