Confessions of A Former Cyberbully

By Marina Krivonossova on December 14, 2020

Cyberbullies — the bullies of the Internet. As the first generation to have Internet access from an early age, I know we’ve all either witnessed or personally encountered cyberbullies. These are the people who are rude, confrontational, unpleasant, and keen on insulting and hurting others online every chance they get. Cyberbullying isn’t just wrong, but it’s problematic beyond the computer screen. The things that happen online often have real world repercussions. But have you ever wondered what makes someone decide to become a cyberbully? What kind of person actually decides that bullying others on the Internet is how they want to spend their free time?

In this article, I’ll be sharing with you the confessions of a former cyberbully. John (name changed for privacy purposes), a college student, came forth and admitted to me that when he was younger, he actively engaged in cyberbullying. Not only does he regret his behavior now, but he’s willing to share with others what sort of things led him down this regrettable path in his youth.

Marina: “Thanks for agreeing to talk with me, John. I know it can’t be easy for you to open up regarding a topic which you’re so regretful about. The first thing I want to ask you is this — how do you define a cyberbully?

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John: Thank you for having me, Marina. I really do regret being a cyberbully in the past. It’s not something I’m proud of. But I was really young and stupid, and I don’t mind sharing my story now. I think a cyberbully is just a bully who’s moved on to bullying in a new environment. Typical school bullies are those who beat up other kids, take their lunch money, make them feel bad about themselves by insulting them face-to-face. Cyberbullies are bullies who take things to another level. They hide behind a screen. They make people feel bad about themselves by using words. We grow up being told ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’ Cyberbullies challenge this idea, and they prove it’s not true. I was one of them.

Marina: Can you tell me more about how this started, John? Why did you become a cyberbully? How old were you? 

John: I think it started when I was around 8-years old. It continued for… I want to say… Maybe four years or so. I didn’t have the best time in school. My grades were good, but I wasn’t happy. I felt pressured to be the best in class, but I didn’t understand why I had to. I didn’t have any friends in school to count on. I felt so isolated, unwanted, irrelevant. I was bullied by people in my class for the most random things — my hair color, my appearance, the way I spoke. Objectively, I was the most normal child ever. But kids can be mean. They found random things to bully me about. They’d gang up on me, avoid letting me play with them, accusing me of being a terrible person. I couldn’t understand it. I told my teacher once, because I didn’t know what else to do. She just laughed and told me that ‘kids will be kids.’ That’s when I lost all hope of my situation ever improving.

I started playing online games and making fake social media accounts — just to give myself something to do, at least at home. I was hidden behind a screen. I was no longer John — I was a mysterious Internet entity. I could be whoever I wanted, and I could do whatever I wanted. And — I hate to admit it — I became my own worst nightmare: a cyberbully. I took the anger I had towards my classmates, and I channeled it into online bullying. I’d make fun of others’ avatars in games. I’d join online cliques to bully others. I’d tell people that I was better than them, and that they were worthless. It made me feel powerful in a world where I was otherwise powerless. I’m not telling you that to justify my behavior. I’m just explaining what prompted me to become my own worst nightmare.

Marina: Wow, that’s horrible, John. I know firsthand how awful kids can be, and it’s terrible to know that not even your teacher was on your side. You were so young and didn’t know what to do, and you just started projecting your own negativity on others. Is that right?

John: Yeah, exactly. Looking back on it, the logical thing to do would’ve to make friends with the people I met online, to give myself some sort of friends, even if they weren’t at school. But I was relentless. I wanted to get revenge on those who hurt me by hurting others. I felt so powerful knowing that my words affected them negatively, and that they were paying attention to what I said. Cyberbully John was the opposite of school John.

Marina: And this continued for a few years, as you mentioned earlier. But then it stopped, and now, you even regret your behavior. What prompted you to change your ways?

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John: I met a really cool girl through one of my games. I was going to scam her into giving me some of her game currency we used in that specific game (as I was doing to a bunch of other people), but she seemed genuinely nice and friendly. We had fun talking. She’d email me photos of her dog. And I started to feel bad about what I wanted to do. At this point, I had transferred to a different school, and I was happier. I wasn’t the same angry, unwanted kid I had been a few years ago. It sounds stupid, but that kind Internet stranger made me want to change. I was absorbing the negativity people were projecting onto me, when I should’ve been focusing on the positivity. The kindness of my family (who I never told about the bullying I experienced until later years), the kindness of my friends outside of school, and the kindness of that random Internet girl.

I started worrying about the people I’d hurt online. I didn’t want them to feel as horrible as I did. They did nothing wrong, they didn’t deserve it. It all kind of came crashing down on me all at once. It really hit me that I’d become the bullies that I’d hated growing up, and it crushed me.

Marina: It’s nice to see that kindness ultimately won over evil in your cyberbullying story. It really proves how powerful words can be, and how careful we should be when choosing what to say to others. Now that we know how cyberbullies can be born (and ultimately brought down), could you share some ideas of how we can make the Internet a better place?

John: I don’t think the Internet can ever be perfect. Not everyone thinks logically. Not everyone is a good person. Not everyone has good intentions, not everyone has a conscience, and not everyone has a backstory about how they became a bully. Some people are inherently awful, and there’s nothing we can do about it. However, the best thing we conscientious adults can do is do our best to be kind, both in-person and online. I know it’s not always easy, and sometimes we feel horrible and want others to join us in our sadness. But — objectively speaking — that’s so messed up. We want people to stop hurting us, so we respond by hurting others? It’s just wrong. If we spread kindness, even when we’re feeling down, we’re bound to get some back. Even if it’s not from the people who were originally hurting us.

Marina: I thank that’s an awesome way to look at it. A ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ kind of deal. And, as a former cyberbully, what do you think is the best way to respond to someone who’s exhibiting cyberbully behaviors online?

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John: “If you’re the confrontational type, call them out. I know that one of the things that led to me changing my ways is that some people on Facebook were calling me out for my messed up comments. At first, I didn’t care, and then I was kind of like, ‘Wow, I’m that bad, huh?’ These strangers standing up to me weren’t attacking me back or anything. They were just calling me out for being a jerk, telling me that I need to go deal with my own insecurities, all that. And I mean, they were right. So if you’re willing to do so, call cyberbullies out. You don’t have to have a back and forth with them, but call them out once and tell them they’re being jerks.

And if that’s not how you roll, then out of sight — out of mind, right? If someone’s being a cyberbully, just report and block them. You don’t always need to be the hero, stepping in to save the day. Not every bully will respond well to that, and there’s a good chance that you’ll just end up more agitated, flustered, and angry after getting involved. If you’re impressionable and don’t think you’ll hold up well to any attacks from a cyberbully, just report and block them. Encourage others to do the same. Cyberbullies aim to elicit a response from the people they’re bullying. And if those people stop responding, the cyberbully loses that momentum that inspires them to keep going. They no longer feel powerful — they just feel ignored again.

Marina: I think that’s totally reasonable advice. Thank you again for sharing your story and experiences, John. It’s great to see how far you’ve come since your cyberbullying days. I hope your story resonates with some people who’ve been on either end of the cyberbullying/bullying ordeal. Any concluding thoughts you’d like to share? 

John: Thanks, Marina. Last thing I’d like to say — just remember that bullying, whether it’s virtual or not, always comes from a place of insecurity. Whether the person is inherently bad or has just found themselves in an unfortunate position (like I briefly did in elementary school), bullies try to project the pain they’re feeling onto others. If you’re a victim of bullying or cyberbullying, try not to take it personally. You’ve done nothing wrong. You’re not a bad person. You don’t deserve to be hurt. Don’t let anybody convince you otherwise.

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