Facebook’s decision to launch a cyber-bullying prevention hub will let teens report to an adult when they feel bullied on the site. Social networking sites and other technology like texting give bullies many tools to harass and abuse their victims. Worse, they enable bullying at any time of the day or night, even if the victim and bully are not physically together.
As my colleagues and I discovered in a study we released earlier this fall on cyber dating abuse and bullying, one in six youth reported being victims of cyber bullying in the prior year, and more than one in three reported being victims of physical and/or psychological bullying. Although reports of traditional bullying victimization continue to outnumber those of cyber bullying, as more and more youth gain access to new technology, high-speed Internet, and social networking websites, they may face an increased risk of cyber bullying.
We found that girls were twice as likely as boys to report cyber bullying, and youth who identified as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender reported the highest rate of cyber bulling.
About one out of six bullying victims sought help, with half as many boys as girls seeking help. These youth are most likely to go to their parents and friends, though more than a third also turned to school counselors and teachers. Adults play an important role as a first responder to address and ultimately rectify any bullying that their child/student might be experiencing.
Facebook’s cyber bullying prevention hub is a great first step to addressing cyber bullying occurring on social networking sites. But more can be done. (Full disclosure: Marne Levine, Facebook's vice president for global public policy, serves on Urban Institute's Board of Trustees.) As more schools equip students with laptops and tablets, educators will need to train youth on how to use technology to block screen names, apply filters to certain websites, and take other protective measures to protect themselves from bullies and perpetrators of cyber dating abuse.
Additionally, while our study focused on how technology makes youth vulnerable to victimization and abuse, such technology may also be an opportunity for prevention and intervention efforts around bullying issues. Social networking sites can be used as a platform for public health prevention messages by spreading awareness about cyber bullying, ways to get help, and ways to prevent it. Technology also can be used to report incidences of teen dating violence and bullying—whether directly by the victim, a bystander, or a peer. For example, bystanders and peers could text eyewitness reports anonymously to school officials, similar to how texts can be sent to police anonymously whenever someone witnesses a crime.
Facebook is the first social networking website to take a proactive step in addressing cyber-bullying, and will hopefully serve as a positive example for other social networking websites to address what is becoming an all-too-common form of abuse and harassment.
Illustration by Tim Meko, Urban Institute. Source images from Shutterstock