Is cyber bullying normal in the age of social media?
MANILA, Philippines - October 2 is the International Day of Non-Violence. Since the advent of social interaction on the Internet, we've seen that a lot of today's violence is done online.
We live in a world centered on and dominated by social media, where one post can easily be crafted, seen and shared by millions of users. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other highly popular social networking websites have created a new generation of technologically savvy users who now have the power to voice out their opinions and advocacies, influencing the perception of others in the process.
People who speak different languages can now belong to one community and cross boundaries, interact and share valuable pieces of information with one another. Social media unifies. Social media engages.
But it is also one of — if not the most — those influential tools that can also cause blunders. Social media, given the power it gives to anyone with a smart phone, laptop or tablet, is sometimes used to abuse and violate others.
Oddly enough, this harmful though rampant practice seems to be deemed normal by most users.
Blackmail, sexual harassment, humiliation
Greg* is a high school student who uses Facebook to get updated with his daily homework and to socialize with his friends through chat. One day, he was conversing with his friend Ana* about his problems when he noticed something different about how Ana was composing her messages, only to find out that Ana's account had been hacked by Greg’s other friend, Matt.*
Shortly after he revealed himself, Matt started mocking Greg, his problems and how they were being handled. Matt then sent a message to Greg saying, “For every report you [file], I will tell everybody your secrets that are here in this account. I will take a screen shot of all these things you said to Ana and post it on Facebook.” After Greg reported the incident to his teacher and after further investigation, the blackmailing stopped.
Another form of violence online involves sexual harassment. Angelica, a college student, owns an Ask.fm account, which allows users to ask questions to other users with anonymity. She received offensive messages shortly after advertising her account on her Facebook profile. “It’s scary because it’s coming from one of my ‘friends’,” she says.
When asked if she is still active on Ask.fm, she says that she promotes her account once in a while on Twitter, but only when she’s “really bored.” However, she believes that the website is “such a convenient place for people to bully and harass [others] and get away with it.”
Charlie* recalls a similar experience with her Formspring account [a website similar to Ask.fm]. The harasser posted a video of herself on Facebook where she was bashing Charlie. The post had several likes and comments, both supportive and hateful towards the harasser’s antics. Charlie took no measures to address the video and it was taken down a few days after it was posted.
Implications on society
These 3 narratives show the power of anonymity, and how security and privacy are at high risk in a community that heavily relies on social media — whether for information or entertainment — despite its downsides.
Angelica laments, “Because [cyber bullying] happens so often, people have accepted it as normal. When I showed a screen shot of the messages to my friend, all he said was ‘Welcome to the real world!’”
Greg believes that social media has created a new breed of bullies that hide behind virtual walls. Charlie believes that since everybody has access to and uses the Internet, everybody can technically be a victim of cyber bullying.
People who ignore the hateful comments and harassments have to live with the emotional and psychological effects that can ultimately be destructive. The same also applies to people who take action and fight for themselves.
Along with the changes, advances and implications that social media has on society, users believe that it should create a community of respect.
Although the most that a victim can do is to be smart and mature about cyber bullying, users believe that social media sites should still incorporate better preventive measures that can eliminate harmful interactions online, or track and block abusers.
*The names marked with an asterisk are fictional, as the respondents wish to be anonymous
Scared woman image from Shutterstock
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