The Hidden Currents of Cyberbullying in Open Water Swimming

The Hidden Currents of Cyberbullying in Open Water Swimming

Open water promises swimmers freedom, adventure and the thrill of conquering nature’s challenges. But beneath the surface is a darker undercurrent, one that many open water swimmers are all too familiar with. In our digital age where achievements are celebrated by likes, shares, and retweets, swimmers are not just battling the physical challenges of the sport but also navigating increasing incidents of cyberbullying and harassment.

Imagine completing a grueling swim, battling cold temperatures, strong currents, and sheer exhaustion, only to be met with a barrage of online hate. It can be devastating, overwhelming and lingering feelings of anger and depression can leave long-lasting scars after the swim.

Sometimes it isn’t just a series of mean tweets or negative comments. In some cases it’s a systematic abuse of power, amplified by the reach of the internet, the bully’s technical prowess and anonymity.

Behind the Screen: The Anonymity Factor

Unlike traditional face-to-face confrontations, the digital realm offers bullies a mask. (Foody, 2015) This mask not only shields them from immediate repercussions but also often intensifies the cruelty of their actions. But who are these anonymous tormentors?

Roles in Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying, like traditional bullying, involves individuals taking on specific roles. These roles can be classified as: (Moore, 2012)

  • Bully: Mentally harms a victim through name-calling or verbal attacks using various electronic means, including social media posts, emails, forum postings and text messages
  • Bully Assistant: Actively participates in the bullying, e.g., assists in holding down a victim by following instructions to send aggressive posts.
  • Bully Reinforcer: Supports the bullying but doesn’t directly attack the victim. This can involve encouraging the bully or laughing at the victim.
  • Outsider: Observes but doesn’t participate in the bullying.

Drowning Emotions: The Psychological Impact of Online Harassment

The psychological effects of online harassment are particularly strong, often leaving victims grappling with intense emotional distress.

A study shows that the “features of cyberbullying, especially anonymity, lack of a safe haven, and embarrassment due to the potentially large breadth of audience, can make the impact of cyberbullying especially strong.” (Slonje,2013)

Also that “victims of cyberbullying express a variety of emotions such as: anger, sadness, frustration, embarrassment, stress, fright, loneliness and depression.” These emotions linger and cast a shadow over the victim’s mental well-being. (Slonje,2013)

And what inflicts the most harm “is the anonymity and the ‘no safe haven’ that may contribute most to this.” The lack of a safe space, both online and offline, leaves victims feeling trapped and overwhelmed.  (Slonje, 2013)  

Charting a Safe Course: Strategies to Combat Cyberbullying

Combating cyberbullying like a marathon swim requires preparation, strategy, and a keen understanding of one’s environment.

Cognitive Emotion Regulation Strategies 

These are like mental tools or tricks that people use to handle tough emotions or feelings. (Shaheen, 2023)

Adaptive Strategies

These are the good tools that help you deal with emotions in a healthy way.

  • Putting into Perspective: Think of this as zooming out on a situation. Instead of getting super upset, you remind yourself that it’s just one incident.
  • Acceptance: This is like saying, “Okay, this happened, and I can’t change it.” It’s about understanding that some things are out of your control and that’s okay.
  • Positive Refocusing: Instead of dwelling on the bad stuff, you shift your attention to something good or happy.
  • Positive Reappraisal: This is about finding a silver lining or a life lesson in a bad situation.
  • Refocus on Planning: Instead of just being upset, you start thinking about steps to deal with the situation or problem.

Maladaptive Strategies

These are not-so-great tools. They might feel okay in the moment, but they don’t really help in the long run.

  • Rumination: This is like playing a bad memory or thought on repeat in your mind. Instead of moving on you keep thinking about it over and over.
  • Blaming Oneself: This is when you unfairly blame yourself for everything, even things you couldn’t control. Like thinking it’s your fault it rained on the day of your outdoor party.
  • Others Blame: This is the opposite of blaming oneself. Instead of taking any responsibility, you blame everyone else for your problems.
  • Catastrophizing: This is when you always think of the worst possible outcome. Like if you send a text and the person doesn’t reply immediately, you think they hate you.

Everyone sometimes uses both adaptive and maladaptive strategies. The goal is to try and use the adaptive ones more often because they help you handle emotions in a way that’s good for you.

Combating Cyberbullying on Facebook

A study titled, Combating Weight-Based Cyberbullying on Facebook with the Dissenter Effect by Jenn Anderson, Mary Bresnahan, and Catherine Musatics, found if someone sees bullying happening online, and they stand up for the person being bullied, it can encourage others to be kind too and make a big difference. It’s like when one person does a good thing, it can inspire others to do the same.

The study used Facebook as an example. They showed participants different fake Facebook posts where someone was being bullied. In one version, some people stood up for the person being bullied. The results showed that when this positive behavior was modeled, participants were more likely to leave supportive comments.

Study stated:

Public situations, like those on social media, can encourage people to act in ways that fit in with the group, even if it’s negative behavior like bullying.

  •  In situations where cyberbullying is happening, bystanders (people who see the bullying but aren’t directly involved) might either join in with the bully or stay silent.
  •  However, when someone stands up against the bully or supports the victim (this is called “dissenting behavior”), it can change the dynamic. This study found that when this positive behavior was shown, others were more likely to act kindly and supportively.

As emphasized in the International Olympic Committee consensus statement: harassment and abuse (non-accidental violence) in sport, addressing this issue is an urgent task.

“Yet ignorance, denial and resistance among sports leaders—and even athletes themselves—is often a challenge to risk mitigation and prevention. Understandably, they may be reluctant to acknowledge that harassment and abuse occur in their organisations. Denial allows the underlying causes of harassment and abuse to persist, and the interpersonal correlates of these behaviours to proceed unchecked; thus, it is critical to build and disseminate awareness of the widespread and serious nature of abuse, and its consequences, including health or medical implications.” 

Hopefully with a collective effort, awareness, and education, we can reach calmer and more supportive waters for all.


  1. Moore, M. J., Nakano, T., Enomoto, A., & Suda, T. (2012). Anonymity and roles associated with aggressive posts in an online forum.
  2. Shaheen, H., Rashid, S., & Aftab, N. (2023). Dealing with feelings: moderating role of cognitive emotion regulation strategies on the relationship between cyber-bullying victimization and psychological distress among students.
  3. Anderson, J., Bresnahan, M., & Musatics, C. (2014). Combating Weight-Based Cyberbullying on Facebook with the Dissenter Effect.
  4. Foody, M., Samara, M., & Carlbring, P. (2015). A review of cyberbullying and suggestions for online psychological therapy.
  5. Machmutow, K., Perren, S., Sticca, F., & Alsaker, F. D. (2012). Peer victimisation and depressive symptoms: can specific coping strategies buffer the negative impact of cybervictimisation? Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland; Department of Psychology, University of Bern, Berne, Switzerland.    
  6. Slonje, R., Smith, P. K., & Frisén, A. (2013). The nature of cyberbullying, and strategies for prevention. Goldsmiths, University of London, New Cross, SE14 6NW London, UK.
  7. Mountjoy M, Brackenridge C, Arrington M, et al International Olympic Committee consensus statement: harassment and abuse (non-accidental violence) in sport British Journal of Sports Medicine 2016