A generation ago, children who went to school knew that as soon as they returned back home, their fears of bullying and intimidating would be over and they could enjoy their time in a safe place. Unfortunately, today’s school children live in an increasingly interconnected world where they no longer have safe havens due to the permeation of the Internet. Social networks have exploded in popularity amongst teenagers and children old enough to use the web, but with more and more friends or schoolmates comes the potential for greater social bullying. What are the facts and preventative measures associated with social network bullying?
Ten years ago, you may have known that your kid in college used Facebook to get to know their classmates better. At the time, the social network could only be accessed by those in university, requiring a college email account to register and then look for people that you know. Since then, however, Facebook has morphed into a corporate juggernaut and allowed everyone in the world to sign up; there’s an estimated one billion people using Facebook, about half of whom log on each day. While over 90% of all Internet users utilize Facebook as their first or only social medium, half of all Internet users have at least two social media presences and a third have up to four. It’s not just the quantity of social networks, either, as the average person spends as much as three hours per day on social networks, making it more popular than television. Social networking has become a true addiction for some who are unable to go a prolonged period of time without checking in on their network of friends, family members, colleagues, and other students. It’s this atmosphere that allows social network bullying to proliferate, since it’s easy to do in many forms and it’s extremely difficult for some to walk away from despite the harm or threats.
Some parents prefer to take a hands off approach when it comes to their children’s Internet use, allowing them nearly free reign to go on sites and sign up for different platforms. More parents, however, take a stricter view of their kids’ Internet usage and actively monitor their search history and social network posts. For those that do take a peek over their kids’ shoulders, it may not immediately be clear whether or not what they’re posting or commenting on with various social platforms constitutes bullying. After all, bullying’s come a long way since the traditional bigger kid pushes around the smaller kid. Today, on a social media platform, bullying may be as nuanced as blocking information available to a “friend” or hijacking a conversation in a matter that a parent may not realize. More likely, however, bullying on social media networks is clear and relatively easy to spot. Often it can involve photographs, since social sites practically design their platforms around sharing pictures for greater audiences, posting images of a victim in unintended circumstances or in a matter that violates their privacy. Tagging a person in an embarrassing photo can be as harmful as sending threatening messages. While there are no shortage of report and blocking features on social sites, some kids may not want to cut a bully out of their online circle in fear of missing out on social opportunities or conversations.
A parent wondering how they can help to minimize social network bullying should remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. As the parent of a child on any social network, they have the right to block friends, messages, and to even delete an account altogether. Parents who know active bullies in their child’s social circles can block incoming friend requests or delete incoming messages before their child logs on to find them his or herself, effectively forming a barrier between the harmful effects of social networking and the positive effects they may receive from their network of friends. In addition to acting as a barrier between bullying, parents can dictate how much time that their child spends on a social network so that they do not become obsessed with their online persona. Limit the time spend on social networks as well as the place where the network is accessed: by requiring that all Internet browsing be done in a central family place, like a living room, the parent cuts down on the chance that their child is accessing potentially harmful social messages due to the proximity of their family members. Parents who allow their child to access a social platform in the privacy of their own room may not have any idea what kind of bullying their child has to deal with behind closed doors.
One of the most helpful features of a social network is the report feature. No matter what platform you’re on, whether it’s Twitter or Instagram, within the site’s programming you can always find a way to report harmful, offensive, or even abusive messages and accounts. It often takes awhile for a social network to respond to the report (there are, after all, tens of millions of people they have to account for) but repeated reports will cause the user’s profile to be shut down. Unfortunately, it’s easy enough to open up a new social media account — all you need, after all, is an email account to verify the confirmation — so a bully has no shortage of tools to keep hounding their victim. If you believe that a particular social network bully poses a threat to your child, you can take steps to report them to any institution that offers them Internet access, such as a school or library. Administrators there can restrict their online access, making it impossible to log on to a social network on their own. While it may seem extreme to some, it’s always important to remember that verbal or written harassment is illegal: take the bullying case to the police whenever you feel that the bully has crossed a line, or if they are not stopping their harassment after multiple reports.
How can you set up a social media profile that will have minimal chance of bullies coming in to share abuse? For starters, taking down any pictures of yourself (or whomever is being bullied) always represents a smart idea for keeping a low profile. With no pictures, the bully has no way to launch one of the most popular abusive techniques, criticizing a person’s image. What’s more, limiting the pictures of yourself online ensures that cyber theft and crime becomes less and less likely, as identity thieves use profile pictures to open up credit card accounts or drain bank statements if they can get a hold of your personal information. In addition to pictures, you can set up your profile to block any or all incoming messages and posts, so that communication effectively becomes a one-way street: while you can talk to anyone in your network, only the people you choose will be able to post a message that shows up on your personal social networking page. Finally, limit interaction with persons who can act as a bridge between yourself (or the person bullied) and the bully themselves. This may mean cutting yourself off from friends, but bullies often hit whatever target they see first, and whenever you comment on a mutual acquanitance, they have every opportunity to turn it into an attack against you.
Shutting It Off
If social network bullying has become a big problem for yourself or your children, you can always take the option that seems extreme but is quite rational: deleting your social profiles and cutting yourself off from the world of likes, upvotes, and shares. It’s not just a failsafe method, it’s also one that’s growing increasingly popular. More and more teenagers are saying that they’re leaving Facebook behind in favor of other platforms like online message boards (which are also susceptible to bullying but, with anonymity features, far less likely to develop serious issues) and video chatting. What’s more, those that delete their Facebook account report that they have experienced a rise in attention span, energy and enthusiasm, and productivity throughout their day. While Facebook is a billion-dollar juggernaut, it too will one day wane in popularity; you can encourage your kids to be trend-setters by leaving social networks in the rear-view mirror and finding new ways to engage with their friends without the risk of opening themselves up to bullying.