Cyber Bullying in the Workplace is More Common – Stop it Now
By Joseph Carson, Chief Security Scientist, Thycotic
Sharing photos from office party shenanigans is enough to make HR reps cringe. Unfortunately, that’s far from the worst-case scenario when it comes to online impropriety in the workplace. Online bullying incidents have become more common due to the widespread popularity of social media networks. Adding fuel to the fire, acrimonious political debates of the past year have spilled over into social and work environments, and these can quickly spiral out of hand, especially online.
What is cyber bullying?
Cyber bullying in the workplace is a type of willful and repeated harassment against another colleague that can result in workplace dysfunction, psychological damage or even physical violence. Cyber bullying can be difficult to expose as it is typically carried out on personal accounts and devices. Some online forums allow anonymous handles and avatars, but even when users are identifiable, their behavior is often less inhibited than it would be in person. Cyber bullies may contact their victims outside of work hours and work locations, but incidents instigated by an employee or client should still be considered workplace cyber bullying.
The act of cyber bullying can take many forms including emails, text messages, social network posts, messages or images that denigrate or expose the victim, and hacking into a victim’s accounts. Specific ploys such as “doxxing”(publishing a victim’s address and other sensitive information) and “catfishing” (pretending to be someone else to lure in or humiliate the victim) are especially targeted and harmful.
Not just a high school problem
Many people mistakenly believe that such bullying only occurs among adolescents. In fact, it occurs across all age groups and backgrounds. In the workplace, it is often used to manipulate decisions, relationships, and status.
Cyber bullies tend to target those who are most vulnerable; there have been several cases in which bullies drove victims to deep depression or suicide. The consequences for these individuals and their families are tragic. The repercussions for the company whose employees are affected by bullying are extensive and severe.
How to handle cyber bullying in the workplace
Many companies have not yet identified meaningful ways to deal with cyber bullying. It is important for companies to take a firm stance now and make sure that cyber bullying is explicitly addressed in company policy. It’s also critical to openly acknowledge the seriousness of cyber bullying and to encourage reporting and advocacy. Employers should not ignore bullying of any kind; all instances should be addressed immediately upon discovery or reporting.
Here are a few ways to discourage cyber bullying:
· Foster a positive and kind work environment and emphasizing that professionalism is expected from all employees at all times.
· Educate all employees about cyber bullying and the organization’s policies against it.
· Provide straightforward reporting mechanisms and follow through on all reports in a timely fashion.
· Provide support and help to victims and ensure their safety at work.
Defense is the best offense
There are also strategies that individuals can use to reduce the risk of encountering bullies online. Limiting online activity, avoiding oversharing online and checking privacy settings are just a few. When discussions become heated, calm down before responding. Block offending accounts to stop troubling conversations before they escalate. Try to promote positivity and kindness in all online (and real world) interactions.
Cyber bullying is never the victim’s fault. Sometimes, being careful isn't enough. In the event that you are attacked online, do not respond immediately. If the attack goes against the online forum’s policy, report it to the social media platform, site moderators, or internet service provider. If the bullying is work-related and violates your employer’s policy or standards of conduct, report it to a supervisor or HR representative. If it is threatening or illegal, report it to law enforcement as well. Always record and keep copies of harassing interactions as evidence; take screenshots of online conversations and images in case the attacker deletes their posts later. Finally, if you see others being cyber bullied, report it.
Research and advocacy resources
Bullying in a Networked Era – A review of academic research on cyber bullying, compiled by The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
www.cyberbullying.org – The web site of researchers Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin includes blogs, presentations, research, and legal information.
bornthisway.foundation – Lady Gaga’s initiative to empower youth
www.stopbullying.gov – White House website against bullying
About the Author
Joseph Carson is a certified information systems security professional (CISSP) with 20+ years of experience in enterprise security & infrastructure. An active member of the global cyber security community, Carson is the chief security scientist at Thycotic, a leading provider of password management to more than 7,500 organizations.