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Ways We Bully on Social Media–And Don’t Even Know It

Ways We Bully on Social Media--And Don't Even Know It

By Whitney Fleming of Playdates on Fridays

“Everyone is somebody’s daughter; everyone is somebody’s son.”

My Facebookaversary is coming up soon. Yep, I’ve been wasting time in the black hole of the Internet for nearly thousands of days and loving every second of it.

But it hasn’t all been sunshine and unicorns. There are many times when I take a quick peek at Facebook while waiting in the pick-up line, and I read a status update or comment on a post that leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Or worse, makes me feel a little dirty for reading information that I probably shouldn’t know.

But we’re adults, right? No harm, no foul.

I recently read an article about a bill that passed in New Jersey that would require all middle schoolers to take a class on how to use social media responsibly. The bill (A3292), which passed 37-2, would require school districts to instruct sixth through eighth graders on “cyber safety, cyber security, and cyber ethics” on social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

I say hallelujah! And can you make parents take it, too?

Social media can be fun. It gives us a way to connect on-the-fly. It offers us an opportunity to share photos, gather information, and keep tabs on “important life events.”

It also gives us a platform to do things we normally wouldn’t do or say in real life — things that would mortify us if our children did them.

Cyber bullying is when a person or a group of people uses the internet, email, online games or any other kind of digital technology to threaten, tease, upset or humiliate someone else. It’s the last one that gets most of us. Humiliate. We do it without even thinking, sometimes without even knowing we’re doing it.

Don’t think I’m judging you because I’m writing this; I have done it. I’ve laughed and ridiculed and snickered at a photo without thinking about it. Because who is getting hurt, right? I’m doing it in the privacy of my own iPhone. I won’t hit “like” or “share.” Well, maybe I’ll show it to my husband later, but that’s not the same. Or I’ll pull it up and show it to my friend at soccer practice. And I can’t help it if she shares it, right?

What we say and do on Facebook (and every other social media platform) matters, especially as parents. Facebook isn’t always just an opportunity to connect with friends; instead it’s an extension of our personal life. A megaphone to our outside world. And more people than those on our friends list are listening.

Here are three things that may make you a Facebook bully without even knowing it:

1. Posting embarrassing photos of people you do not know.

In today’s iEverything age, a person can snap a photo in a millisecond without the target even knowing. It’s a picture of an overweight woman’s butt crack sitting on the bleacher in front of you; it’s a photo of a woman in a too-revealing dress; it’s a snapshot of an executive who fell asleep on the subway with drool coming out of his mouth; it’s a video of a man who has had too much to drink. We’ve all seen these images and laughed and thought nothing of it.

But here’s the thing, and there is no getting around it: Those pictures live forever, and regardless of your privacy settings, they can be shared and spread like wildfire. And they are humiliating to the — wait for it — victim. Because that’s what a person is who unwillingly gets subjected to ridicule on your feed.

Imagine for just a second it were you in those photos. If that doesn’t get you, how about if it were your son or daughter?

2. Public Outings/Shaming.

To better promote my blog, I have joined a ton of “private” groups on Facebook. It is great networking, and I have learned a lot from other, more experienced writers. It’s been a very positive experience. Until the time I saw a sweet mommy blogger publicly call out another woman for being deceitful and shady. But don’t worry. The post was only shown to the private group – of approximately 2,000 peers.

It was an incredibly uncomfortable situation for everyone witnessing it. My inbox pinged with messages saying, “Can you believe she just did that?” and “Wow, I’m so embarrassed for them both!”

The “victim” in this situation, a woman who felt wronged, felt she was performing a goodwill gesture — her civic duty per se — by informing us all of this private dispute. While a few people engaged, I gathered it was as uncomfortable for the rest of the group as it was for me. It was like driving by a fender bender. There was nothing to see, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.

Social media is feeding our narcissism, fueling our ego and compelling us to “act” like public crusaders, even when there is no need. Exposing private information with the intent to instigate others is a blatant form of harassment. Some would argue that it is no different than sharing your bad shopping experience with friends, except what you put on the Internet never goes away. A public “outing” on Facebook can be far more permanent than even a scarlet letter, which at least could be covered.

Now, this woman’s story may have been completely accurate. Maybe she was cheated by this blogger, and maybe she had every right to be upset; but the other woman also has rights, and the other woman also has children, relatives and friends who are on Facebook, many of whom came to her defense. I was relieved when the admin took the post down and put the perpetrators in Facebook time out, but the damage was already done.

It is easy to tell ourselves that we are doing something in the name of the greater good, but publicly outing someone — and then trying to shame them — is not the example we should set for our kids.

To put it in a parenting context, suppose your toddler had bad judgment at day care one day. He bit a girl when she stole his favorite Lego. Then imagine a parent posting a photo of the bite mark with your son’s mug shot side-by-side with the status update, “This kid is a biter. You have been warned.”

Most of us would be outraged. Let that sink in for a second.

When we expose other people’s mistakes — and even their blatant wrongdoings — on Facebook, we make ourselves feel better, but that shouldn’t be confused with making a difference. And don’t be surprised when someone else — someone with a wider net — strikes back. It is a never-ending circle of negativity.

3. Posting about people who annoy you.

This is the one I am the most guilty of doing. “Dear guy who was tooting on the treadmill next to me” or “To the mom not watching her kids at Chik-Fil-A” are some of my best updates that get the greatest amount of likes.

But then one day my youngest daughter happened to see my open Facebook page when I jumped up to get my cell phone. I had just posted a witty status update about the way the oil change guy spoke to me in a condescending way when she looked up at me with those big blue eyes and said, “Mom, I thought he was nice. He gave me a lollipop.”

Ouch.

I realized in that moment that I was the one being catty and judgmental cowardly. And condescending. I would NEVER acknowledge these issues in public, so why would I say them on Facebook? To get a laugh? To get a thumbs up?

Rule of “thumb”: If you would be embarrassed if the person you posted about actually read your post, then you probably shouldn’t write it. And that goes double if you would be mortified if your kid read it.

Some studies have shown that Facebook can actually be good for you, producing a natural high that leads to relaxed heart rates and lower levels of stress and tension. When used for good and not evil, it can even boost self-esteem. The findings support the researchers’ hypothesis that Facebook’s success, as well as that of other social media networks, correlates to the specific positive mental and physical state users experience.

So think before you post. Keep it positive and keep it personal — and nobody gets hurt.

This post was originally published on Playdates on Fridays

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About the Author

Whitney Fleming is a marketing consultant and freelance writer. She blogs about family, relationships and w(h)ine at Playdates on Fridays. Her work has appeared on Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, In the Powder Room, and Coffee + Crumbs, among others. You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter.