When Sweet Friendships Go Sour – Cyberbullying

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Image credits: http://uthmag.com/cyber-bullying/

We had previously discussed whether social networks can be considered communities and came to the conclusion in the class that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. are not communities per se.  They serve as online platforms which facilitate online community development.  Many adults for example are engaged in lively discussions in various online groups where they share interests, similar ideas and invest much time for building online peer relationships.   Some examples are online art communities, social activism and other belief / interest based communities.  

In the case of younger people and specifically teenagers, social media is an extension of their physical community.  Per Danah Boyd essay “Friendship”, “For most teens, social media do not constitute and alternative or “virtual” world (Abbbott 1998).   They are simply another method to connect with their friends and peers in a way that feels seamless with their everyday lives (Osgerby 2004).”   While adults can still separate the physical and virtual worlds, for younger generations those become increasingly inseparable and fluid. 

So we can assume that the social media friendships are a natural extension of the physical face-to-face relationships.  The online world lives in harmony with the offline reality.   Online, teenage girls do the same exact thing they have been doing – socialize with friends, share stories, gossip, flirt and simply “hang out”.  However, just like in real life, online friendships can go sour.  Sometimes “the best friend” of many years can decide to turn on a girl and engage half of the school in cyberbullying practices.  

There is nothing new about girls being mean to other girls, although feminism teachers today try to encourage women to elevate and support other girls which is the ultimate sign of strength and confidence.  However, gossips and nasty behavior have always existed.  What is new about cyberbullying is that the technology is used to inflict pain 24/7.   It can be non-stop, without a chance to escape.  Many girls are afraid to log on their social profile page to find nasty comments posted while they were offline.  A girl can be logged out from every social network yet still victimized online, and the awareness of that is equally traumatizing.  Watching the cell phone vibrate with nasty messages and worrying about potential insults posted online makes girls dwell and stress constantly. 

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In addition to cyberbullying being an around the clock phenomenon, its anonymity makes it even more dangerous.  Social networks with millions of their fake accounts make it difficult sometimes to track the true identity of the offender.  Mysterious mean comments, humiliations, fake invitations to non-existing parties, malicious threats and ultimatums coming from anonymous accounts make it hard to determine who is behind the cyberbullying. 

A decade or two ago, a girl that spread nasty rumors about someone else would be easy to track.  Also, girls would not resort to the most offensive techniques as speaking incredibly badly of someone would reflect badly on them.  However, cyberbullying does not have limits or restrictions that physical bullying would have out of fear or moral reasons.  A girl can easily pretend to be a boy and post something about receiving sexual favors from a girl who is completely innocent with the objective to tarnish her reputation.  Than a bunch of “friends” would join in with their insults and disparaging remarks.

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As a result of cyberbullying, many girls cry behind closed doors, can’t perform well at school, develop depression and health problems, start on the path of dangerous addictions and even resort to suicide.   The tragedy of cyberbullying is real and should have the immediate attention of educators and parents.  We must know what is happening online with our daughters and spread awareness about cyber abuse problems.  We need to teach our daughters to be strong and resilient and not let friendships (online or offline) solely define who they really are.  We as parents also need to make sure we do not allow our children to engage in supporting bullies or becoming bullies but instead teaching to help those children who may suffer from cyberbullying. 

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Image credits: http://uthmag.com/cyber-bullying/

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2 thoughts on “When Sweet Friendships Go Sour – Cyberbullying”

  1. In Chapter 2 (Friendship) of “Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out,” lead author Danah Boyd wrote that “when teens are harassed online, it is often by people they know offline” (p. 108). Earlier in this chapter, Boyd wrote that “when teens are involved in friendship-driven practices, online and offline are not separate worlds” (p. 84).

    Within these two points, I think, gossip, rumor and drama can thrive and possibility escalate into harassment, or cyberbullying, which according to Boyd’s writing is uncommon since “most teens do not experience Internet-driven harassment” (p. 107). However, just because something is uncommon, doesn’t mean it isn’t distressing. Pervasiveness isn’t a requirement for concern or the development of recourse, but it does call for perspective.

    Taking that teenage friendships often are intertwined between offline and online, more than likely a cyberbully is someone who moves within the friendship circle. In fact, most of the teens interviewed suspected that former friends were the perpetrators of harassment, according to Boyd. This doesn’t mean that there are no cases of the stealth anonymous, stranger-person cyberbully tormenting some unsuspecting teenager, but incidences are, once again, probably rare.

    But knowing something and proving it are too different things, and I suspect the same can be said for cyberbullies. In my experience, bullies lose their power in two ways: 1) when the silence is broken about the harassment and 2) when action is taken against it.

    Teenagers are a click-ish bunch, especially teen girls. (Well, they were in my day.) If someone messed with one of us, that person messed with all of us. Thus, if someone is harassing Alice, and she tells her friends, Betty and Claudia, about it; then her girlfriends are going to protect her six. In other words, the trio is going to work together to deal with the perpetrator together, either by exposing the person’s identity but at the very least, let the larger circle of friends know that what’s being say in cyberspace isn’t the truth. That’s what ride-and-die girls do for each other.

    I think a lot cyberbullies get away with what they’re doing in the dark, because their victims refuse to bring the problem into the light. Teenagers, especially girls, need to speak up – and loudly, when anyone is starts to harass them, for whatever reason. More often than not, their young friends will support them in whatever action needs to take place to stop the maliciousness.

  2. Cyberbullying is an issue that affects teenagers and those around them in a number of environments—in school, other hangouts, and in the home. While parents are probably the most responsible for helping their teenage children learn to cope and deal with cyberbullying, not every teen has a responsible (or aware) parent available. Realistically, parents can’t and don’t always have the ability or the knowledge to help their teens deal with such issues.

    It occurs to me that with the rapid changes in technology, perhaps something can be done on a different level to help prevent cyberbullying—in the school. We have classes for high schoolers about typing, coding, and different technology classes, and we also have psychology and similar classes. Why not bring the two together and create a mandatory “Psychology of Internet Use” class or something along those lines.

    Such a class could touch on different topics that we have covered here in this EMAC class, such as how online networks operate and what they mean for society and individuals. But it could also go in depth on topics that are more important to teenagers. Specifically, the class should cover how online networks provide both a means of support and of trouble for teenage friendships. There could be a whole week, or a whole month, dedicated to awareness of cyberbullying, the serious problems that it can cause for all involved, and ways to prevent it.

    An awareness campaign being taught in the classroom can at least give students a better understanding of what is possible, even if it can’t necessarily provide the emotional support that should come from friends and family. Awareness must come before support can be provided anyway, and perhaps it would give students more confidence that others would understand them if they needed to report acts of cyberbullying.

    We are so quick to try and incorporate new forms of technology in schools, but we should not neglect the other side of the coin—the psychological implications for students using that technology. Clearly it is a very new field of study, just as the technology itself is so new. But if students are expected to use it, then schools requiring that use should be expected to offer the same level of awareness and understanding to students as to the possible consequences of that use.

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