Chapter Twenty-Three: How Social Media Goes Hand in Hand with Cyberbullying

Almost all parents and grandparents can relate to bullying issues from their own experiences in school. Bullying is an age-old issue that is oftentimes at the center of movies and television shows. What is most surprising is that, with all of this technology and awareness of bullying, this issue of bullying has only gotten worse in recent years. Despite the many anti-bullying campaigns that are sprouting up on social media websites and kid’s television networks, the incidence of bullying in schools and online continues to exist and even expand into new arenas.

Online Bullying

In this day and age, not only do the regular school bullies still exist, but the bullying and harassment now extends to school children even after they get home. It is harder for children now to come home and escape from the pressures at school as "nine in ten (93%) of teens have a computer or have access to one at home." With access to a computer, kids and teens are able to easily log on to websites that put stress on them not only to conform to societal pressures, but also to their smaller scale school norms and peer pressures. A bully that may have harassed your child at lunch is now able to come home and continue to bully your child from the comfort of their own home, safely masked behind a computer screen. Whether it is through "private" instant messages, or in public view on social media websites for all to see, this bullying trend has increased in recent years. 81% of teens "agree that bullying online is easier to get away with than bullying in person."

It is not necessarily the case that kids have gotten meaner, per say, but the consequences they seem to face are less harsh and simply put, the Internet is too wide a place to monitor everyone’s activities. More kids are beginning to feel safer and more able to get away with harassing others online because most kids do not tell others when they are being harassed. Not only that, if they were to even tell anyone they were being harassed, it would be extremely difficult to pinpoint exact evidence of bullying because of the fine lines between bullying and Internet freedom.

Cyberbullying is still a fairly new phenomenon, and many law enforcement agencies, as well as schools, are working hard to establish regulations and consequences for what is appropriate and inappropriate for kids to say to each other online. Social media is an extremely open forum that a majority of teenagers’ use, so it is difficult to pinpoint what to limit and what language is appropriate to use on such a boundless interface. Of the 85% of youths ages 13-17 using social networking accounts, 33% of them have been actual victims of cyberbullying. It is believed, though, that more than half of cyberbullying victims do not report their abuse to anyone, so this number may very well be higher than actually reported.

Social Media and Bullying

Social media is a dangerous platform not only for instigating or being a victim of cyberbullying, but also for being a standby of the harassment. "95% of social media-using teens who have witnessed cruel behavior on social networking sites say they have seen others ignoring the mean behavior; [and] 55% [of those] witness this [type of behavior] frequently." Sometimes being an onlooker to cyberbullying may be just as harmful as being the actual bully. Unfortunately, with the increase of the number of social media websites and access to them, it is getting easier and easier to become an onlooker of such a tragic new "trend." Social media only increases the pressures already put on adolescents and teens by mainstream media and their peers at school. Whereas before the surge in popularity of social media websites happened, teens were not necessarily surrounded by these pressures around the clock. With social media platforms accessible at home, on laptops, tablets, and cell phones, these pressures are only getting exponentially larger.

Before social media websites and chat room sites, there were regular school pressures, television ads and unrealistic magazine proportions of the human body. Add in the pressures of social media by children of roughly the same age, the amount and extent of bullying more than triples. Kids and teens now have an ever-increasing desire to be known and loved by all their peers, so they post pictures of themselves and their friends, or funny jokes with the hopes of getting more "likes" and/or "retweets" on their page. While this can be a very fulfilling feeling for some, most others are essentially setting themselves up to be hurt by insensitive and thoughtless bullies who live for these moments.

Teens need to be mindful of what they post and share on their webpages, as something that may seem harmless to them can be put as the center of ridicule for the bullies sitting and waiting behind the computer screen. More than "one million children were harassed, threatened or subjected to other forms of cyberbullying on Facebook during the past" two years, with a significant proportion of those being girls. Not only are girls the main victims of cyberbullies, but a large percentage of them are the bullies themselves. The societal pressures placed on girls, is partially to blame for this finding. More girls feel the need to be"popular, pretty, or cool" so they have more incentive to post pictures of themselves or be more active online, leading to more opportunities for bullies to attack. On the other hand, some of these girls who are most often considered the "cool crowd," or the "rulers" of the school, feel the need to attack others to make themselves look and feel better to everyone else. Unfortunately, these hierarchies are common in schools around the world, but their prevalence and consequences are only increasing with the increased use of social media and technology.

Statistics show that the top reasons people engage in cyberbullying is for fun, to embarrass others, to show off to friends, or to be considered "tough" by their peers. The pressures set on adolescents and teens in this day and age is ever-increasing, so many bullies resort to bullying in schools and even online just to be more popular and gain superiority over  peers. Parents must educate their children about the dangers and the effects of engaging in these behaviors.

As only 7% of U.S. parents worry about cyberbullying, it is crucial that parents become aware and talk to their children about this phenomenon. Parents need to understand the true harm it may cause their children, especially because almost 100% of adolescents have witnessed some form of cyberbullying, and/or been seriously affected by it. Oftentimes, children do not necessarily understand that they are being bullied and simply learn to take the harassment they experience while using social media. If parents educate their children about what cyberbullying is and how social media increases their chances of being bullied, children can more easily defend themselves, or tell their situation to a parent or guardian that can help them.