The Silent Emergency: Cyber Harassment & the Covid Pandemic
Being safe at home might mean no longer being safe online
Cyberstalking, trolling, flaming, outing, revenge porn. So many words that designate one single term: cyberharassment. But do we know exactly what cyberharassment is? As the online world is moving so fast, the definition of cyberharassment keeps evolving alongside it.
A broad definition of cyberharassment would be bullying using technological means. But more specifically, cyber harassers use personal information, abusive messaging or bullying behaviour to cause emotional distress.
The European Union and other governments of the world have pledged to prevent and protect their citizens from cyberbullying. They try to improve the investigation and prosecution of cybercrimes. They try to build capacity in law enforcement and they work with industries, businesses or schools to empower and protect citizens. But is it efficient facing the enormous increase of people using new technologies since the outset of Covid-19?
The Pandemic’s Impact on Cyberharassment
As the Covid crisis has shaken the entire planet, the reality of most people has moved to virtual space. We have been working online, we have been studying online and we have been entertaining ourselves mostly on technological platforms and social media for the past year.
During lockdown, while we were walking from our bed to our kitchen and from our bathroom to our couch, did we feel safer than in the streets? We thought we did, because home is where we should feel the most secure. Thus the danger came from somewhere we do not expect. Our online space.
As the violence could not take place on our streets anymore, it migrated online. The problem of cyber harassment evidently existed before the Covid-19 crisis. But it increased significantly as we were spending more time on the internet, trying to connect differently with others as social distancing was becoming heavy for everyone.
The pandemic has thrown new emotions at each of us. We felt anxious, uncertain, angry, isolated, afraid and sometimes even panicked. These emotions coupled with more time spent on technological devices has had a bad influence on the cyberharassment numbers. Cyberbullying has increased 70% for teens and children in just a matter of months after the birth of Covid.
I personally grew up using technologies as all millennials did. We are the generation that feels the most comfortable with new devices. We feel protected by a screen that permits anonymity and a certain distance with the person on the other side of that screen. We believe that nothing can get us as long as we are home alone. We tend to feel protected and secure by the non-face-to-face interaction.
Yet the protection is succinct as the harasser also feels safeguarded by the anonymity allowed by this screen. They can say or do things without being worried about the consequences of their actions. The harasser has a liberty that is not allowed in the real world.
Cyberbullying is hitting hard and harder than in real life during Covid. It happens 24/7 and there is no safe place online. There are no geographical limitations either. Because of Covid, we have seen a 200% increase in traffic to hate sites and specific posts against Asians. But also we have seen a rise in online harassment against scientists or public health experts. Therefore, the most important aspect of cyberharassment is the wide audience that it attacks. Everyone can be a target and it can take any form but women and children have been largely impacted by the issue.
Cyber Sexual Harassment
The coronavirus has radically changed our lives and our behaviours. But the problem of sexual harassment against women was not left behind. Recent studies show an increase in calls to domestic violence helplines since the outbreak of Covid-19. The issue of violence against women has shifted to where our lives have moved: in our home and on the net.
Sexual cyberharassment is taking place under many forms ranging from pictures to words or even threats. With the tremendous rise of the issue, the regulations and protections did not move forward as fast as they should have. Instead of being protected, we are being warned and informed by our parents, our teachers, and our pears of the dangers present online.
Prevention is a great short term solution to protect citizens. Thus, it should not be normalised in the long term to distrust the technological devices we are using daily. Rather, it is important to stand against cyberharassment. As the users of the internet are becoming younger and younger we should warn the youth about the potential risks there are online. But we must also fight to protect the target of today and tackle the problem at the source; meaning controlling and punishing harassing behaviour directly.
We, the youth of today should become the generation to evolve towards a society proning legal security and safety for everyone everywhere. A society with open eyes on the silent emergency of cyberharassment. As the pandemic is changing the functioning of our society completely, the cyber world in which we study, work and revel should become a sexual-harassment free place.
Written By: Emma Getliffe, Research Ambassador at Metta Space
Edited By: Paula Koller-Alonso, Head of R&D at Metta Space