I'm sure you've known at least one person in your life - maybe even yourself - who was bullied when they were younger. I wasn’t alive before the Internet and social media emerged the way we know it now, but from what I’ve seen in movies, I can tell you bullying has changed over time. When our parents were our age, they were more likely to be bullied physically by kids they knew. This still occurs, but kids our age are much more likely to be victims of what we know as cyberbullying.
Even though having an anonymous person insult or harass you sounds better than having an actual person threaten to punch you in the face, I can assure you it isn’t true. In fact, it can even be worse. StopBullying.gov published some surveys that have actually proved that most teens consider cyberbullying to be worse than face-to-face bullying. Cyberbullying isn’t just something that happens in school or at recess, it’s an awful way to harass a person all the time, no matter when or where.
One of the main factors in the increase in cyberbullying is the fact that bullying someone face-to-face can be harder than attacking the victim online: everyone knows about it, people judge you, and you might even feel afraid of possible consequences. On the other hand, when you're behind a screen you feel stronger and safer. Studies show that 90% of the time the victim knows who the bully is, but they can’t prove it since trolls tend to use fake accounts or message anonymously. This allows the bully to feel less worried about getting caught.
The ability to hide behind anonymity may be why antisocial or more introverted people tend to have better connections online than in real life. They may feel less anxiety and feel that they’re in a more comfortable, controlled environment. Unfortunately, in the case of trolls and others who enjoy being abusive online, this anonymity gives them a sense of omnipotence - that there will be no consequences.
Some apps don't allow you to have an anonymous account, but there’s a way around this: just create a fake account, known in the social media world as “catfishing.” This is just one more example of the devious lengths to which trolls will go to attack their victims. Even on apps that don’t really facilitate anonymity, like Instagram or Snapchat, they can still remain incognito by using the disappearing stories or pictures they both permit for example.
On the other hand, some apps let the user be completely anonymous if they so choose. I had an account with Ask.fm when I was about fifteen for a while and I recall getting lots of mean anonymous messages. I didn't worry too much about it because, sadly it was considered normal, something that happened to everyone. My friends and I would read the nasty messages we received to each other and laugh about it, but deep down it kind of hurt us.
I remember one of my friends getting insulted for her makeup constantly, which led to her becoming really self-conscious; she stopped wearing makeup, stopped wanting to talk about makeup, and even stopped buying those products.
I know this isn't necessarily one of the worst cases of cyberbullying on record, but the point I want to get across is that even if I didn't really let it affect me, it did affect some of my friends to the point where they wanted to stop being themselves. And when it comes to cyberbullying, trolls obviously don't only lurk on ask.fm, you can find them anywhere.
I remember a friend of mine crying in class because she was being cyberbullied big time. The bully was using the disappearing snapchat pictures to send her threats and harass her simply for fun. If that wasn't enough, the troll also located where she lived thanks to the SnapMap and threatened to meet her in front of her house to apparently beat her up. Luckily it didn't happen, since many cyberbullies tend to be tough and intimidating only when hiding behind a screen, but it was still very upsetting.
When it comes to myself, I've been cyberbullied too. Besides the nasty comments I've received on Ask.fm, I've also gotten bullied on apps that are considered somewhat safe like Instagram. It happened on my art account; a stranger messaged me and asked for a shoutout, I agreed since their account had about 20k followers and maybe getting a shoutout back would have been good for my art account as well. But after I posted my shout-out for this total stranger, and asked for them to post one for me, they replied with really nasty messages about my art and myself for no apparent reason. I brushed it off and blocked the account, but then a new account messaged me and started in with the insults. The owner was saying really rude things and it hurt my feelings, so I blocked them as well. Finally, the account found my personal page and started threatening me. I got scared and blocked the page and made myself private.
For a long time, I wondered why anyone would decide to attack me for no reason, I hadn't done anything to anyone that should have warranted this kind of attack. But the truth is that many cyberbullies attack their victims just to feel powerful, for no reason at all. And by the way, to this day I still don't know who the troll was since the page didn't reveal the person behind it, but I honestly don't really care.
But just because I don’t care doesn’t mean everyone else is like me, it’s pretty obvious that it affects many teens every single day and leads to depression, anxiety and even suicide. So just like “traditional” bullying, cyberbullying should be addressed and become a concern for everyone with or without social media.