There is something about the internet that can often tap into a dark place. You are virtually connected to millions of people via social media at any given time you log on, yet it’s easy to feel you are removed or anonymous as your eyes skim endless pages of images and data – you are on the outside, looking in. Often, the instances where we peruse the internet are the times we are alone; perhaps it is in the evening when time frees up; perhaps you are in a different state of mind as the stress of the day or feelings of fatigue or loneliness may creep in.
The opposite sense can also be true; you may log into Facebook or Twitter and get the confidence and security of feeling you are among friends – the same friends that you find it easy to unload your feelings to, or share personal updates and photos. You might assume no one but your friend will see the comment you wrote about that girl in your class who ‘tries too hard.’
When using social media, it’s important to be aware that you are neither anonymous or purely in a private, social vacuum. The nature of social media is that it is inherently viral; companies and brands thrive on the fact that anything you post can be viewed by multitudes of people, despite the false notion of ‘privacy settings.’ How many times do you see a post of a random person pop up in your Facebook news feed? The odds are the same that they are seeing yours, too.
When 70% of students report viewing on line bullying on a daily basis, it’s time to consider how you may be contributing to the problem (or perhaps why you are not speaking up against it.) Writing negative comments about a person on line, whether you know the person or not – whether you think you’re just joking or not – hurts. All human beings are vulnerable; everyone has a body part they wish they could change, or a feeling of inadequacy they are masking. Not everyone is equip to deal with criticism or ‘joking around’ in the same way you may be. Public humiliation – which is what happens when you post or comment about someone negatively on line – can be devastating. Even worse is the fact that it doesn’t go away, even if you delete it the next morning. The internet is forever in a way that we rarely consider when we type a flippant mood about being hungry, or sharing a photo of your legs on the beach, or trolling an overweight celebrity.
It’s no surprise that women are most vulnerable to on line harassment and trolling – they are in fact twice as likely to experience bullying via social media, and up to 10 times more likely to commit suicide as a result. Women tend to use social media more often than men, and are often willing to share more personal images and information that may leave them vulnerable to attack. Often, women who are proud of who they are – and not afraid to share it – make those who are less confident in themselves feel angry; furthermore, some men who feel women should be subservient often try to intimidate them through virtual harassment.
This has become a women’s health issue; but women are not the only ones who are victim to on line abuse. If you see or receive negative or unwanted behavior occur on social media, fight it. Tell the bully to stop. Combat their abusive posts with uplifting comments. Report the abuse to an adult or person in authority, or even flag the comment or post as abusive. Start a positivity page. Don’t retaliate with with nasty comments; rise above it.
Importantly, be careful about what you post on line and who you share your thoughts with. Some things are better shared in person. Keep social media just that- social, light, and a tool used to connect rather than alienate.
For more information on how to deal with cyber bullying, visit DeleteCyberbullying.org.