Why does cyberbullying happen at universities and among students? What should universities do to prevent cyberbullying?

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Sadly, cyberbullying is becoming more and more of an issue in today’s modern society. It is defined as “any form of bullying which takes place online or through smartphones and tablets.”

Nowadays, the majority of people are using the internet to communicate with their friends and family, usually through social media websites and apps (for example, Facebook and Whatsapp). While this is undoubtedly an advantage of the internet era, it has also led to the advent of cyberbullying: people using social media and the internet in order to ridicule and harass others.

The main reason why cyberbullying is happening at universities and among students is because it is very easy to navigate the internet anonymously: for example, by setting up a fake account. Many students have accounts on social media, but they often do not change their security settings to make their profiles private. At the same time, it is very easy to set up a fake account in order to access the account of fellow students without being identified. This means that anyone can access unprotected social media accounts and leave hurtful and upsetting comments, without the risk of being found out. Protected by anonymity, people can say what they want to say; they can insult, harass, and embarrass others without their victims being able to find out who the offenders are.

Another common reason for cyberbullying is to take revenge. For example, it is not uncommon for students to ridicule and embarrass an ex-partner after a relationship breakup by posting photographs of a highly personal nature.

In order to put a stop to cyberbullying, universities need to be vigilant and take their students’ concerns seriously. Universities need to react quickly and swiftly if a student reports cyberbullying: the university might, for example, report it to the relevant social media websites and ask these websites to have the upsetting content removed. In serious cases, these incidents need to be reported to the police, as the police will often be able to trace back an anonymous cyberbully through their IP address.

As cyberbullying severely contrasts and clashes with the ethics and philosophy of universities, it should trigger serious disciplinary consequences with regard to an offender’s studies. Temporary or even permanent exclusion should be considered. This might also serve as a deterrent and warning to other students and thus hopefully reduce the number of cyberbullying incidents at universities in the future.

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