For parents, “cyber bullying” is a term they usually hear about second-hand from their children or through reports on the news, but the average teen is likely all too familiar with the concept. Nearly 43 percent of teens have been cyber-bullied online, and 25 percent of them have had it happen more than once. (“11 Facts about Cyber Bullying,” dosomething.org.) The chances are high that a teen will at least know someone who has been bullied online, if they weren’t bullied themselves. Unlike the school-room and cafeteria bullying that most are accustomed to, this is a form of harassing, tormenting or embarrassment that one young person inflicts on another through the Internet or other technology, like mobile phones. The blogging site Tumblr is not free from potential cyber bullying attacks, and it offers an extra layer of anonymity for the would-be bully.
Those unfamiliar with Tumblr may look at the site in confusion, trying to understand how it works. It is easiest to understand it as a blend of other, more familiar social media. The site would appear most like a combination of Facebook and Pinterest, though blogs on the site are much more public than either. (Main accounts are never private, though secondary blogs can be created with password access.) Tumblr is a place where bloggers regularly share the content and re-post it, so content can easily circulate across the site and be seen by friends, family, or even perfect strangers.
Tumblr uses a system of likes and reblogging to keep content going and to let the original bloggers know that people enjoy what they post. When a person reblogs a post to their own account, they may add their own comments or photos to what was posted before. Some popular posts will gain many extra comments as they circulate around the site. Tumblr also has an “ask” section that is available to each, individual blog. The “asks” can come from someone who has a Tumblr account or may be submitted anonymously, depending upon the blogger’s settings.
Tumblr is Public
Teens and other bloggers who use Tumblr like it for how public it is, but that also leaves them open to bullying, not only from classmates but people they may never have met before. Few want a secondary, password-protected blog. They want the acknowledgment that reblogs and likes give them, and they seek out the opportunity to connect with people outside their school or normal social circles who have similar interests. The last thing these teens want is to create a blog that can only be accessed by a select few and to create posts that cannot be shared.
Because Tumblr is built on the idea of reblogging posts, there is really only one way for a blogger to regain control of a post once it begins to circulate on the site: delete it. Reblogging provides bullies with one outlet to target their victims, since bloggers will see each and every comment that is added to their original posts. While that is reassuring when the comments are positive feedback, it can be difficult for teens facing harsh criticism or personal attacks.
Anonymity and Tumblr
The “ask” section provides another opportunity for Tumblr bullying. This is not only because they are a way for someone to make direct contact but because comments and questions may be made anonymously. With the chance to talk under the cover of anonymity, many people feel bolder and begin submitting “asks” that are personal attacks, crude language and hateful speech.
Tumblr allows bloggers to turn off the anonymous option, but it still does not solve the problem entirely. Tumblr usernames are still aliases that the “asker” can hide behind, and even those who get removed from the site can easily reapply and receive a new name to use in their attacks. You don’t need to look far to see how people behave on the internet, whether or not they are hiding behind a name different from their own. Visit the comments section of almost any news article, widely shared photos on Facebook, or comments beneath online videos. This same brand of nastiness can be turned on unexpecting Tumblr bloggers.
Incidents of Tumblr Bullying
Tumblr’s format encourages the cyber bullying familiar in news reports every night, but it also offers unique forms of bullying because of how it is used and how easy it is to get an account. Users can also become targets for a much broader audience than when they are on other forms of social media because a single post could be seen by thousands of strangers and some bloggers become what is called “Tumblr famous” on the site.
Recently, Jamie Kapp released a comic “White Privilege” on her Tumblr blog that discussed the issues of this privilege, continued ignorance of it, and institutionalized racism. (“This Teenage Artist Was Bullied Off Of Tumblr After Making A Webcomic About White Privilege,” buzzfeed.com.) The comic quickly circulated on Tumblr and was even picked up by online news outlets. The publicity the comic and Kapp received made her a target for unknown Internet bullies who began attacking the comic and Kapp, herself. The amount of hate mail and death threats Kapp received finally forced her to leave Tumblr entirely.
Less personal attacks can happen on the site, too. In early July, 2014, members of a forum website began to bombard certain sections of Tumblr with gruesome photos of rape, gory human deaths, and animal torture. This is a form of Tumblr bullying that is unique to the site, as it doesn’t target any one person, but can be quite disturbing to visitors, particularly victims of violence. Tumblr’s staff began responding by deleting the violator’s accounts within the first day, but some users were still unsettled by what they had seen.
Avoiding the Bullying
Ask sections can be turned off, as can anonymity. Users can be reported to Tumblr staff, who try to respond quickly to any claims. Posts can be deleted. But sometimes, for a short while, the easiest way to avoid Tumblr bullying is to take a step back from the site.
Sources: I am a Tumblr user with over 2,750 on one of my blogs, so I am familiar with many of these policies and the site.