How Social Media Has Produced an Online Bullying Epidemic

Alaina Stanisci


November 10, 2021

Envision suffering through a treacherous existence stripped of happiness, where waking up each day to a life flooded with online cruelty and harassment is the new normal. In a cyber world swarming with adolescent bullies, escaping the negativity that infests social media technology is merely impossible. Given the immense technological advances in today’s modern century, online bullying has become one of the largest complications worldwide. Dawning in the early 2000s, adolescent online bullies have repeatedly harassed other teenagers via advanced social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat. Quintessential to this matter is the fact that across the globe, millions of individuals spend each day mentally suffering due to the brutality expressed online. As a result, these distraught victims have turned to self-harm behaviors and thousands have committed suicide as an escape outlet. To combat this outbreak, various non-profit organizations including Mallory’s Army Foundation are providing education regarding cyberbullying prevention and working towards erasing online harassment. In a modern world brimming with vast social media technology, millions of cyberbullying victims have habituated to self-harm and taken their own lives. Consequently, to obliterate this juvenile injustice, proactive individuals are educating families and schools regarding cyberbullying.

Stigmatized in society, cyberbullying conflicts repeatedly generate an abundance of undesired trauma and mental health consequences on the lives of innocent adolescent victims. Gearing towards cyberbullying rather than traditional bullying, online bullies reveal that they feel protected behind the barrier of the screen and have little fear that they will eventually be caught. Similarly, in addition to sending hateful instant messages via text messaging or social networking sites, online bullies have gone as far as initiating death threats, often driving their victims to commit suicide (Tarshis). Due to the extreme motives and malicious techniques that cyberbullies use, significant trauma is induced on the lives of everyday victims. Subsequently, even with newly introduced legislation and school staff on the watch for online bullies, both parents and authorities are involved in stopping a massive, destructive wave of cyberbullying. In comparison to traditional bullying circumstances that involve face to face interactions, cyberbullying issues do not always receive the same disciplinary measures that physical bullying conflicts do and are often dismissed by authorities ("Don't believe"). Fearing that their concerns will not be analyzed seriously, it is likely that students are hesitant to verbalize with teachers and staff when experiencing online harassment. Even in circumstances where an individual electronically messaged another without harmful intentions and did so as a trivial joke, it is likely that the victim was hurt in one way or another. From synthesizing prank telephone calls to encouraging peers to join in writing a hateful post, a common characteristic of cyberbullies is the desire for power over the victim (Fisk et al., "Why"). When tormenting others behind the screen, cyberbullies commonly feel a sense of authority and see themselves located at the peak of the social pedestal. Especially in circumstances where the individual is insecure and has recently been introduced to a new circle of friends, that given individual will do anything to impress others, even if meeting the criteria of a ‘cool kid’ means acting cruelly and cyberbullying other innocent classmates.

Due to a lack of education regarding cyberbullying in school districts nationwide, online bullies often do not realize that their actions are considered bullying, and, in turn, are clueless about the harm they are causing to their targets. Furthermore, both cyberbullies and their victims often argue via social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook simply because they struggle to identify the difference between bullying and self-protection. Although hesitation to respond to another's derogatory post may initially be an obstacle, it is crucial for one to analyze the overall rationale and consequences of the scenario, as well as simply pausing before hitting “send” instantly. The majority of victims often reply without thought to a hate post, especially in cases where an apology or further communication is never communicated (Fisk et al., "Why"). After previously receiving hateful messages online, individuals are inclined to argue and often exchange rapid-fire hatred messages merely as an instinct of protection. Amidst heated arguments over social media, it is extremely common for the victim to forget that writing revenge posts are simply as immoral as the initial hateful upload. As a result, a further emotional toll is placed on the lives of both individuals involved in the conflict due to the ongoing, expeditious message of wrath between the victim and the initial bully.

In fact, as technology emerges in the twenty-first century, adolescents under the age of twenty-five are more than twice as likely to commit suicide or self-harming risk behaviors when experiencing cyberbullying. In other words, neurological and emotional development are not yet complete and these individuals struggle to find a light at the end of the tunnel regarding their cyberbullying conflicts. In comparison to an adolescent who does not experience any form of online brutality, cyberbullying victims are extremely likely to partake in risky behaviors such as cutting, biting, and pulling out their hair. Straying away from traditional school anti-bullying policies, Professor Ann John of Swansea University Medical School and other scholars among the University of Oxford and Birmingham, hope that schools present other online relevant information, such as digital citizenship, online peer support for victims, and how to contact internet service providers to block severe online bullying. In addition, studies have repeatedly proven that not only is the victim more likely to experience suicidal thoughts, but the individual actually causing the bullying often contemplates suicide as well (“Young victims”). Ultimately, the emotional toll and detrimental health consequences which cyberbullying causes have proven to negatively impact all of the individuals involved in the cyberbullying conflict. Cyberbullies often are extremely insecure and unhappy; in turn, they manipulate others in an attempt to hide from their own unhappiness.

Moreover, one unfortunate cyberbullying instance occurred in the fall of 2006, when teenager Megan Taylor Meier of Missouri hung herself three weeks before her fourteenth birthday as a result of constant harassment and intimidation via online media. Subsequent to Megan's death, investigators determined that Megan's cyber boyfriend was actually a fake profile created by two neighborhood women, Ashley Grills and Lori Drew (Fisk et al., "What Authorities Are Doing"). A true tragedy, this adolescent suicide was one of the first instances where online predators were found guilty. Frequently, malevolent individuals on the wrong side of the screen have misused technology, spawning an endless cycle of emotional wounds on the lives of victims. Educating individuals in his community regarding online bullying, a male cyberbullying victim from the Anti-Bullying Pro campaign expressed in 2015 that, "It's like the idea of someone tapping constantly over and over and over again. The build-up of taps makes you want to scream and I would go home and cry every day.If you already have that tapping in your head and are thinking these things as soon as someone says it and makes it real, it destroys you.It makes you think about things you really shouldn't...I wanted to die" ("The Bullying Stories"). Merely impossible for the victim to escape the cruelty and harassment caused by online bullies, this individual felt trapped in a cyber square filled with angst and intimidation. In comparison to physical face-to-face harassment, cyberbullying vastly differs. When the victim is being tormented across a social media platform, that same form of social media follows the victim's path wherever they go. Equally, as exasperating, it is extremely difficult for one to out rule the derogatory thoughts that bullying creates. As a result of an overwhelming plethora of brutality and online violence, teens often seek suicide as an outlet to escape from their suffering. Similar to the Meier tragedy, Natalie Farzaneh of New York was driven to self-harm regularly due to cyberbullying. In 2008 as social media platforms were emerging, Natalie emphasized that the conflict with cyberbullying is the fact that the immense harassment and cruelty invades the comfort of one’s home, leaving nowhere to escape. Astray in a storm of negativity, this adolescent cyberbullying victim would scratch her arms until she bled and became accustomed to pulling out her hair every day (Sawer). Similarly, in 2015, a young cyberbullying victim from the Anti-Bullying campaign explained that "Looking as an outsider, it can seem like the victim is being petty...but it's a really big deal... to be truthful, I didn't know how to deal with it at all... My mom always used to ask me what was wrong and how I got all of the bruises across my legs and I just told her that I fell in the playground because I was far too embarrassed to talk about it” ("The Bullying Stories"). Aside from feeling isolated in a dark world, a common characteristic of cyberbullying victims is the feeling of mental irrationality or fear that they are acting over dramatic. As a result, these suffering individuals often deny confiding in a parent or peer, eventually bottling up all negative emotions. Consequently, by not verbally coping with others, victims regularly turn to suicide and self-harming behaviors as a getaway outlet from negativity.

Despite the immense negativity that swarms vast social media platforms and new developing technology, various individuals and groups are dedicated to educating schools and families in order to terminate this online bullying epidemic. Conducting assemblies and touring schools nationally as a motivational speaker, cyberbullying victim Natalie Farzaneh combats cyberbullying each day with aid from the Beat Bullying Association. After several agonizing months spent self-harming and suffering mentally, Natalie has found strength and rebuilt her confidence by helping others in order to persevere through her own adversities (Sawer). Repeatedly updated to ensure accurate statistics, the End to Cyberbullying Organization is an interactive webpage for parents and teenagers to use to find any needed information regarding cyberbullying prevention tips, information, news, and laws. For individuals seeking someone to communicate with, experienced psychiatric care professionals are available every hour of each day to communicate with any given individual via phone call or instant messaging ("What Is Our Mission?”). By staying on call for every minute of each day, the organization provides cyberbullying victims with a safe space to confide and seek advice no matter one’s current location or time zone. With professional help offered the entire day and night, the organization combats any chance of future adolescent deaths and self-harming behaviors that could very easily occur due to cyberbullying. By educating millions about cyberbullying, the non-profit hopes to terminate cyberbullying and bring forth a positive digital environment ("What Is Our Mission?”). Similarly, differing non-profit organizations are demonstrating global anti-bullying campaigns in order to prevent subsequent future suicides. Driven by extensive cyberbullying and constantly being targeted for her body image, Mallory Grossman committed suicide in June 2015. In order to raise awareness and foster positive digital citizenship worldwide, her parents Diane and Seth Grossman have initiated Mallory’s Army (“About Mallory”). Forever traumatized by the suicide of their young daughter, Dianne and Seth Grossman have generated an anti-cyberbullying campaign. From creating education video resources to touring school districts across the country, the Mallory’s Army Foundation has battled against all odds to promote positivity online. Differing from other non-profit organizations, Anti-bullying Pro runs a biweekly ambassador program in which cyberbullying victims join together to provide motivational speeches, cyber safety tips, and resourceful cyber videos for the Anti-bullying Pro home web page. Thus far, the organization has had success in working with thousands of students in primary and secondary schools and training over twenty-four thousand students as ambassadors ("Learn About Our Campaign").

Due to recent advancements of vast social media platforms and ultramodern state of art technology, online harassment and bullying have become a regularity. Driven by an affliction of cruelty and intimidation via the internet, adolescent suicides are becoming one of the world’s leading deaths. In order to prevent subsequent deaths and self-harming behaviors that cyberbullying victims experience, dozens of nonprofit organizations and strong-willed individuals are aiming towards creating a positive online environment that is stripped of any negativity. Through increased awareness and enforcement, it is possible that one day adolescents can live in a society free of online cruelty and enjoy all the benefits that modern technology offers.

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With immense gratitude, the Promly Team.

Alaina Stanisci

Laina (she/her/hers) is a senior in high school. In her spare time, you can find her on the soccer field, skiing and eating belgium waffles, or going on hikes with her dog Ella. As somebody with mental health experience, Laina wants to someday help others become the most authentic, happy, and genuine versions of themselves.