By Patrycja Puzio
Social media and communication technology have become widely available and integrated into young adults’ everyday lives—as have the negative consequences of such accessible forums.
According to a report released in 2015 by the Pew Research Center, 92% of teenagers report going online constantly, with the top social media platforms being Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. Another Pew Research study from January 2014 indicates that 89% of adults, ages 18-29, are users of social media. Both studies indicate the prevalence of social media and communication technology usage in the younger generations, and suggest that the trend could continue into the next decade, at the very least.
However, despite the very obvious allure of having quick access to messaging, posting pictures of yourself and others, and bringing awareness to issues an individual might be passionate about, there exists the fact that good things can be abused. Cyberbullying has become a recurring phenomenon as social media and handheld technology usage has proliferated. Described as acts both deliberate and intent on causing harm, cyberbullying assumes the guise of intimidating messages, “catfishing” (posing as someone else on social media), malicious or embarrassing pictures, and even social media website comments.
The ability to be anonymous or to forge a false identity on the Internet has made it easier to say and commit abusive acts. Anonymity has allowed the ability to post comments and views without virtually any repercussions, which can at times be a positive. However, in the case of cyberbullying, it allows the bully or aggressor to hide behind a screen. In certain situations, it may be someone that a victim comes across in real life. Other times, it could be an absolute stranger. Certain groups of individuals are additionally targeted and bullied simply for their identities, such as LGBTQ individuals, or members of a particular race or ethnicity.
Cyberbullying tends to be repetitive, and the spread of the effects of cyberbullying are far. Victims of cyberbullying see effects in their schoolwork and in the comfort in which they attend school. There is a higher probability of depression or anxiety as a result of harassment, and cyberbullying victims can be at risk of committing suicide.
This happened to be the case when Tyler Clementi, a then 18 year old Rutgers University student, committed suicide in 2010 after being filmed in private by his roommate, who had spread the video with the intent of humiliating him for being a gay man. The Tyler Clementi Foundation was created with the mission of helping create environments to prevent cyberbullying and promote acceptance of LGBT youth. The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act was also passed to require colleges and universities to promote anti-harassment policies.
The Cyberbullying Research Center reports that one common case of cyberbullying occurs when people are “doxxed,” or their personal documents are released to the public or to a certain group of people, usually with the intention of having the victim harassed.
Another case where personal items are posted to the Internet without the consent of the victim occurs when nude pictures or vides of the victim are released through social media or uploaded to porn-streaming websites. This particular act is called “revenge porn,” and currently few states possess legislation to protect victims from having their nude images posted on the internet. A majority of the victims tend to be women, and sometimes their pictures or videos are uploaded along with home addresses or phone numbers. However, Pornhub, a popular porn website, has made it easier for victims to report videos of themselves being uploaded and request they be taken down. Legislators nationally are still trying to develop proper policies to address this infringement of privacy and dignity.
Cyberbullying has a wide range of mental effects due to its repetitive nature and intent to harm. With teenagers and young adults growing up in a society with communication technology and social media considered the norm, there exists a medium for abuse that had not existed prior. Cyberbullying is now being targeted by institutions due to its harmful nature, and it is up to individuals to identify cases of abuse and prevent it. Due to its non-physical nature, it can be difficult to detect, needing individuals to be wary of those they encounter online and with whom they foster strong emotional relationships digitally.