Bullying never feels good, especially the confusion that comes with not realizing you’re being bullied by people who say they’re your friends. So here are some tips for figuring out what online bullying looks like.
One of the most common things a bully is trying to achieve is to embarrass their victim. A way to do this is by making them look bad to others to cause this embarrassment. That’s why this form of cyberbullying takes place. It usually starts with someone taking a photo or video without your knowledge, and this is shared from one person to another or from one person into a group chat in the hopes to have others laugh at you. This could also look like using a photo or video you have posted and editing it or taking it out of context to achieve the same result. When you find out that this is happening you might think to yourself “these people are my friends, they wouldn’t do that”. However, if someone is taking photos or sharing photos of you without your consent then they do not respect your boundaries and probably don’t have the best intentions in “befriending” you anyways.
Another objective of a bully can be to make you feel bad about yourself, this can be done by targeting your appearance, social status, disability, or any number of other things you might feel self-conscious about already. The most common way this shows up online is through hate comments. When you post a photo of yourself on social media, usually people like it and your friends leave you positive comments, but if you’re getting comments that degrade your appearance or whatever it was you posted about then they’re trying to make you feel bad about yourself. Often these people will try to tell you that they were “just being sarcastic” or “that’s how friends joke” and are using that as an excuse for their behavior. Many autistics like myself have a hard time understanding sarcasm so when someone tells us that they are being sarcastic we tend to believe them. If the person leaving negative comments says they’re being sarcastic but you’ve expressed that it makes you feel bad and they keep doing it, then you can be sure that they are trying to make you feel that way.
Being bullied often makes us feel isolated and sometimes this is the bully’s objective. One place we often see this in the online world is through group chats. Group chats are a great way to keep up with your friends or make plans together, but what happens when all of your friends have a group chat without you? It’s okay to not be in every chat but when you keep getting excluded from the group of people that claim to be your friends it doesn’t feel good. An example of this I’ve experienced is all of my friends having a group chat but they also have a chat with everyone else but me, they would use this chat to make plans without me then post photos of all of them together online and tag me. It did not feel good and I had to realize that they were doing this on purpose to make me feel like an outsider and that I didn’t belong amongst my peers. If people who claim to be your friends are continuously excluding you from online spaces and playing get-togethers you should reconsider if they are the kind of people you want in your life.
Online bullying follows that same pattern of causing distressing feelings that it does offline, and just like offline it can be hard to tell if you’re just misreading the situation or if you are being bullied. If you’d like to do some more in-depth reading, this study is on the effects of cyberbullying on the mental health of those on the autism spectrum.