Cyberbullying: Where to find it and how to prevent it

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One of the issues that has arisen from social media as an integral part of people’s lives is cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is the same as bullying, except it happens on social media like Facebook or Twitter. It can inflict the same sense of hopelessness and depression and is common among adolescents from 12 to 24 years old.

According to Statista, Facebook has 2.07 billion monthly users. Also according to Statista, Twitter has 330 million monthly users. Facebook and Twitter, along with Instagram and other social media platforms, keep people connected by allowing users to engage with their friends and followers. Because of the connectivity between users, one’s privacy is put at risk.

Cyberbullying is also an example of putting someone’s privacy at risk through social media. Victims can be bullied from private accounts or even have their account hacked into by the bully. And since the bullying happens online, the victim is not safe even at their own house.

“Social media is gaining more traction with younger age groups,” said Emily Torchiana, a mental-health speaker. “Fifteen- to 24-year-olds are the main age group.”

Torchiana, the founder of The Invisible Illness, was cyberbullied in high school by an anonymous Facebook account. She now spends her time talking to high school students about the experience. Starting in Charleston, South Carolina, Torchiana has spoken over 100 times.

Torchiana has given presentations on TEDx, and was recently awarded the National Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award in June 2017.

Social media platforms promote sharing, posting and interaction between people on their platform. Almost everyone can see what is posted on your page. Bullies use faceless interactions on social media to their advantage.

“It takes away any repercussions,” said Torchiana. “There is no face-to-face interaction, it is all done behind the comfort of a screen.”

Torchiana said fewer adolescents use Facebook, and now flock to Instagram instead, and there are surveys that confirm the cyberbullying shift to Instagram.

A study that backs up Torchiana’s claim comes from Ditch the Label. Ditch the Label is an anti-bullying non-profit whose work focuses on people age 12-25 in the United Kingdom, U.S. and Mexico. Each year, Ditch the Label partners with high schools and colleges in the UK to conduct their survey and compile information.

Their 2017 survey revealed that Instagram experiences the highest percentage of cyberbullying, followed by Facebook and then Snapchat.  They surveyed 10,020 people from the United Kingdom ages 12-20.

A total of 74 percent of the people surveyed use Instagram, and 42 percent of that demographic “have been cyberbullied, and experienced it on the platform.”  Meanwhile, only 60 percent of participants use Facebook, but 37 percent have experienced cyberbullying.

No matter the social media website, the tactics bullies employ remain the same. Bullies attack people they know using anonymous accounts, and because most social media networks are free, a bully has the option to create endless fake accounts.

To end the harassment, aside from blocking the bully, not many options remain.

“It’s free speech, so it isn’t against the law even if it is mean,” said East Lansing Police Department Det. Steve Whelan.

Whelan has worked for the East Lansing Police Department since 2000 and for the past nine years has been a liaison for East Lansing schools. Whelan spends about half his day going to schools in East Lansing, monitoring for harassment and bullying among students.

Whelan mentioned that cyberbullying is something he sees every week.  However unless it encroaches towards stalking, there is not much the police can do.

“After bullying it becomes harassment, and becomes stalking after that,” said Whelan.  “Once it becomes stalking we will notify the person to stop, but since 2004 it is extremely rare to get a personal protection or restraining order.”

Whelan gave a state mandated talk about cyberbullying at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish School last year. His talk focuses on where cyberbullying can take place and also the consequences.

“It depends on the forum,” said Lt. Steven Gonzalez, of the East Lansing Police Department. “If the bullying happens in an open chat room, then it isn’t invasion of privacy. But, if someone is gaining access to someone’s account, then it is stalking and invasion of privacy.”

Gonzalez also emphasized the importance of constantly managing your privacy settings and personal information so that it does not fall into the hands of those with malicious intent.  

Both Gonzalez and Torchiana stated how important it is to be selective of where you put your personal information, especially on social media where it is readily available. Torchiana also mentioned that if you are being cyberbullied, it is important to talk to the people around you.  

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