By Megan Farnam.

If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If my bullying disappears, and there is no proof of it, can I get away with it?

Social media is a great way to connect, express yourself, and stay informed but is also a breeding ground for new forms of bullying. 84% of young adults aged 18-29 years-old are actively using social media and around half of them reported being a victim of some type of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying can be defined as the intentional use of new information technologies to engage in aggressive behavior to harm others. Types of cyberbullying can vary from threats, blackmail, spreading rumors, sharing pictures without consent, and many other ways of being mean and hurtful. Cyberbullying has serious negative effects on students including loss of self-esteem, depression, lowered academic performance, and drug/alcohol abuse.

In one study, college students conducted experiments to show how differently they might react if they knew that their posts or messages would not have digital permanence. The study showed that if students believed that their content was not permanent, or ephemeral, they felt that they could remain anonymous. Facebook and Instagram stories, Snapchat, and TikTok all have features where content is only accessible temporarily and then disappears. With the capability to remain anonymous these students were more likely to engage in some form of cyberbullying without the fear of consequences. Punishment by an authority figure, retaliation, or family/friend disapproval were the consequences that drove the most motivation to refrain from bullying, but if their bullying disappeared, they were more likely to engage.

Social media platforms have features built in that make it easier for users to be bullied with less of a chance of consequences for the bully. Having frequent conversations about bullying and what to do if or when it happens can help your child to feel more in control and less victimized. Your involvement in your child’s digital life is key to their success.

Digital parenting tips:

  • Monitor the social media sites, apps, and browsing history of your child
  • Stay up-to-date on the latest apps and social media platforms
  • Have open and frequent conversations to encourage a level of comfort and trust
  • Listen to your children to understand what has been going on and if they need your help

Conversation starters:

  • What social media platforms are you using?
  • Which social media platform do you believe is used for bullying more than others? Why?
  • Tell me what the concept of digital permanence means to you?
  • What would you do in the event you were being bullied online?


Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for our free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics. See more cyber safety and cyber ethics blogs produced exclusively for EarthLink. Looking for a social media parental control? Try a 30-day free trial of Bark. If you sign up after your trial, Bark donates 25% of your monthly fee to Savvy Cyber Kids.

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