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Cyberbullying on Social Media: When Does It Become Violent?
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Cyberbullying On Social Media

At this stage in the development of social media platforms and worldwide internet usage, you’ve probably heard of cyberbullying. To put it simply, ‘cyberbullying’ is the use of technology to bully someone online - either through harassment, embarrassment, rude and offensive comments, or ‘trolling’, with the aim of shaming or scaring those targeted.

In the past, bullying may have taken place in the schoolyard or the workplace, and it used to be much easier to spot. What’s so scary nowadays is that social media platforms can be used - sometimes anonymously, sometimes in a more blatant manner - to bully a victim 24/7. There’s just no escape from it - a bully can attack at any time of day or night. Cyberbullying on social media has taken over as the new form of physical bullying.

Cyberbullying can affect a victim’s self-esteem, self-confidence, social behavior, school work, self-worth, and self-awareness, and lead to extremities such as self-harm and in the worst cases, even suicide.

Social Media Cyberbullying Statistics

According to a recent Pew Research Center study that focused on social media cyberbullying statistics, almost half of US teenagers aged 13-17 say they are online “almost constantly”. The study also shows that the most popular social media platforms among this age group are YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram.

Over 50% of kids in the United States have a mobile phone device by the time they are 11. 95% of teens in the U.S. are online, and the vast majority choose their mobile device as their preferred method of accessing the Internet - which in turn suggests that the use of these devices is the most common way to be cyber bullied.

As of 2021, over 45.5% percent of middle- and high-school-aged kids in the US reported experiencing cyberbullying - a shockingly high rate. And among social media platforms, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat are the ones with the highest rate of cyberbullying cases.

Effects of Cyberbullying on Social Media

Now that we’ve established what cyberbullying on social media is, it does beg the question, what effects is this having on our society? Worryingly, there’s a new buzzword in town: ‘cyber violence.’

Due to the way that humans can now interact with each other, it’s not just physical violence that poses a threat. The nature of abuse has transfigured into cyber violence. ‘Cyber violence’ is the upper echelon of cyberbullying. Cyber violence can affect anyone but unfortunately, the nature of gender-based violence means that at the moment, women and girls are the most likely victims.

Women and girls are now having to deal with ‘digital assaults’ that result in permanent damage - they can often be either too embarrassed or ashamed to deal with their experience and so in many cases, there is no recourse. There’s also a very real worry that these digital fists will be the forerunners to physical violence.

The most notable forms of cyber violence against females are currently:

  • Non-consensual image sharing
  • Non-consensual video sharing
  • Online intimidation and threats via email or social media platforms
  • Online sexual harassment, or ‘sextortion’
  • Stalking, including the use of tracking apps and devices
  • Impersonation
  • Economic harm via digital means

These activities can all lead to sexual exploitation and abuse. Additionally, the online damage is usually irreparable - if a non-consensual, offensive image is posted on the internet, it’s almost impossible to remove it. The notions of ‘sharing’ and ‘screenshotting’ mean that once an image is posted on the world wide web, it’s always there.

‘Revenge porn’ is another form of cyber violence, whereby images are used and shared on the internet without the person’s consent, to damage their reputation or humiliate or coerce them. And though revenge porn is carried out by someone the victim knows, other acts of cyber violence involve hackers stealing and distributing images without the victim knowing or consenting - and then ‘victim shaming’ them should they find out. In a sick kind of ‘finders keepers’ fashion, there is a philosophy that anything appropriated on the internet is fair play - but this shouldn’t be allowed to be the case.

Research by the World Health Organization has estimated that one in ten women has already experienced a form of cyber violence since the age of 15. If we are to assume that Internet access is now a human right - especially as livelihoods depend on its usage - then we need to make sure that cyberspace is a safe place to be.

The European Council Commissioner for Human Rights reported in March 2022 that:

“The lack of comprehensive and accurate data collection in this area results in information being fragmented and incomplete, but the little we do know suffices to conclude that the magnitude of digital violence against women and girls and ensuring impunity remains colossal, having an impact on society as a whole.”

In the UK, good news comes in the form of the Online Safety Bill, which reached the UK parliament this December in an effort to make the digital world a safe and empowering space for users. Acts such as upskirting, downblousing, and uploading non-consensual photographs will be criminalized for the first time. Platforms likely to be accessed by children will have a legal duty to protect young people using their services. Likewise, even websites directed at adults will have to ‘address named categories of legal but harmful material accessed by adults, likely to include issues such as abuse, harassment, or exposure to content encouraging self-harm or eating disorders.’ Websites will have to start taking accountability for what they are posting, or what users are posting on their sites. By pushing these businesses to take responsibility for their users’ antics, governments hope to lessen the effects of cyberbullying on social media.

The Online Safety Bill will also impose a duty of care on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to prevent users from being exposed to illegal content. Any platforms which fail to protect users will need to answer to the regulator and could face fines of up to 10% of their revenues, or even be blocked.

In the words of the Human Rights Commissioner, there should be ‘no space for violence against women and girls in the digital world.’ As parents especially, our job is to create a safe environment for our children to be in, and a better world for their future. The battle to criminalize more of these activities and keep people safe online is paramount - this should be legislation that every country in the world is pushing for and adopting.

Cyberbullying Examples on Social Media

The push for further legislation protecting online users from cyberbullying has been exacerbated by recent examples of cyberbullying on social media that have produced tragic results. In 2019, Channing Smith, a 16-year-old from Manchester, Tennessee, took his own life on September 23 after two classmates publicized screenshots of explicit text conversations he had with another young man, outing him as bisexual.

McKenna Brown’s mother reported the changes that her daughter underwent in terms of self-confidence and mental well-being, ultimately leading to her suicide in August 2022, after a compromising non-consensual photo of her was shared online. And the case of Amanda Todd, who committed suicide in 2012 after being the victim of online sextortion, continued up until this year, as her abuser only faced trial in June 2022.

Cyberbullying and Cyber Violence: What Do Parents Need To Know

If you are worried your child is experiencing cyberbullying:

  • Communicate: Use open-ended questions to get your child talking and ask how they’re feeling. Listen without judgment, let your child know that you support them, and make sure they know you will help stop the bullying.
  • Block the Bully: Help your child block the bully on social media sites and messaging apps.
  • Report It: If your teen is being cyberbullied, report it to the website or app where it’s happening.
  • Seek Professional Help: If you or your child is feeling overwhelmed, you can look to professional help and support.

The use of parental control apps, such as FamilyKeeper, can also help parents monitor what their child may be experiencing online. Parents can set up offensive keyword alerts and image monitoring. Additionally, parents can block unknown contacts from messaging their child’s device. For more information on FamilyKeeper parental control app, visit: https://familykeeper.reasonlabs.com/

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