While the internet has its roots in decades that ended before many of us were born, social media is a relatively recent thing, appearing around the time of the Millenium. In fact, SixDegrees.com, widely considered the first true social media platform, only emerged in 1997, closely followed by MySpace in 2003 and Facebook in 2004. Of course, we all know what happened next.
Sadly, there’s a growing body of evidence that suggests that social media is not good for our wellbeing. An infographic created by ExpressVPN notes that cyberbullying is just one of the issues people are exposed to on sites like Snapchat and Facebook, with a potential “creep factor” that includes stalking, harassment, and physical threats. As many as 8 in 10 young Indians have experienced this kind of bullying online.
For anybody in such a scenario, it can be difficult to see any progress toward reducing the threat of cyberbullying. Conflicting evidence suggests that homeworking and homeschooling both increase and decrease incidences of online harassment, a rather unhelpful conclusion that hints at the complexities of the wider problem. In any case, cyberbullying doesn’t seem to be going away – but why?
The obvious answer is that, courtesy of social media, everybody can be connected to everybody else at all times, and relationships from work (for example) can spill over into our personal lives. This means that the careful use of security settings and reduced screen time can be the only barrier to cyberbullying. Unfortunately, this creates a bit of a moral quandary. Asking people to change their normal behaviour to avoid bullying shifts the blame from the attacker to the victim, per Civic Issues.
The upside is that people interested in securing themselves do have a lot of resources at their disposal. The ExpressVPN infographic mentioned earlier includes eight different ways that social media can be made safer, including the removal of location data, the use of multiple accounts, and enabling prior approval on tags. Facebook has made its security settings a lot more granular recently, too.
For people who are already suffering, a solution can seem like an impossibility. The most important thing to do is to avoid retaliation or engagement with a bully, and ensure that you have any correspondence saved and backed up. You should also get in touch with the social media platform in question, as there may be additional resources available to you behind the scenes.
Is bullying just the solitary downside of a useful invention, though? The answer seems to be no. A study published in the Computers in Human Behavior journal revealed that Facebook produces different emotions in users than the wider internet does. This piece of research, by Sagioglou and Greitemeyer, also revealed that the lure of social media is paradoxical – we use it to feel better yet it almost invariably makes us feel worse.
Social media can be a safe and rewarding place to connect with friends and find new information. However, it’s important to be mindful of what information you regularly share online.