If you suspect that your child is being cyberbullied or is him or herself a cyberbully, where would you look first for evidence? Some cyberbullying takes place one-to-one, via text message or email so you’ll only find it on his phone or laptop, but all too often it can happen in the public domain, on a social network for a large number of people to see.
Cyberbullies can be anonymous or use their real name, and the bullying can be general hurtful comments or can focus on a specific trait such as obesity (fat shaming), perceived or implied promiscuity (slut shaming), race, religion or just about anything else. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular social networks and apps where cyberbullying occurs, and walk through some examples of what is actually going on.
Facebook – Of course, cyberbullying is happening on Facebook, and despite the network’s recent decline in popularity among teens, millions still congregate there. One of the most common forms of bullying on Facebook is harsh commenting on users’ self-photos (selfies). It’s a vicious circle, really, as teens who post photos are often looking for positive affirmation and end up getting the opposite.
Twitter – If your teen is the type who likes attention or needs to be heard, he is probably active on Twitter. It can serve as a very loud megaphone to get your message to an audience that can be very large. Twitter bullying can happen out in the open (i.e. Hey, @user123, nobody likes you) or via a private massage, or DM. Only users who reciprocally follow can send DMs to each other, so if your teen is being bullied on Twitter, a simple solution is for him to unfollow the bully. A more subtle form of cyberbullying on Twitter is the subtweet, in which a user taunts or harasses another without mentioning the target’s name (i.e. The dress you wore today is ugly and nobody likes you).
Instagram – An unfortunate byproduct of the rise of Instagram is the popularity of “rate me” posts or impromptu beauty contests. Teens, most frequently girls (but boys get into the act too), post pictures of themselves with a hashtag (#rateme, #hotornot) or referencing a contest (#custestteen) looking for likes or positive comments. Not surprisingly, many of the comments are anything but positive. Instagram users who set their accounts to private can avoid unwanted comments from strangers.
Ask.fm – From what we’ve seen, the ratio of negative comments to positive ones is highest on Ask.fm, for a very straightforward reason. “Good” kids usually sign up for Ask.fm using their real name, but are not required to do so. Bullies are free to sign up for a fully anonymous account, and therefore can bully without fear of their real identity being uncovered. Ask.fm has been linked to 9 teen suicides in the past year.
Messaging apps – Texting doesn’t just happen via a cell phone’s sms service any more. Messaging apps like WhatsApp, Snapchat, WeChat, Line and probably a dozen others have millions of users, and most allow users to share photos as well as plain text messages. If your teen is using a messaging app, anybody who knows her cell phone number can send her a message, so if she is a victim of cyberbullying it’s a good idea to change her phone number then keep it out of the hands of bullies.
Reddit and 4chan – We don’t recommend that teens use Reddit or 4chan at all. 4chan is fully anonymous and unmoderated. Reddit is mostly anonymous, and while it has moderators, their function is not in any way to protect users as far as we can see. On both sites, users can be attacked for having an unpopular opinion or posting content that strikes the wrong chord with other users.
According to recent research, 30% of teens would not report it to anyone if they were being cyberbullied. Parents should make sure that their kids feel confortable confiding when they are being harassed. In addition, most networks have an easy way to report inappropriate conduct, and teens who are victims should by all means do so if being cyberbullied.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.