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Social media is the place where we present our perfectly edited views of ourselves to the world – the perfect vacation photos (preferably the one showing that your tan AND a view of the ocean at the same time), the perfect party selfies, and the latest updates on our remarkable lives. What could possibly go wrong?
The problem of the online cyberbully
If you’ve ever experienced an online troll – someone who trashes your work, calls you names and tries to pick a fight with you online – you have a pretty good idea of what could go wrong anytime you post something online. In some cases, people have left social media entirely when the threats and the name-calling became too much.
And the problem is perhaps even worse among teens, where social acceptance is such an important part of the adolescent experience. According to TeenSafe.com, which publishes statistics and facts about teen cyberbullying, a whopping 87 percent of teens have witnessed some form of cyberbullying during adolescence and 34 percent of teens have been the actual victims of cyberbullying. It’s no wonder First Lady Melania Trump has said that one of her first priorities within the Trump administration will be dealing with this cyberbullying problem.
The problem becomes even worse when it leads to teen depression. In other words, a pattern of verbal or emotional abuse on social media can lead teens down a dark, slippery path. Imagine arriving at school each day, only to find your friends and acquaintances gossiping about what mean things were said about you on social media last night. Over a long enough period of time, that has the potential for some seriously adverse results. 30 percent of children who have been bullied online have suicidal thoughts.
Examples of cyberbullying
Cyberbullying could range from “fat-shaming” on social media, where users post nasty comments about your weight and/or appearance when you post a photo on Instagram, to even more aggressive forms of bullying. One particularly insidious form of cyberbullying involves taking private photos – the kind you might send to your boyfriend or girlfriend – and making them public. There’s nothing more humiliating than having a nearly naked photo of yourself intended only for your significant other made public.
You could also classify “mean tweets” and “tweet storms” as a form of cyberbullying. On Twitter, you can say just about anything without repercussions. That means plenty of sarcasm, snark and just plain nasty comments can be transformed into 140-character bursts of acute pain inflicted on others. In fact, these “mean tweets” have become such a prevalent part of our pop culture that late night talk show celebrities celebrate them on TV with segments specifically dedicated to “mean tweets.”
How to solve the problem
Given the “social” nature of social media, perhaps the easiest way to bring a halt to the social acceptance of saying mean things on social media. One way to do that is to get rid of the anonymity problem. When people can comment anonymously, they feel empowered to say and do things that they wouldn’t normally do if their social reputation were on the line.
But getting rid of anonymity will only go so far. It’s clear that cyberbullying among teens is a problem that’s here to stay as long as we have Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.