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2020 Special Report: Cyberbullying in the Age of COVID-19

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has thrown the world into a new and unprecedented era of uncertainty, financial instability, and chaos. Professionally, many of us have had to transition to a completely new virtual workplace. Students are struggling to complete their studies from home, a true challenge in any era.

What is getting lost in this conversation is the potential for increases in online victimization, abuse, and cyberbullying. The lockdown may provide some form of relief from in-person victimization and bullying. For many, and what could be more troubling, is that same harassment has shifted and even increased online.

This post and data has been provided by vpnMentor who also conducted the research.

Many non-profit agencies and victim support lines are struggling to stay afloat right now, and that has obviously extended to the cyberbullying resource community. The pandemic has affected professional organizations that are normally fully-staffed, answering phone calls, and responding to complaints and reports from victims. Our researchers wanted to discover just how those resources have been impacted, and do a further deep dive into how a world thrown into chaos by Coronavirus is handling online harassment.

Using data that we’ve gathered from our own research, we’ve found that vulnerable communities, ranging from people with varying racial backgrounds, LGBTQ, as well as children and young adults, have gone up dramatically from benchmark 2018 and 2019 numbers.

This article will dig into our findings and how the current pandemic is negatively impacting those communities online.

81% of Cyberbullying Organizations surveyed in 2020 Reported an INCREASE in Online Bullying During the Pandemic
49.7% of contacted organizations did not answer phone numbers, chats, and emails listed on their websites and resource pages.
16.7% of those organizations were either temporarily or permanently closed.

People of all ages in every community are left without the normal level of resources for reporting, counseling, and general support. Whether or not these organizations will rebuild or reopen during the pandemic remains as uncertain and cloudy as any other aspect of this global crisis.

Research Methodology: Our researchers called 199 cyberbullying organizations and local hotlines internationally (USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Puerto Rico, and the USA Virgin Islands).

The survey included a short interview with a qualified support operative with over 12 months of seniority in the center. Every operative was inquired about the center’s operations before and during the outbreak, with open questions to establish notion and survey questions regarding the center’s workload and effective response capabilities. The survey’s focus period was February-July 2020.

Cyberbullying: Children and Teens

In the years previous to the pandemic, cyberbullying was already at troublesome levels, with as many as 1 of 5 of children and teens experiencing some form of bullying or harassment. With more than one billion students attending school from home, international experts are expressing deep concern that social isolation will provide increased opportunities to online harassment along with its dangerous effects.

Among the obvious dangers of cyberbullying are its invisible impacts, namely that its perpetrators have the added benefit of actual invisibility. It’s far easier to harass a child or a young person online because it’s never happening in person.

Online harassment has the added potential of reaching a very large audience very quickly, something that’s even harder to replicate in a physical environment.

The epidemic has forced children to go online even more than usual, in order to keep up with their schoolwork. Such prolonged exposure is risky even without hordes of trolls, hatemongers, pedophiles and others who were also locked in, and prowling for victims.

How Adults Experience Cyberbullying in 2020

Yes, teens and children are more vulnerable to any type of bullying and abuse than adults, but adults are not granted exceptions from online harassment.

In 2014, a video game industry professional, who happened to be a woman, was severely harassed and attacked online. What eventually became known as GamerGate started out as a form of online revenge, an ex-boyfriend stalking a woman who simply ended a relationship. It ended up turning into a symbolic movement online against women of all stripes who spoke out against sexist imagery of women in video games. It is easily one of the ugliest moments in internet history when it comes to online abuse.

Cyberbullying within online games is still a massive problem, with over 57% of respondents to a Ditch the Label survey stating they’d been subjected to hate speech.

Another example of online hate that targets women is revenge porn. More and more law enforcement agencies are developing tactics of punishing people – mostly men – who flood the internet with often faked images of ex-girlfriends, colleagues, and sometimes bosses. In one case, a woman had to file a copyright for her own breasts to force websites to remove images of her.