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Use of Social Media, and Coping with Bullying

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Online bullying in 2020 can take a variety of forms. There are a lot more opportunities for bullying to unfold in a fully online educational experience for students and the bullying is more complicated, occurs over more platforms and is more covert and psychologically torturous than ever.

Cyberbullying During COVID-19

Plus, during quarantine, student’s social relationships are strained as it is. For some students, this is leading to an increase in not just conflicts but social media harassment and victimization: AKA cyberbullying.

Many students are also expressing their discontent through acting as bullies. Both sides of the issue must be addressed. Both students acting as bullies and students acting as victims require equal amounts of social emotional support from trusted adults.

However, kids want to know: what is the best way to make the bullying stop?

We’ve broken down the best ways to deal with social media bullying, looked at all of its contemporary forms and offered some best practices for what to do about the emotional impact.

There are two things to consider when combating bullying: one is how the bullying makes you feel, your role in how it makes you feel. The second is how to make it stop.

But first, a caveat: there is no guaranteed way to stop bullying, especially bullying online. There haven’t been rigorous scientific studies proving whether it works best to fight back, block/mute/ignore or to expose your attackers. We will look to the examples of what others say about handling bullying they’ve survived. 

What are the forms of online bullying in 2020?

Students in 2020 can experience bullying via social media, their emails, anonymous gossip websites, false retaliation reporting to teachers and a new form called Zoom bombing, which has become popular during the pandemic.

Zoom bombing as described by Stomp Out Bullying is where “strangers have been partaking in ‘zoom bombing’ where they disrupt these online meetings with hateful and inappropriate comments.” Often Zoom Bombers will screen record as they interrupt these meetings and promote their bullying publicly. This difficult to control intrusion can be maddening for students and educators. Fortunately, Zoom Bombing can be mitigated by using frequently changed meeting passwords and keeping meeting URL invitations private.

Handling How Bullying Makes You Feel

We have many tools and resources available to us for free on how to handle how bullying makes us feel.

1) Regulating your emotions, not allowing yourself to get obsessedResearch shows an increase in suicidal ideation and social media bullying. Practicing mindfulness about your social media usage and how its affecting your decisions on a daily basis can reduce the influence it has over your emotions. Before You Scroll delves into how to be “mindful” while browsing social media.

2) Talking to trusted adults – Counselors, mental health professionals, family– it is extremely critical to make sure you’re telling a trusted adult about what’s happening and how it is making you feel. The emotional impact over time can create isolation, depression and long term anxiety which is very challenging to work ones way out of. Even if the adult can’t help you directly, making sure that you’re not carrying the weight of the bullying on your own is essential to developing resilience to adversity and your own emotional wellbeing.

3) Using crisis text and talk lines for bullying. – In addition to talking to trusted adults, look to crisis text and talk lines for bullying specific to your age group. The prevalence of bullying online has driven many different help lines to be created. If you are overwhelmed and don’t know if your issue is bad enough to got to a specific hotline, the crisis text line is for anything and everything. No matter what there is someone who will talk with you. Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

How to Make Social Media Bullying Stop

We just described this, but we can’t emphasize it enough:

The first thing to do is to make sure you’re telling a trusted adult about what’s happening and how it is making you feel. The emotional impact overtime can create a sense of isolation and make it difficult to see the situation clearly. Make sure to keep an adult informed as this progresses and make sure that they validate your situation. A safe, trusted adult is not someone who will underscore the seriousness of the pain you’re experiencing from online bullying and harassment. If an adult you’ve been confiding in tells you to ignore it because it’s *just online* or that you’re overreacting, they have proven themselves to not be a safe or trusted adult. If your torment from being harassed is written off, find a new adult who will provide you the essential emotional support you need during this time.

A red flag the adult you confided in will not be helpful: if the adult suggests that you just leave the platform, they are clearly out of touch and aren’t going to be a helpful support for what you’re going through. This is the equivalent of asking a student to leave town with everyone they’ve ever known because another student or two is targeting them. Under most circumstances, not only is this an unrealistic alternative, it can also reduce resiliency and embolden the bullies to continue the behavior in the future as it may increase their sense of power.

Increasing a student who is bullying sense of power is the last thing we want to do here.

Counselors and other school staff may be able to find who is doing the bullying, see patterns in students who are bullying specific groups of kids and pursue disciplinary action up to expulsion for severe cases while offering a sense of anonymity to students who are reporting– especially if the harassment is publicly available, it’s possible that anyone within the school could have reported it to an educator. While there’s a chance of blowback for students who ask educators to take action, it’s also often worth doing. For this article we won’t be discussing threats of violence– that is a criminal matter and will include an SRO as well as a counselor and other administrative staff to work through.

Remember that all platforms have reporting features for harassment. Though, many infamously don’t always appropriately respond, it’s worth pursuing. This is Twitter’s official stance on their reporting policy for harassment. Before doing anything else, students are encouraged to report harassment online to Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Telegram or any other platform they may be using.

If the platform doesn’t find the post to be a strong enough violation of their ToS, report it again and encourage your friends to do the same. Many times these reports are reviewed by algorithms and the repeated reports are what the algorithms need in order to do the right thing and remove the offending text.

Bullying is a significant concern for people across the world. For example, this speech by Millie Bobbie Brown was given to the UN on the subject.

Like all bullies, they gain their power by taking power away from others.

Millie Bobbie Brown

Looking at this collection of stories on how Teen Vogue readers have combated online bullying, you’ll find an enormous number of stories, resources and sympathetic teens who have also struggled with bullying and have done their best to overcome it. The basic theme repeated in this article is that there isn’t a perfect system for how to get bullies to stop, but knowing that you’re not alone and seeing what other students have done can help tremendously.

Riverdale’s Bernadette Beck has some important advice with regards to how she survived cyberbullying on a profound scale.

Monica Lewinsky, victimized by many leaders of the government owned her power by championing antibullying initiatives.

Students will engage in bullying behaviors to make themselves feel powerful when they feel powerless. They resort to these behaviors because they have been bullied and victimized themselves. While it may be counter intuitive, one way to begin to release yourself from the stress of being bullied is to recognize the behavior as a failure on the part of the bullies to choose to resort to this behavior. While this is unlikely to fully provide solace for all the agony of being targeted online, it may help blunt the severity of it.

In The Survival Guide to Cyberbullying, we hear a comprehensive explanation of how to handle the worst kids can throw at us from someone who survived it themselves. Insofar as the quick takeaways of what students can actionably do though:

Step 1) Analyze your online life. What social media sites are you being bullied on? Which social media sites does everything seem OK on? Do some digging.

Step 2) Get to know your privacy settings. Just because you’re on the “default” privacy setting doesn’t mean it’s the RIGHT or SAFE setting.

Step 3) Don’t be afraid to hit BLOCK or REPORT. 

Step 4) Anonymous sites are NOT for you. If you’re being bullied, don’t even think about making an account on an anonymous site. 

Step 5) #GoDark or #Go(Almost)Dark. Going dark is basically like a vacation from your social media. Everyone needs a break once in a while. So if you’re being bullied on Instagram, then log out for a few days. Check back in and see if you’re still being bullied. 

Step 6) Fill the #CyberCrave. If you’re going dark from your favorite social media sites, it’s normal to feel a gap inside of yourself. You might feel a bit empty — like you’re missing something. That’s pretty normal, but there are ways to not feel that way. Fill your day with activities that make you happy — big and small. It could be as simple as a cup of tea and your favorite book or meeting up with friends. Make yourself happy. You deserve that and more.*


Stomp Out BullyingCrisis Text LineKind CampaignThe Trevor ProjectSocial Media and Suicide: A Public Health PerspectiveBefore You Scroll: Mindful Social Media PracticesList of Help Lines for Cyberbullying Teens Share Snapchat Bullying StoriesThe Survival Guide to BullyingStrategies to Cope with Cyberbullying
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