The Dangers of Social Media (Part 4)

It's easier to be cruel when you're hiding behind a computer screen.

This is the fourth and final article on the potential negative effects of social media. In this series, we have discussed cyberbullyinghow too much dependence on social media can impair a child’s ability to read face-to-face social cues, how electronic communication can lead to hurtful miscommunication, and how we can be impacted by the Facebook delusion. Today, we will explore social media bullying.

Cyberbullying occurs when someone uses social media in an aggressive, demeaning or harassing manner. The bullying can include critical comments, spreading rumors or threatening statements. Like other forms of bullying, it can create depression, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, social isolation and even suicide. Cyberbullying Hotline reports that 42% of teenagers with social media access report experiencing cyberbullying over the past year. They reported that 20% of cyberbullied kids have considered suicide because of the bullying, and 1 in 10 attempted it.

Unfortunately, bullying has always been a common experience of childhood and adolescence. The negative impact of bullying has always been tremendous. Social media, however, has added another element to the problem.

The fact that social media communication occurs without face-to-face contact makes bullying easier. The Cyberbullying Hotline survey indicated that 81% of teenagers say that bullying online is easier to get away with. Kids and adults will often say things online that they would never say face-to-face.

Throughout history, aggressors have dehumanized their victims, ignoring their individualization or common humanity. They conditioned themselves, or were taught, to perceive their enemy as less than human, making it easier to take away their basic human rights, including life itself. One example of this was the dehumanization of the Jews by the Nazis.

Social media accomplishes the same thing by eliminating face-to-face contact. You don’t have to look at the face of your victim when you bully them. You don’t have to see the hurt in their eyes. It’s a little like putting a hood on your victim before you execute them. You feel less restraint, guilt or remorse.

Cyberbullying can be quite vicious and devastating to its victims. There are sites where a teenager can upload her photo for feedback. The comments are more often critical and cruel than complementary or supportive. There are also many examples of teenagers actually urging another teen to commit suicide, saying the world would be better off without them. Unfortunately, they sometimes listen to the advice.

Of all the dangers of social media, cyberbullying is the worst. Parents need to monitor social media use of their children and adolescents, as best they can. Don’t be afraid to ask your child if they have been bullied online, and how it impacted them. Try to establish an open line of communication, where they will be more likely to talk to you about abuse. Don’t underestimate the dangers of social media.

I’m a psychologist, who helps people who have sustained self-esteem wounds from past negative experiences, overcome those wounds and experience a more positive self-worth, so they can live more joyful and satisfying lives.