So, what about Cyberbullying on Facebook? Gone are the days when children and teenagers had to go to the park to meet their friends, have some fun, gossip a little or perhaps have a minor fight with their peers. Now, it doesn’t take more effort than placing a screen (no matter how small) in front of them, and bingo, you’ve got them socializing. Learn more on Cyberbullying on Facebook now!
But as the nature of communication is, this form of “socializing” is mediated. In the past, paper and pen did the job. Later on, telephony was introduced, involving a set of wires and telephone devices in the equation. But now, all it takes is wireless access to something as tiny as a mobile phone or as sleek as a tablet, and a virtual society like Facebook for communication to occur in every possible form.
While the traditional (and rather outdated) forms of mediated communication had a very restricted audience, such as the conversing partner on the other end of a telephone line, online interactions now permit teenagers access to a much broader digital audience. And unlike regular communication, the social “norms” of this kind of communication, or behavioural etiquette, are yet to be formed.
We can say that social norms, or “etiquette”, are a set of rules upon which there has been a relative degree of general consensus or agreement. Etiquette doesn’t have to be written or made explicit, yet those who use it seem to understand it well enough and expect it to shape people’s behaviour. But when given a relatively high level of freedom, the option of anonymity, and the ability to create an entirely new “aura” or personal image in a parallel virtual world, would the residents of this world really both with etiquette? Or will it lead to an infinite loop of chaos?
Cyberbullying on Facebook: Check-in at “Life”
At the incredible speed at which communication technology evolves, from desktop/laptop-enabled Internet access to instant messaging software to the creation of social networks and their rapid expansion to enabling internet access on mobile phones, which got a little wittier and grew to become smartphones, which, when connected on a cheap data plan, can literally “feed” you updates, messages, news and pictures twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, at school or asleep, it has become almost impossible to escape the social network. It’s a tangled web in which everyone has to be: your family, your schoolmates, the brand of chips you buy, and your favourite rock band. Teenagers’ lives are now traced via “timelines”, “check-in” locations, and tweets.
The alarming rapidness of this evolution is becoming difficult to keep up with, indeed. Yet our teenagers are enhancing their social networking skills every day and becoming more tech-savvy. In a study conducted by The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Teen-Parent survey in 2011, eight online teenagers (80%) revealed that they use social networking sites (SNS) such as Facebook or MySpace, up from just over half of online teens (55%) the first time they measured social network usage among teenagers in late 2006.
In total, 59% of teen social media users have an account on just one site, while 41% have accounts on multiple sites. Among teens with one social media profile, 89% maintain that one account on Facebook while the remainder is spread among a number of sites. And for teens with multiple accounts, fully 99% have an account on Facebook. Put another way, it has become inevitable for a teenager who is privileged with Internet access not to want to be on Facebook.
A Facebook profile can be the site of a budding romance or the staging ground for conflict. Exchanges that begin online can move offline and face-to-face conversations that are initiated in person can continue in social media spaces where they are then annotated with comments, photos, and videos. When a conflict arises, some choose to air their grievances, or what teenagers refer to as “drama” in full view of their friends, while others feel that private communication channels are a more appropriate place to deal with their private matters.
There has been considerable concern among parents, teachers, policymakers, and advocates about the nature and intensity of online social encounters among teens. The majority of teens have positive online experiences, but some are caught in an online feedback loop of meanness and negative experiences. In one exercise conducted within the boundaries of research, the participating teenagers were asked to use words and phrases that captured the nature of how people behave in Facebook contexts.
The word clouds that were created were rather interesting; the teens overwhelmingly chose negative adjectives to describe how people act online. Words that appeared frequently included “rude,” “mean,” “fake,” “crude,” “over-dramatic,” and “disrespectful.” Some teens did use positive words like the frequently mentioned “funny” and the less common “honest,” “clever,” “friendly,” “entertaining,” and “sweet,” but overall the frequency of positive words was substantially lower.
It is also worth mentioning that, of the teens who were asked about how they thought people should act online, the responses were substantially more positive and included words like “respectful,” “nice,” “friendly,” “mature,” “peaceful,” and phrases like “mind your own business” and “don’t put it all out there”, which indicates a relatively “okay” level of awareness among the questioned teenagers.
Do teenagers behave differently on Facebook (or social networks in general) than they do in real life?
“[There’s] this real quiet girl who go to my school, right, but when she’s on Facebook she talks like some wild – like, be rapping and talking about who she knew and some more stuff and you would, like, never think that’s her. You would think that’s somebody else …” ~ a high school boy.
Often teens felt bolder, ruder, or more empowered because they did not fear physical violence in the online space. One middle school girl said that she thought people were ruder online “because you can’t hurt anybody online. You can’t punch nobody through the screen.” For other teens, the fact that they can act differently on social media translates into more real, positive experiences.
Instead of seeing social media as a place that fomented conflict or bad behaviour, some teens felt as though it increased a sense of closeness and allowed people to be authentic or more real than they could be offline. More often than not, teens believe that they find friends and romantic interests much easier to talk to and way more open in a Facebook chat conversation than in a playground or classroom context.
What are the risks?
While Facebook can help make a teenager “closer” to a friend or a significant other, it can also result in face to face arguments or confrontations, or even worse, physical fights. It can lead to the end of friendships, problems with parents, or wanting to avoid school. According to pewinternet.org, 88% of social media-using teens have seen someone be mean or cruel on Facebook.
But that is not all; there are even more grave risks teenagers are probably prone to unless they take proper precautions and have the necessary level of awareness. For one, they could fall victims to phishing, Internet scams, or malware invading their devices. However, when it comes to teenagers, personal safety matters top the concerns surrounding using social media, especially Facebook, because they are easy targets for malicious users of the social network.
First of all, there are some malicious users who engage teenagers, who are underage minors, into inappropriate sexual relationships through the Internet. Through the use of private instant messaging, where nobody can see, and a teenager feels free to open up to someone, online predators may attempt to initiate and seduce minors into relationships, and the inexperienced, unaware target sees the relationship as a legitimate attempt at romance, not a “threat” to their security by any means. If anything, they do not feel the need to report it; instead, they get very concerned about one of their parents, caregivers, or teachers finding out.
Moreover, Facebook has become more persuasive when it comes to sharing information about your identity, your family, your phone number, your address, and so on. Some teenagers aren’t exactly alert to the fact that whatever they say online can be seen by more people than originally intended. And as the recently familiar saying goes, “if you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold”. Cyberstalking and identity theft often begin with malicious users identifying the user through identifying information provided by the user himself.
Equal in importance, the threat of being bullied online, or cyberbullying, faces teenagers daily. It’s often an extension of real life bullying that happens outside the Internet and may occur in countless ways. For example, a Facebook “friend” may share the teen’s pictures without his or her consent, or creates a Facebook page for “Everyone hates [insert name]”. As the Internet provides unlimited means for bullies to carry out their online hate campaigns, giving them the advantage of anonymity, perpetrators know they’re hidden, they can do whatever they want to whomever they want, and some do not even recognize their actions as bullying.
Cyberbullying takes behaviour born in the schoolyard and adds two elements: ubiquity and anonymity. “Think of the ways we’ve used technology to make our lives portable; pervasive, with you all the time. Now throw someone who doesn’t like you into that mix. The reason is unimportant. What matters is they have a presence in this portable world, as do you.
And with that point of connection the taunting, the insults and the negativity are now portable”, says ABC writer, William Cohen. “Add to this that there’s been a ton of research to show placing a layer of technology between you and someone you know makes it easier to say things that you’d never say to their face. This freedom only becomes more powerful when your real identity is taken out of the equation.”
With the pervasiveness of social networking, the anonymity of the Internet, and the existence of bullying, it’s about time we connect the risks potentially faced online with the relevant piece of the puzzle: Awareness. If we are to help teenagers deal with being bullied in a virtual environment, parents, caregivers, teachers and trainers need to be aware of the problem’s mechanics, not just alarmed by its outcomes, to guarantee a safer and more interesting social media experience for teenagers.