Bullying has existed throughout human history. During the 20th century, the stereotype of the strong male bully gained traction and is the dominant version of bullying present in public discourse.
In reality, bullying is a pervasive form of abuse and one that millions of people experience around the world, often on a daily basis. Its perpetrators are as likely to be female as male and a majority of them are considered popular with their peers or work colleagues. Its impact on the physical and mental of people cannot be overstated.
We all know that the advent of mobile phones and social media changed the nature of this abuse. What may have ended at the school gates or in the workplace could now occur 24/7. We also know little has been done by social media companies to regulate or stop this abuse.
What hasn’t been acknowledged is the trauma that bullying can cause and the pervasive nature of this trauma. So even if the message doesn’t happen online – people still live with the abuse all the time.
The modern research on ambivalent loss highlights the challenge people face when they are confronted with situations that challenge or change their sense of self and identity. Bullying by its very nature undermines peoples sense of self.
The question we have is how to tackle it.
Firstly we need a public health campaign on the reality of bullying – how it can appear and challenge some of the stereotypes and common misconceptions involved.
Secondly, there should be an independent statutory process for handling claims of bullying, regardless of the setting in which it takes place. This would ensure a uniform standard for investigation and would also bring to light serial perpetrators. The creation of this process would require inter-departmental work and would be a challenge. However, if the pandemic has thought us anything it is that the agents of the state can quickly adapt if faced with a crisis.
Thirdly social media companies should be required to stop bullying on their platforms and permanently ban anyone who perpetrates it. In particular, they should focus on the pervasive abuse that women, LGBT people and ethnic minorities experience online. This new form of oversight should form part of the independent regulation of social media companies. One which would also take into account the harm they cause to young people’s mental health and the addictive nature of their design.
Finally, a specific law should be introduced to make it a criminal offence to suggest or encourage someone to take their own life online. This is a particularly dangerous form of abuse and should be treated with the utmost seriousness by the law.