A girl gets into a prestigious college a few days after she breaks up with her boyfriend. He gets all bent out of shape over her acceptance and begins bullying her anonymously on social media. Before she knows it, others – strangers – join in and are merciless in their vilification of her.
In this example, there are several standard features from social psychology. First of all, the guy doing the bullying is obviously jealous of his former girlfriend, and angry at her for rejecting him and threatening his fragile ego. In short, her success frightens him, and his bullying is an effort to hide his insecurities. The girl has the upper hand and doesn’t even realize it. Second, people who don’t even know this girl join in abusing her. They’re probably harboring inner anger toward themselves and tormented by guilt and fear; attacking a stranger somehow makes them feel in control. Third, consistent with the data, our victim is female – women and people of color are much more likely to be bullied online. And fourth, our victim has achieved something not everyone does – admittance to a high-status college. Successful women are especially vulnerable to cyberbullying.
Many mental health professionals feel that cyberbullying is amplified because the bully really doesn’t understand the personal damage he is doing to his victim; in short, he has no empathy. That’s may be true in some cases, but it ignores other psychological dynamics that are frequently in play: the bully often has strong sociopathic tendencies that override empathy; the bully truly does want to inflict harm on his victim; and, the bully operates from a grotesque motivation to elevate his low self-esteem to avoid facing the fear and shame from some previous unresolved conflict. To the extent that these dynamics are in play – and I believe they are in most cases of bullying – might Retaliation be one effective strategy for the victim to use?
April had the same bullying experience as our girl above. She got so angry she enlisted the help of several of her good friends, and they saturated a variety of social media sites with vicious rumors and misinformation about her bully, including not-so-subtle belittling references to her attacker’s manhood. As expected, many strangers joined in, no doubt victims of bullying themselves from their own ex’s online tirades. April’s tormentor didn’t have a chance. He was slandered, pilloried, and denigrated so brutally that he removed his original posts against April. As April put it, “The pig could dish it out, but he sure couldn’t take it!”
What do you think? Is retaliation a good way to defeat a bully?