Cyberbullying as a Serious Risk of Using Social Media

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According to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, approximately 3 out of 4 Canadians are spending 3 to 4 hours online every day. Canadians use different devices to stay connected, for example 51% use a laptop or desktop, 34% use a cellphone, 14% use a tablet, 1% use a smart TV, and less than 1% use a voiced control device. Nowadays, it is almost impossible to find someone who is not on social media. For instance, Statistics Canada indicates that in 2018, 91% of Canadians used the Internet, and 75% of them are active social media users. Social networks meet a set of people’s individual needs and gives them a sense of belonging to a group. In the past, those needs used to be fulfilled through face-to-face interactions. Statistics Canada states that 81% of Canadians used social media to keep up with the activities of friends and family, 80% to communicate with friends or family, 57% to share posts with friends and family, and 25% to share posts publicly. On the one hand, the development of social networks has positively impacted society on various aspects of life, particularly adolescents and young adults. Close explains that social media serves as a tool for adolescents because it lets them experiment with their identities by sharing personal information, such as thoughts, feelings, and preferences. The needs they have for communication, support, and entertainment are satisfied by its use. Likewise, the needs to make themselves visible, to reaffirm their identity, and to have fun or to simply be connected with their peers, which are necessities that are essential at this stage of life. On the other hand, an inappropriate use of social media can be detrimental to the health of its users, who are mostly teenagers and young adults. To give an example, in Canada, 35% of social media users stayed online longer than anticipated, 20% reported less physical activity because of their use of social media, and 12% felt envious of the lives of others. The uncontrolled use of social media platforms are harming the well-being of the new generations because it can lead to the development of mental health issues, it can cause isolation, and it exposes them to online predators.

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Social Media makes teenagers aspire to be perfect, and those unrealistic expectations are damaging their mental health. As an illustration, Sidani et al.  have proven that there is an important association between social media and the desire among teenagers and young adults to fit into a beauty standard, and that these expectations they have for their appearance contribute to the development of eating disorders. His study shows that social networks that are currently available on the internet, although they are not the reason why eating disorders originate, they aggravate and propagate eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, and girls tend to be the most affected ones interviewed 1765 young adults from the United States of America. Sidani and his colleagues confirm that the more frequent and the longer periods of time participants used social media, the greater odds participants had of having eating concerns. Social media overuse has also been linked to sleep disturbance. Another study on social media and sleep cycles, completed by over 1,700 American young adults found that those who reported poorer sleep quality, where those who used social networks during the last 30 minutes before bed. This study stresses how crucial it is to spend those last 30 minutes before bed technology-free in order to have a restful sleep, particularly those who most need it: teenagers. In 2015, a research collected data from adolescents between 13 to 18 years old about the benefits and the challenges of social media. The findings of this study agree with Sidani’s results, and confirms that the use of social media may cause a change in sleep cycles. Additionally, this research points out that teenagers who leave cellphones on and in their bedroom at night, are the ones who experience sleep disturbance. Also, the lack of sleep causes a negative impact on academic performance, but it is also related to depressive symptoms in teenagers. Furthermore, another serious risk of using social media is that the interactions are sometimes hostile and aggressive, and cyberbullying is one of them. Miner says that some of the examples that researchers include in the definition of cyberbullying are name-calling, using hate speech or hurtful remarks, spreading gossip and rumors, making threats or sexual comments, or sharing images, videos or personal information without consent. In 2018, Ipsos conducted a total of 20,793 interviews between March and April. The participants were parents aged 16 to 64 years old from 28 countries of the world. As reported by Ipsos, cyberbullying affects 17% of the families worldwide, and the victims are school-aged children who are harassed online by other students. For instance, cyberbullying done by a classmate is most prevalent in Great Britain (74%), followed by Canada (68%), and South Africa (67%).

 Moreover, “social media is the most common platform for cyberbullying online” (p. 6). Cyberbullying is a universal problem of great incidence: 1 out of 5 parents in the world admits that at least one of their children has suffered from cyberbullying at some point. On top of that, the study shows that Peru (80%), Argentina (74%), and Mexico (73%) have the highest levels of social media cyberbullying; Canada is on the list with a 68%. According to Ipsos (2018), the awareness of cyberbullying is increasing, however, 25% of the parents that were interviewed have never heard about it. The country with the lowest awareness is Saudi Arabia (63%), followed by France (50%), and Japan (44%). Miner (2019) emphasizes that cyberbullying is more intense than traditional bullying because it is harder for the victims to avoid the perpetrators, and harassment happens quickly and spreads widely, which makes the experience very traumatic. The author suggests that there is a relationship between cyberbullying, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. In addition, cyberbullying is correlated with reduced academic achievement, and increased school absence rates. Similarly indicates that there is also a correlation between social networks, anxiety, and addictions.

Fhatima and colleagues used a self-administered questionnaire that was distributed through an online link, and the participants were 100 students belonging to 17-25 age groups. The research found that 57% of the participants used social media for entertainment. Next, 47% of the participants used social media for more than 8 hours daily, and 46% used at least three social media sites. Last but not least, 40% of the participants reported feelings of anxiety when they were not able to use the sites, and they also noticed that the overuse of social networks caused them a low self-esteem, and mood changes. For example some said that they were overreacting or worrying about situations without any reason. The results confirm the existence of a correlation between social media and anxiety, and that the uncontrolled use of these sites are causing addictiveness, which affects the mental health of its users significantly. In brief, the studies strengthen the position that social networks can be dangerous to the well-being of the new generations, because it impacts their body image, sleep hours, and mental health. It also makes it easier for bullies to target their victims. The studies also agree that it is not necessary to completely suspend the use of social networks, but to use it for a limited amount of time that will not affect the health of it users, especially adolescents, because they are in a critical age where they are still developing their personality.

Secondly, new generations are replacing real-world relationships with electronic communication, particularly social media. A recent study says that the reason why these new generations are so different from others is because of the way teenagers are spending their free time, and it explains that face-to-face social interactions are declining as digital media use increases. The research collected data between 1970 – 2017 from adolescents and university students, in the United States of America. The number of participants was 8.2 million. In 2012, 26% high school students reported feeling isolates, and in 2017, the number increased to 39%. However, the number of participants that spend their leisure time out with friends decreased. In 1970, 52% spent their spare time socializing face-to-face with friends, but in 2017, only 27% did that. Those who use social media to interact with friends, are those who also reported to experience loneliness the most. In 2016, another study about the association between positive and negative experiences on social media and isolation, recruited over a 1,000 students to participate in an online questionnaire. The results confirmed that every 10% increase in negative experiences was linked with a 13% increase in odd of perceived social isolation. Consequently, negative experiences on social media are associated to higher isolation. These findings reveal that even though new generations seems to be more connected thanks to social media sites, they are increasingly isolated from their peers and family.

Lastly, there are certain characteristics and behaviors that increase the risk of suffering internet-initiated sex crimes when using social media. Miner says that during the grooming process, predators will identify what a child needs and try to fill that need. Usually, they obtain that information about the child from social media. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine reported some of the most typical online risk behaviors and the percentage of youths engaging in risk behaviour, and they are posting personal information online (56%), interacting online with unknown people (43%), having unknown people on a friend list (35%), sending personal information to unknown people met online (26%), talking online to unknown people about sex (5%) (as cited in Miner, 2019). Another research about the use of social platforms by sex offenders, and how social media puts youth at risk, explains that Internet-facilitated sex crimes “vary from exchange of child pornography, to locating potential victims for abuse, engaging in inappropriate sexual communication, or corresponding with other individuals with a sexual interest in children” and says that these crimes are increasing in frequency. The author also found that social networks were used to initiate relationships, to communicate with the victims, and to access personal information about them. Fortunately, in 2014, a survey by the Net Children Go Mobile project found that there was a decrease in children making online contact with strangers. These findings hypothesized that children are more aware of the risks posed by strangers online. For these reasons, sharing personal information in social media increases the chances of becoming a victim of this type of crime, because the majority of the reports about these incidents started on social media sites.

According to Statista, the number of social network users in Canada keeps increasing every year, for example, last year it was 25.3 million, and this year it is 25.6 million. The most popular site worldwide as of October 2019 is Facebook. However, Instagram is the most used social media site among Canadian teenagers. Statistic Canada says that 93% of teenagers use social media daily. As a consequence, it is necessary that these new generations know about making safe internet choices. Overuse of devices are a bigger problem than most people are aware of. Teenagers and young adults use social media as an alternative, because they do not have an active nor effective communication with their parents, family members or friends.

 An excessive use of social media is harmful, and there is evidence that they cause isolation, loneliness, and mental health problems, such as: depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and sleep disturbance. Technology is shaping the new generations, and the complete dominance of social media among teenagers is affecting their lives, from their social interactions to their mental health.

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