PART 3: Cyber-bullying rooted in 'social dominance'

Editor's note: The following is the third instalment in a three-part series. To read Part 1, click here. To read Part 2, click here.

Cyber-bullying is not just for kids anymore.

Increasingly, adults are reporting that they are being trolled, flamed and bullied. From high-profile celebrities to local politicians, the frequency and severity is increasing.

At a Tiny Township council meeting recently, according to a report from BarrieToday's sister site in Midland, Coun. Steffen Walma addressed the issue of cyber-bullying, incidents where township residents had engaged in “defamatory libel" and "intimidation” against council and staff. Posts had been made on social media included “people wanting to run council over with trucks” and “threatening to hang council members in a meme form.”

Oro-Medonte Coun. Lori Hutcheson addressed cyber-bullying at a township council meeting that happened to fall on Pink Shirt Day, an annual event against bullying.

“With social media, online harassment of political figures has become a serious issue,” Hutcheson said at the Feb. 28 meeting. “Unfortunately, this negative activity is even happening here in Oro-Medonte.

"This activity spreads misinformation and belittles the characters of those who have put themselves forth to serve on council," she added.

At an April 3 council meeting in Springwater Township, Deputy Mayor George Cabral said “social media is like a cancer.”

According to Samantha Barnes, a registered psychotherapist and owner of Sweet Spot Family Counselling in Barrie, the effects of bullying on adults is pretty much the same as what she sees in children.

“It can take years to overcome and can have a significant impact on the victims’ sense of self and well-being,” she told BarrieToday in an email.

According to Barnes, people who are bullied can experience increased feelings of depression and anxiety. The experience can have a tremendous impact on their self-esteem and self-confidence. Sometimes, it alters their social activities — they may stop attending events or not feel comfortable participating, for example.

The bullies, Barnes said, tend to lack empathy and struggle with inappropriate reactions to situations — escalating non-confrontational interactions. They also often struggle to see their own behaviour as problematic and blame others.

“At least initially, generally what motivates a bully is simply that the aggressive behaviour gets them what they want,” Barnes said. “As it progresses, it becomes a way to establish social dominance and usually a way to navigate a lack of social skills and poor anger-management skills.”

The anonymous cyber-bully presents another, almost-impossible-to-control level of creep.

Barnes said the same bully motivators are at play, but they’re amplified by the fact the anonymous cyber-bully operates with impunity.

“With cyber-bullying, there is an extra layer of power that the bullies receive by being almost completely protected from any negative consequences,” Barnes said. “It is extremely difficult to stop."

Barnes also said there are a number of things people who have been bullied can do.

“The first thing is tell someone what’s happening and ask for help to make a plan to stop it,” she said. “Second, stand up for yourself. Let them know you won’t tolerate their behaviour and disengage with them in any way you can.

“Be an advocate for others, if you see someone else being bullied, support them however you can,” Barnes said.

Barnes urged people who have been bullied to talk about it.

“Don’t keep it secret," she said. "The bully gains power in secrecy."

Other solutions could include joining groups and activities that bring joy, and being surrounded by positive people.

Barnes said it’s important to help victims understand they have done nothing wrong to make the bully target them, but that they do have options to remove themselves out of the situation.

“Systemically, this is a bigger issue that needs to be addressed on a higher level from those in power,” she said.

Wayne Doyle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,