When Do Pranks Cross the Line to Become Bullying?


Note: The following composition is based on the holistic research conducted through the Charter Internet service (attainable in the U.S through a Spectrum in My Area web search).


On Discriminating Between Pranks and Bullying Incidents

Human beings have played pranks (which have historically been construed as emotionally, psychologically and physically harmless forms of practical jokes) on their peers, and even animals, since time immemorial. And although their mechanics may have evolved somewhat with the passage of the centuries, as well as through the technological and sociocultural advancements accrued within them, their intent or teleological function remains very much the same.

But when judged from an experiential perspective, most pranks – particularly those that are applied with elaborate usages of tangible equipment and/or prior strategic planning – unfortunately do exhibit the tendency of crossing over into ‘bullying’ territory. This is usually the point when the subject (or victim) of these  normally humorous exercises begins to feel uncomfortable with the activity that he/she may be caught up in, and may wish for it to cease instantly.

The victim may practically signal his/her dissent, revulsion, distress or antipathy to the joke enacted upon his/her person through discernible audiovisual expressions of concern; and if the prank still continues onward unabated, then there exists no doubt that it has been perverted into an act of outright (and ethically inexcusable) bullying.

Whereas pranks are usually identified by social scientists as positive interactive exercises that advance the cause of group dynamics in a healthy way, bullying is considered in the overt opposite sense as being a particularly painful cause of detriment to sociological progress.

Bullying – and the Need for its Conceptual Semantic Reorientation

Bullying, by virtue of its essential nature, has the deleterious intent of harming someone else; and so the act and its perpetrators (once identified) can meet with stringent legislative and judicial restraints in most advanced economies. Even in certain developing countries, entire movements are being engineered by social rights activists to combat the epidemic of bullying within their local communities. Many child and adult counsellors believe that there exists a great degree of semantic confusion with regard to the concept of bullying – as it continues to be exhibited by large swaths of the global population.
Conceptual Semantic Reorientation

What is normally thought of as mindless fun may in fact be an act of blatant psychological aggression committed against another, or may be conceived as a means (by certain deluded authorities)  to ‘toughen up’ the victim against life’s inevitable series of vicissitudes.

Some Varieties of Bullying

One of the more contemporary forms of bullying (in which large numbers of people are affected) include cyber & postal bullying – both of which may rely on worded correspondences made with the victims. Whereas postal bullying involves the act of sending anonymous or alias letters by post to an unsuspecting individual (and may be thought of as being a traditional mechanism of inflicting some measure of hurt upon another), cyberbullying uses the medium of the Internet to transfer or propagate untrue or derogatory messages regarding the victim.
The intended aim of these exercises, which may be complemented with physical workplace, school or neighborhood harassment, is of course to damage the healthy functioning capacity of another. A deeply held reserve of envy or animosity in the heart/mind of the perpetrator towards the victim may, in large part, be the driving force behind such acts of blatant aggression.

The Thin Line between Legitimate Cases & Imagined Slights

When dealing with cases of bullying and pranking on an administrative level, it is very important to be able to differentiate between the two. In our contemporary culture, where being politically correct (to the detriment of being able to speak the plain truth in situations that require it) has been systematically enshrined as the only proper way to engage in social discourse, there are many cases where the alleged victim of bullying may have perceived an innocent disagreement or generalized ‘fun activity’ as being personally motivated.

I’ll try to explain this point from my personal experience.

Being a part-time teacher, I once had to face one of my class students during a particularly stressful parent-teacher meeting session; who tacitly refused to see the error of her ways in relation to her dismal scholastic performance (in two consecutive high-school semesters). Rather than agreeing with my experienced and official account of her performance, she regarded every mistake identified in her examination reports as being the overt indicators of bullying on my part. Her parents, who stood watching her entirely unreasonable remonstrance in in the background, allowed her to silently continue; in a manner that openly suggested their approval of their daughter’s illegitimate concerns (which they later on, upon being made acquainted with the marking criteria used for grading assignments and exams, identified to be as such).
Through this incidence, and a few others like it which I have come across personally through my professional career, I have reached the conclusion that ill-informed charges of bullying actually end up inflicting more harm to the lives of actual victim-sufferers of the societal condition. This is in keeping stead with the commonly observed social principle that a saturation of accusations against any one public ill (such as bullying, sexual harassment, extortion or malpractice claims etc.) renders their individual circumstantial charges somewhat obscure (in terms of their urgency) in the social and legal conscience.
Another incident which has greatly informed my sense of bullying (from the recipient’s vantage point) took place in my primary school years. I remember being tackled unceremoniously, and solidly pinned to the ground, by a second-grader class mate of mine; who refused to unshackle his clenched fists from my throat on one occasion, even after being absconded by verbal threats from one of our teachers. This event left me emotionally scarred for the remainder of my school years; unable to file a formal complaint (due to fear of rejection and shame) with the school authorities, and unwilling to tell my parents (who had made great financial sacrifices to enroll me in the private school I was then attending).

I learned then that for many victims of bullying and physical/emotional abuse, the part about choosing to extoll on these unfortunate moments in a sufferer’s life happens to be the most painful bit.
In social scenarios like these, when a truly battered victim of assault comes forward to file his/her claim before a public jury, there are good chances that he/she may initially be met with unnecessary bouts of sensationalist skepticism (and possible ridicule). To prevent the escalation of such unfortunate outcomes, it becomes crucial for public administrators of justice and accountability to be able to differentiate effectively between legitimate reports of crimes committed, and unjustified hysteria. It is only then that real victims can be given full amnesty under the law, and the public’s norms of propriety – with the perpetrator being prosecuted appropriately.

Pranking & Bullying Escapades on the Internet

The Internet these days seems to be ripe with an endless stream of videos, audio clips and blogs devoted solely to pranks. YouTube is a common platform for many professional pranksters, some of whom have made entire careers – with substantial monetary and publicity benefits – out of getting laughs from their globalized audiences. Jack Vale, Roman Atwood and Charles Ross are just a few of the more popular examples of people who are considered akin to being the ‘specialists’ in this new-age virtual comedy business. Their pranks, the majority of which are not staged (and often have a tendency of turning dangerous or unfortunate for the prankster in charge of the recorded production), are mostly of the slap-stick variety – and can depend on materials like banana peels, fake animal or rodent figures, or individuals faking their true identities, for their successful execution.
Bullying Escapades on the Internet
YouTube, however, also plays host to some of the most gruesome kinds of bullying personnel imaginable – who tend to masquerade around as simplistic pranksters out only for a good laugh. Some of these individuals, who clearly require some targeted behavioral therapy to sort out their own repressed psychological issues, have even caused the deaths of their prank victims due to their inability to restrain their harmful advances. Many of these plain-in-sight cyberbullies have been caught or reprimanded by civil authorities – with their YouTube and other social media broadcasting pages penalized for their gross insensitivity.
Cyberbullying laws, many of which have been passed and enacted in only the last few decades, have greatly curbed the rise of this malevolent practice on the Internet, but much work needs to be done (on a grassroots level) to definitely root out this social ill. In the long-term, the public discourse surrounding bullying needs to change, and become more astute in identifying what constitutes psychological harassment (and what not).
For more info on the public and professional institutional efforts currently underway for addressing this problem, please consider conducting a comprehensive online search today (preferably through a Charter Internet Prices without Bundle service connection).
The greatest way to counteract any form of ignorance is through popularizing awareness and proper thinking – with this being the first rung in the ladder that ultimately leads towards recovery.