Cyberbullying: The Achilles Heel of Social Media

Using technology is a part of daily life. Social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter can be fun tools to learn, gain more knowledge about the world, express yourself and keep in touch with friends and family. However, sometimes it seems there is more negative news than positive news about the use of technology, with the media reporting many stories about how technology can be used to hurt other people. You may have heard news reports about the impacts of cyberbullying and you may have even experienced cyberbullying yourself. Cyberbullying can affect any user of social media. However, it is a huge issue mostly affecting teenagers, as they are the most vulnerable. 1 in 10 Australian teenagers are experiencing cyberbullying according to research by the Child Health Promotion Research Centre at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia.  It is much easier and effective to type hateful words than say them face to face. Additionally, parents are having trouble dealing with the issues of cyberbullying experienced by their children mainly because of their lack of knowledge about social media sites. Many people don’t know who to point the finger at. So, why would you want to use social media when you are at risk of cyberbullying?

Social media platforms are used to repeatedly harass, threaten, intimidate, humiliate and victimize another with the intention to cause harm. In the advancements of technology, many social media platforms have been established such as Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Snapchat, and Ask.fm, giving bullies a range of platforms to abuse and torment victims. Unlike traditional bullying such as; physical or verbal bullying, cyberbullying is more sophisticated in that the aggressor can be anonymous and the bullying has the potential of going viral. Victimization of young people online has received an increasing level of scrutiny, particularly after a series of high-profile suicides of teenagers who were reportedly bullied on various social networks (Pappas, 2015). In 2013 an increased rate of suicides was linked to the social network Ask.fm, where users could ask each other questions anonymously. The deaths of teens who had been subject to abuse on the site prompted Ask.fm (which was acquired by Ask.com in 2014) to launch new safety efforts. Twitter, also, announced plans in April 2015 to eliminate abusive tweets and suspend bullying users.

The impacts of cyberbullying can be underestimated because they are mainly psychological and not physical. However, there are damaging impacts of cyberbullying that affect the lives of victims and the people surrounding them. Dealing with a cyberbully is difficult because they follow you at school, at home and anywhere you can access the internet; there is no escaping them. Cyber bullying: Father crusades to stop bullies after daughter’s suicide following Facebook tirade is a story that demonstrates the fatal effects of cyberbullying. The article highlights the consequences of not being able to escape bullies; ‘Before social media and text messaging, bullying was left at the school gate, but in an age where a mobile phone is like an extension of a person’s anatomy, no-one is ever offline.’ (Ford, 2015). Today, teenagers are glued to their mobile phones, exposing them to hate and ridicule. In the past they did not have this problem because technology was not around at the time. Cyberbullying is relentless and harsh as the bullies get to say what they don’t have the courage to say in person and they can be as mean as possible. One of the effects of bullying is that it can change the victim’s personality. It can cause people who are normally confident and happy to become self-conscious, shy, unsure and isolated. Additionally, victims of bullying may also become sad or depressed. Their confidence might completely disappear, keeping them from trying new things or trusting people. Once a person has been bullied, they may hesitate to participate in situations where he or she might be ridiculed, such as in public speaking or in sports. A bullying victim might even begin to possess previously absent anxious behavior. Cyber bullying can affect people so much that it leads them to commit suicide.  Cyberbullying has impacted society as a whole as well as the individual. The Australian Government introduced ‘Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network’ (ACORN) for victims of online crime to report incidents they have encountered. Serious problems such as cyberbullying, get passed on through to The Australian Federal Police (AFP) for further investigation. Bullying of this nature is taken very seriously by the police and is considered a crime with serious penalties. Increasing social media platforms means constantly updating laws to fit current crimes. It’s a growing industry.

So who is to blame for these individuals taking their own lives? Is it these social media sites that make it easy for bullies to post negative content that can hurt people, or the parents, or even the school? I think it could be a combination between society and parents. There used to be a time when bullying was isolated to school grounds. Once a child left school, they didn’t have to deal with the issue for the rest of the day. With the increased use of technology and social media, bullying now follows children everywhere they go. This, along with other issues, can push some to their breaking point and lead them to take their own life. For parents, keeping up with social media is a challenge. Even if they are cautious about making sure their child does what they’re supposed to do, it is extremely difficult to monitor their behaviour on the internet. Unlike when children are bullied on school grounds, the schools’ authority is limited because of privacy issues. However, schools have a duty of care to all students; usually the first action they take is to talk to the children and then they inform parents. If parents don’t step in and put a stop to it, the victims are pretty much left to deal with the situation on their own. Although parents may not know everything their child does on the internet, they should make every effort to find out. If a child knows their mum or dad is monitoring their internet use, they are less likely to post things that are going to get them in trouble. In the end, it’s the responsibility of the parents to make sure their child is raised to respect others. For older teenagers, it’s harder for parents to monitor their child’s social media accounts. They have more freedom and independence. Many older teenagers find it an invasion of privacy for parents to be scrutinizing their accounts. Often these teenagers purchase their own devices and pay their own usage bills, so if they are responsible enough to be this independent, no one really has the right to be looking over their shoulders.

Recent cyberbullying on social media sites has led to an increasingly shocking number of suicides amongst young people. As a society, it is everyone’s responsibility to take action and help stop cyberbullying. Creating stricter laws and having social media sites join up with organisations to help support anti bullying is a good start. Taking it to another level by utilising social media sites to send out positive messages and create events to encourage anti bullying will help in making sure social media becomes and stays a positive media tool for all to enjoy.

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