The Social Network Show has just released an episode entitled “Internet Defamation Hurts You! The Bullies Enjoy Doing It!” (Release Date: November 15, 2013. We welcome you to listen to the show on our website or click the link to listen on the Stitcher website.) In this episode, Anna Kavanaugh, founder/director of The Anna Kavanaugh Charitable Foundation and its cyber-abuse division, The Bully Battleground, gives us some fascinating insights into the psychology of a cyber abuser. Ms. Kavanaugh emphasizes that cyber abusers are not simply out to have a little fun, or cause some harm—they want to kill and destroy their victims, and they go about their crime in a systematic, predictable way. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this episode—it will help you understand just what we’re dealing with, and why the words we use to discuss cyber attacks and the things we do—or don’t do—as bystanders are absolutely vital to a victim’s survival.
After her personal experiences with cyber abuse (during which she had no one to call for help and found that reports to the authorities were challenging because our culture does not yet understand the true nature and scope of this crime), Ms. Kavanaugh created her foundation to help other victims who are fighting for their survival. She emphasizes throughout her conversation with Dr. J. and Jim that cyber abuse victims are not simply being pushed around a bit. In fact, to characterize the problem as “cyber bullying” is to minimize it, as we often think of bullying as insignificant. Cyber abuse is a much better term for the stalking, harassment, and defamation that the perpetrators of this crime visit upon their victims. Victims undergo incalculable losses, including relationships, livelihood, potential work, social groups, privacy, health, trust, and a sense of security and safety. They can suffer from an inability to enjoy life, panic attacks, night terrors, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and drug and alcohol abuse. The consequences of cyber abuse can be irreversible and non-recoverable: in the worst cases, victims commit suicide.
Clearly, we are dealing with someone much more disturbed than a kid who takes your lunch money. Who are these abusers? There is no “one size fits all” profile—they can come from all walks of life and be of any age or gender. They can be people you see every day at church or in the neighborhood or at soccer games. While there is no consistent profile, abusers do share predictable behavior traits. They are sociopaths (and one in 25 people is a sociopath) who are out to win, and have no conscience. They use the relative anonymity of the internet to engage in psychological warfare, tearing down their victims’ spirits. Simply turning off the computer or blocking or “unfriending” the abuser does no good—and to imply that it does simply blames the victim. What is posted online proliferates, and has consequences in the physical as well as the virtual world. This is a deep, far-reaching crime that needs the attention of citizens and policymakers so that we can bring its perpetrators to justice.
Elizabeth Hall Magill
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