According to The Cyberbullying Center, cyberbullying is the willful and repeated use of digital communication tools to inflict harm or make another person feel angry, sad or scared. While this definition is fairly straightforward, the world of cyberbullying and toxic conversations is deeply nuanced, especially in the realm of children and teenagers.
There are many ways to attack a person online and it is generally acknowledged that an isolated incident of hateful language is not cyberbullying. However, when the mean words, or online embarrassment continues for any length of time that adversely affects someone that is another story.
Here are a few of the main methods of cyberbullying amongst teenagers and the apps in which they most often occur:
1) Language: Direct text messages or instant messages are an easy and expedient way to send hurtful language to another person. In this case, toxic conversations can be as simple as “I hate you; you are ugly.” Or, a chain of emojis that translate to something mean about the person's body or person. These words are easily sent via messaging apps such a Facebook messenger, via text, WhatsApp, Twitter, or any kind of similar social media app with a direct message feature, and many of these apps support disappearing messages that vanish after being read.
2) Visuals: Nearly every smartphone is equipped with a camera, which gives the ability for anyone to take and post pictures of another person on social media. This is fine when it’s a photo that was taken with the intention of sharing for fun, but it’s entirely another matter when it’s a photo intended to embarrass someone. Bullying can occur when a photo of someone is uploaded with the intent of being mocked, laughed at, and commented on in a hurtful tone. Visuals of this nature can be posted on many social media apps including Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, and more. It is terrible for the victim since they have no control over their image being spread around social media for the world to see. This can be a particular boon for the bullies that seek a public audience and often post on a person’s Facebook page or in group chat. Some bullies don’t need that recognition and choose to post anonymously, or more privately.
3) Rumor Spreading: Spreading rumors of someone is a form of bullying that is particularly toxic because sometimes the person being bullied may not even know about it until the rumor has gotten out of control. Often these rumors are spread via social media apps that are anonymous, meaning the users can talk about people without anyone knowing their identities. Popular anonymous apps included Sarahah, Whisper, Kik, and Ask.fm. While they claim to be intended for responsible use by posters, there are many incidents where anonymous apps have become a deeply toxic environment for users.
What do this all mean for families? It is essential that parents and kids maintain an open dialogue about social media use the instant a kid receives their own phone. Kids need to understand both the impact of their own words on others and how to interact appropriately on social media, as well as what to do if/when they feel they are being bullied. There have been many documented cases where a victim suffers greatly from the stress of being cyberbullied and the parents often deal with the consequences after it is too late.
At Latch Mobile we help parents monitor their kids mobile devices so parents are notified when there are signs of bullying. Whether it is a toxic conversation, inappropriate picture, or worse, we screen the phone in real time to identify any potential problems. We can’t prevent it from occurring in the first place, but we can play an important part in ending it as soon as possible and prompting the conversation with your child so that it doesn’t happen again.