In a world where the internet is still in its infancy, and where people have been warned to “stay away” from a wide range of social media sites, it’s still not clear exactly what constitutes harassment and whether it’s something to be taken seriously.
But for many, the internet has become a tool to be exploited.
For those who find themselves the victim of it, this can lead to emotional, physical and financial pain.
And for others, the experience is just too painful to ignore.
“The online harassment that I’ve experienced is really upsetting, it really hurts,” said one victim of cyberbullying.
“It’s a form of intimidation.
And it’s very personal.”
This week, German restaurant owner Andras Bialek and his business partner in the US, Stefan Schumacher, launched the ‘Kontroll’ project to combat cyberbullies online.
The two have been sharing their experiences of the cyberbullied in the comments section of posts they have made on the popular social media platform.
In one of the first instances of their work to reach a wider audience, the two spoke to a reporter from the Washington Post, and shared their personal experiences of being cyberbulled.
“I was bullied by a fellow employee for a couple of years,” said Bialak.
“I had to make a decision, what to do with myself.”
The comments section is a place where people who have experienced a similar experience can share their thoughts and opinions.
It’s also where cyberbullers can share stories about their experience.
Bialk has found that comments are often used to spread their own message, and as a result, the comments on his blog often seem to reflect his own experience.
“It’s like they’re giving you a platform to express their opinions and to give you their experience,” he said.
“And then it becomes very personal to them.”
The two also found that many of the comments they see on their blogs are from people who did not know them.
“When you see comments where you don’t know the person, it can make it difficult to understand why the comments are being made,” said Schumachers son, Stefan.
“In a way, it makes it very difficult for them to understand.
And when they do understand, it is often very difficult to tell them why.”
In some cases, cyberbulling can be a very lonely experience for the victim.
“People are really angry about the fact that they don’t want to be in their shoes, that they feel so powerless,” said Katerina, a victim who goes by the online handle Mirek.
“They don’t even want to look at the other side of it.”
But it can also be a way to build community.
“In the end, it doesn’t matter who the victim is,” she said.
“All that matters is that they are able to say, I have a voice.
It makes it so that I can speak.”
While it’s difficult to say how many victims of cyberharassment exist in the world today, the number is estimated to be between 50,000 and 100,000, and Schumakers research suggests that there are around 500,000 cyberbullish people in the German population.
“You know, it comes down to who you know, who you can trust, who can speak to you, who is willing to take the risk,” said Peter Heuer, a professor of social psychology at the University of Bielefeld.
“But for those who do have a relationship with the person they’re cyberbullocking, it seems to be a form a formality to be cyberbullocked.”
Heuer’s research into the cyber harassment of women and girls has revealed that online bullying can be an even more prevalent form of abuse than the physical forms.
“One of the main ways of dealing with cyberbullaging is by finding a new identity, finding a social group, that gives you a new perspective on the world,” he told Al Jazeera.
“If you can create a new way of being in the digital world, then you can be safe online.
And you can actually live your life online.”
Schumacher is one of many people in Germany who has started to use the ‘kontroll’, a social media app that connects people who are victims of online abuse.
The app allows users to anonymously share their experience of cyber harassment, and to track the number of cyberbully comments posted by the users.
The app also provides a list of resources to help people who may be experiencing cyberbullockers online.
“The app offers a platform for those that are in a difficult situation, or who are trying to escape the online bullying,” said the app’s CEO, Thomas Klopfer.
“This is really a tool that can be used by all of us in our everyday lives.”
The app is not available in Germany yet, but Klopfers hopes