The development of information and communication technology has resulted in significant advancements, notable among these being the birth of social media. With rapid mobile technology development, the growth of social media has been accelerated and become one of the most modern forms of communication (Van Dijck). The mobile phone is now used for internet access more than computers are used. Social interactions have literally moved to the various social media platforms in the recent past. But with this development comes many questions on the impacts of these sites on the society. How has social media benefited the community? Has it affected positively or negatively the social relationships? The other question we should be asking ourselves is whether the use of social media should be regulated or not. How would these regulations or lack of them shape the impacts it has on the society. Answering these questions and narrowing down to specific issues would help the society understand how social media has and continues to impact on the society.
The development of social media has seen the coming up of various social media platforms with Facebook being the most popular among them. Other popular social media platforms include Twitter, Instagram, Google+, YouTube, WhatsApp, and LinkedIn among others. Billions of people are connected directly or indirectly through these platforms (Shrum, 76). The society uses social media in almost every part of their lives including interpersonal relationships, educational purposes, entertainment, business and work among others. It has almost become an essential component of human life in today’s society. This has made life a little easier for individuals across the globe as all they need is accessible at the fingertips (Van Dijck). However, these sites have also seen the advancement of online criminal activities. Some of the most common crimes committed on social media include scams, cyber bullying, stalking, identification of robbery targets, defamation, theft of identity and harassment in various forms among other crimes. This has elicited debate on the societal impacts of social media. This paper will look at the rising cases of cyberbullying as and how it has impacted on the society.
The developers of the internet which gave birth to social media might have had great intention with their development. But what they never foresaw was the issue of cyberbullying through the web and in particular among the youth mainly the teenagers. Cyberbullying could be defined as threatening, tormenting, harassing, embarrassment, humiliation or otherwise targeted at an individual by another person or a group of persons through the use of the internet (Shaw and Larry, 161). This vice is more common among the teens and has prompted researchers to dig deeper into the issue since it gained popularity and began a rapid growth across the globe. Cyberbullying takes place towards an individual repeatedly resulting in hostility and abuse. This continued bullying can build up to the extent that a teen is unable to find ways of stopping it. The consequences have been to the extreme with cases of teenagers taking their lives because of this form of bullying. Teenage being a very delicate stage in a person’s life puts these individuals in the most vulnerable position for adverse effects of cyberbullying.
According to Slonje and Peter (150), over 50% of the adolescent population have gone through one or more forms of bullying over the internet. This type of internet bullying can lead to depression, anxiety as well as the suicide as mentioned earlier. Anxiety and depression contribute to changing the behavior of these teenagers resulting in them becoming violent, sinking into drug abuse as well as eroding their morality. This is detrimental to the societal wellbeing as the society has to grapple with the problem of finding solutions to the growing moral decadence. With the non-forgetting nature of the internet, the pain caused by cyberbullying rarely goes away as the scenes keep reoccurring. The people involved in bullying others, however, think they are having fun in hurting and harming others, and it is ok, according to them to bully others, when in the real sense it is not. The effects of this form of bullying cannot be taken lightly since it damages the future of society. The actions involved in bullying come with a ray of psychological impacts on an individual that could result in an emotional breakdown, mental malfunction as well as physical effects on the body system. Children who undergo cyberbullying on social media will probably grow into shy individuals with very low self-esteem, they could become fearful and remain solitary hence a depressed adult population (Shrum, 81). These people develop trust issues and tend to trust very few people, or no one at all hence has problems establishing relationships with members of the society. This results in a broken society as a whole.
On top of the bigger issue of teens carrying out cyberbullying, another significant aspect is the communication happening between the bullied individual and the authorities, parent and other figures in their lives. King, (845) writes that almost three-quarters of the teens undergoing bullying do not come out when cyberbullying are taking place. These youth are not comfortable with opening up to parents or the authorities about what they are experiencing on social media. This complicates the situation further as they are unable to receive help in real time and hence letting the problem escalate to unredeemable heights. This, according to Shaw and Larry (169) can be attributed to the fear of losing the privileges these teens have online. Researchers have shown that less than 1 out of 5 cases of cyber bullying are reported to the relevant authorities. This vice is one that is not going to stop anytime soon and while we look at the problem itself, we should also explore all its angles with a view of understanding it better. This is because almost 20% of the youth are experiencing cyberbullying on a regular basis.
The other significant aspect of cyberbullying is the level of accessibility of the communication devices used for social media by these teenagers. Cell phones, for example, is used by over 70% of teens and this makes it the most popular technological device used by the teenagers (Shaw and Larry, 161). This makes it the most common cyberbullying medium across the globe. The rising use of mobile phones by teenagers has drastically increased over the years, and this translates to the growing use of social media among the teens. This popularity of social media among the young has boosted the spread of cyberbullying among these individuals since it provides a comfortable and conducive environment for online bullying to occur. This is on top of the availability of computers in many of the household and without restrictions in use by the teens. The fact that social media does not have the ability to establish the actual identity of the individuals creating user profiles complicates this further. It is possible for a bully to create a profile that is not necessarily bearing their identity and use it to bully fellow teenagers. This creates a faceless individual carrying out these attacks on their victim with the victim not able to know exactly who is behind their predicaments. This encourages the bullying since the perpetrators are assured of their anonymity and hence heighten their bullying activities.
So how can we control this vice? Or rather, what are the relevant players doing to eradicate or at least minimize the effects of cyberbullying? Different debates have put the responsibility on various components of the society. Some have claimed that the police should be responsible, others put the responsibility on parents while some places it in the schools. But with no laws prohibiting the use of social media to bully others, there is almost nothing the police can do about the problem. Currently, the American Congress is looking at a bill geared towards the prevention of cybercrimes which include cyber bullying. The bill intends to make communication through electronic devices designed to harass, intimidate or coerce another individual, a federal offense. This, in my opinion, is a significant step towards the right direction. Statutes have been established in several states across the United States with the view of solving the problem of internet bullying. From a legal perspective, schools have not had the powers to punish students involved in bullying that occurred outside the school. However, different courts of justice have recently made rulings that support principals who have punished students who bully others online. King (845) agrees that school administrators have the authority as well as the responsibility of protecting school-going teenagers from bullying. This, therefore, discourages the timid approach the managers have employed in the past which has seen bullying thrive in schools. Many social media platforms have also taken the lead in the fight against cyberbullying. Social media sites such as Facebook, for instance, have made it easier for the users to report incidences of abuse on their website. The increased options for security on the social media platforms are a great milestone in the fight against cybercrimes with bullying among the major internet crimes. This will help improve the interaction experiences for the users, especially the teens who are using these communication forums.
It is therefore important for the society to come to terms with the fact that cyberbullying through social media is causing trouble to the youth across the globe. It is causing the young people to sink into depression, raises their anxiety levels as well as causing deaths of the teens through suicide. Teenagers view themselves as untouchables once they get behind their handsets or computers as they feel their anonymity is guaranteed. Schools should be on high alert for cases of cyberbullying even though it would be difficult to take any action if the bullying occurs outside the boundaries of the school. Further research, therefore, needs to be done to establish the most efficient ways through which social media use among teenagers could be controlled to ensure reduction of the consequences of cyberbullying. This is because with the dynamic nature of technology, there is no doubt that cyberbullying could continue getting worse and hence this calls for drastic actions to stem the issue.
- Van Dijck, José. The culture of connectivity: A critical history of social media. Oxford University Press, 2013.
- Shrum, Larry J. “Media consumption and perceptions of social reality: Effects and underlying processes.” Media effects: Advances in theory and research 2 (2002): 69-95.
- Shaw, Lindsay H., and Larry M. Gant. “In defense of the Internet: The relationship between Internet communication and depression, loneliness, self-esteem, and perceived social support.” Cyberpsychology & behavior 5.2 (2002): 157-171.
- Slonje, Robert, and Peter K. Smith. “Cyberbullying: Another main type of bullying?.” Scandinavian journal of psychology 49.2 (2008): 147-154.
- King, Alison Virginia. “Constitutionality of cyberbullying laws: Keeping the online playground safe for both teens and free speech.” Vand. L. Rev. 63 (2010): 845.