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Cyberbullying in the shadow of COVID-19

 

As election day draws near, we at Hotspots Media want to help ensure that you get the most accurate information possible.  Combine election rhetoric with the pandemic and you have a recipe for cyberbullying in our own LGBTQ+ community.  The following article was prepared by VPN Mentor and we strongly feel that it truly addresses a major issue facing our community:  

 

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has thrown the world into a new and unprecedented era of uncertainty, financial instability and chaos. Professionally, many of us have had to transition to a completely new virtual workplace. Students are struggling to complete their studies from home, a true challenge in any era.

 

What is getting lost in this conversation is the potential for increases in online victimization, abuse, and cyberbullying. The lockdown may provide some form of relief from in-person victimization and bullying. For many, and what could be more troubling, is that same harassment has shifted and even increased online.

 

Many non-profit agencies and victim support lines are struggling to stay afloat right now, and that has obviously extended to the cyberbullying resource community. The pandemic has affected professional organizations that are normally fully-staffed, answering phone calls, and responding to complaints and reports from victims. Our researchers wanted to discover just how those resources have been impacted, and do a further deep dive into how a world thrown into chaos by Coronavirus is handling online harassment.

 

Using data that we’ve gathered from our own research, we’ve found that vulnerable communities, ranging from people with varying racial backgrounds, LGBTQ, as well as children and young adults, have gone up dramatically from benchmark 2018 and 2019 numbers.

 

VPNMentor New Cyberbullying Data (July 2020)

 

81% of Cyberbullying Organizations surveyed in 2020 Reported an INCREASE in Online Bullying During the Pandemic

49.7% of contacted organizations did not answer phone numbers, chats and emails listed on their websites and resource pages.

16.7% of those organizations were either temporarily or permanently closed.

 

People of all ages in every community are left without the normal level of resources for reporting, counseling, and general support. Whether or not these organizations will rebuild or reopen during the pandemic remains as uncertain and cloudy as any other aspect of this global crisis.

 

The survey included a short interview with a qualified support operative with over 12 months seniority in the center. Every operative was inquired about the center’s operations before and during the outbreak, with open questions to establish notion and survey questions regarding the center’s workload and effective response capabilities. The survey’s focus period was February-July 2020.

 

Online Harassment and Cyberbullying of LGBTQ Community

 

LGBTQ youth are more likely to use the internet as a resource to seek out help and guidance. Respected academic studies have shown that young people who identify as LGBTQ use the web and social media platforms to build the social capital and freedom they are often denied in school or at home.

 

Prior to Coronavirus, that segment of society was already quite active online and while also being one of the most vulnerable online communities. If you’re the parent of an LGBTQ student or are a member of the LGBTQ community as an adult: there is a far greater chance of your being exposed to cyberbullying. Why? Cyberbullies focus their attention and actions on marginalized groups because those individuals are far less likely to speak out if they are afraid of being outed.

 

Even during the best of times, LGBTQ young people and adults grapple with online abuse and harassment regularly. In 2013, the advocacy group GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) reported that LGBTQ youth are three times more likely to experience online harassment and bullying as non-LGBTQ youth.

 

Other data in the same report revealed that LGBTQ youth were “more likely than non-LGBT youth to be bullied or harassed online (42% vs. 15%) and twice as likely to say they had been bullied via text message (27% vs. 13%).” The survey cited that “respondents also reported they were as likely to report not feeling safe online (27%) as they were at school (30%).”

 

So far what we know in 2020 is harrowing. The Trevor Project reported that in 2020, prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, nearly half of LGBTQ youth considered suicide. 48% of those teens surveyed reported they had already engaged in self harm. The majority of young people in that segment, or a telling 86% “also said that the current political climate has impacted their well-being negatively.” Another 33% reported they have been “physically threatened or harmed due to their LGBTQ identity” already in their lives.

 

We can draw some conclusions from these numbers as compared to the foreboding statistics we pulled from our research. If LGBTQ teens spend more time online and are more likely to be harassed online, those issues could compound even more when we’re all sheltering in place. LGBTQ youth are also more likely to suffer from the ensuing emotional trauma of that abuse than their heterosexual peers prior to Coronavirus: During the pandemic, those numbers are going to rise and they’re going to rise a lot.

 

Without the usual list of resources, LGBTQ teens need a supportive environment where they can feel safe and protected. Remember: those anonymous reporting tools are not as robust as they were pre-COVID. We don’t know if, and when, they will rebound, if at all.

For more tips, check out the VPNMentor online safety guide for the LGBTQ community.

 

Report by vpnMentor  

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