Tag Archives: teenage girls

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/