Friday, October 2nd, 2015

Abusing Anonymity: How Teens Use Apps to Cyberbully Peers

Posted by Rachael Ballard Filed under: Bullying, Internet Safety

School bullying, which used to take place just on school property or on the bus, is now following students home as bullying migrates from the blacktop to the laptop. According to a study Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project conducted in 2011, 90 percent of teens have witnessed cruel or bullying behavior on social media networks.

Cyberbullying provides students with unprecedented anonymity – which makes bullying easier to start and spread. There are more and more social networks and apps popping up that help place a veil over a user’s true identity.

For instance, Truth assigns each user a random username and avatar. Using this identity, the user can send a message – called a “truth” – to anyone in his or her phone’s contact list anonymously. If the receiver is also a Truth user, the “truth” will appear in the app’s inbox. If they are not a user, they will receive a text message with a preview of the “truth” and a prompt for the recipient to download the app.

Although these apps may have been created with the idea that anonymity could aid in the sharing of honest and vulnerable thoughts, it isn’t always used that way. Secret was created so users could post their deepest thoughts and funny confessions anonymously for fellow users to read. Users were mostly elite young professionals (not teens) and were not necessarily bullying one another, but the app creator shut it down just 16 months after it launched because he felt that users were abusing their anonymity.

In a blog post announcing his decision, founder David Byttow described anonymity as a “great device” for “honest, open communication and creative expression.” He also referred to it as “the ultimate double-edged sword, which must be wielded with great respect and care.”

The reality of the matter is this: most teens, especially those using anonymous messaging apps, do not have the great respect and care that Byttow said is necessary for these anonymous apps to function as originally intended.

So what can you do?

  • Stay updated on the newest social media networks and apps that students are using. Mashable is a great source for this. Also, Gaggle continuously updates a list of new apps and their uses here.
  • Prove to your students that you are a trustworthy adult. When they are experiencing bullying or cyberbullying, they should report it.
  • Implement a bullying prevention program, like WORKS’ Student Bullying & Violence Prevention Program (SBVPP).
  • Teach your students the aspects behind digital citizenship and help them understand they are responsible for everything they post online.

Have any other suggestions? Comment below!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *