For America’s Youth, Standing Up to the Cyberbully is Now a Life Skill
Social media plays a major role in the lives of America’s youth, but beyond ‘likes’ and smiling emojis, there’s a serious downside to digital communications. Today, bullying has moved beyond the playground to online. And perhaps even more than its real-life counterpart, cyberbullying can be especially vicious and even deadly.
In a brutal example, a Massachusetts judge recently handed down an unprecedented manslaughter conviction of a woman who, as a teenager, sent text messages to her suicidal boyfriend pressing him to kill himself.
It’s an extreme case, but cyberbullying can have more serious repercussions than its face-to-face counterpart. Attackers tend to be more vicious online because they can attack from afar without having to look their victims in the eye, and if it’s conducted on social media, these attacks are very public. Furthermore, children can’t simply walk away from it. The ever-present mobile phone means it follows them home. For all of these reasons, cyberbullying is a worrisome threat. A recent survey by ReportLinker questioned teens and young adults between the ages of 13 and 24 to understand more about how it impacts their lives.
As heavy users of social media, young people spend hours using their laptops and mobile devices to converse, make plans and share details about their lives. Instagram and Snapchat are the most popular social sites for Gen Z and Millennials, garnering 71% and 66% of mentions respectively. Despite being the largest social network, Facebook was mentioned just 54% of the time. Meanwhile, Twitter was cited 42% of the time. These findings confirm that younger generations are moving away from networks frequented by their parents and older generations. However, LinkedIn, which has a more professional focus, was mentioned more frequently by Millennials as this cohort gears up to enter the job market.
While parents may worry about their teens openly posting about their entire lives on social media, the ReportLinker survey revealed this is not the case. In fact, more than two-thirds of respondents (68%) said they’re sharing less information about themselves on social media than before. This could be because today’s young people are more aware of the dangers of posting too much personal information, such as blackmail and cyberbullying.
Yet, even as awareness of risks rises, sexting is a very real phenomenon among younger generations. A third of respondents to the ReportLinker survey admitted to sending explicit images or text messages to a close friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend. Not surprisingly, sexting is more common among young Millennials (39%) than the younger Gen Z (27%). To avoid the dangers of cyberbullying and blackmail, more than 75% of respondents say they are very likely or somewhat likely to immediately delete these images, with an especially high delete rate among women interviewed (64% being very likely to delete).
It’s interesting to note that respondents who say they are more likely not to delete explicit images and texts are also more likely to send them in the first place.When it comes to deleting sexting messages, there is some debate about whether this is the appropriate response. Some adults argue that deleting messages makes it more difficult to conduct a proper investigation, but child pornography and mandatory reporting laws in many states makes this a tricky situation that can end up having negative consequences for the victim.
Even though they engage in questionable activities such as sexting, America’s youth clearly feels that cyberbullying is a very real threat. Seven out of 10 respondents say they’re concerned about this issue, with 37% being very concerned. There is a clear gender split when it comes to feeling threatened by cyberbullying, with 45% of young women being very concerned compared to 38% of young men who say they’re not concerned at all.
Looking at the hard numbers around the actual occurrence of cyberbullying (as opposed to just the threat of it), less than half of those interviewed say they were victims of cyberbullying. Among respondents, 38% reported being a victim of cyberbullying themselves or having a close friend who was a victim. This translates into nearly 4 in 10 youths either being a victim or being close to someone who is, confirming that cyberbullying is a significant threat.
A closer look at the data reveals that young women are more likely to be the victims of cyberbullying, with embarrassing unwanted contact and threatening messages being the most common forms, mentioned 61% of the time. Trailing behind these examples, sexist and racist attacks were each mentioned one-third of the time, representing the next most common types of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying victims mentioned non-consensual image sharing or revenge porn 23% of the time, but this type of abuse should receive extra attention as it appears to be a growing phenomenon among these age groups.
In fact, social media companies are responding to the rise of revenge porn. Facebook specifically has implemented a technology to prevent people from re-sharing photos and images that are tagged or reported as revenge porn.
Despite the popularity of Snapchat and Instagram among America’s youth, these are not the channels young people associate with cyberbullying. Instead, 24% say the tool they most associate it with is text messaging, followed by Facebook, mentioned by 23% of survey respondents. However, 33% of Millennials named Facebook as the medium they most associate with this act.
When cyberbullying does occur, America’s youth does not believe the government or their parents have the power needed to handle these threats. Rather, social media websites themselves (33%) and the users of these platforms (35%) are seen as holding the power to tackle cyberbullying.This makes the steps that companies like Facebook are taking to combat cyberbullying all the more important.
On a more positive note, more than 75% of those interviewed said they would know how to respond, function, and protect themselves if they were the victim of cyberbullying. Although 15% of respondents would keep the issue a secret, 38% would tell their parents and 27% would tell their friends. By contrast, respondents are less likely to go to the police or inform a teacher about the issue, evidence of the priority placed on friends and family for discussing and dealing with this issue.More specifically, parents play a critical role in dealing with the negative effects of cyberbullying, ranging from depression to suicide. Fortunately, 72% of those interviewed said they would speak to their parents if they were victims of a cyberbullying threat.
For younger generations, knowing how to deal with cyberbullying is now an important life skill. For those who aren’t sure how to respond, the Teens Against Bullying website has some great tips on not only how to deal with cyberbullying, but also how to help prevent it from happening.
This survey conducted by ReportLinker reached 506 online respondents aged 13 to 24 years old and representative of the US population. Interviews were conducted between June, 7th and June, 8th 2017.