Bullying is nothing new. It’s been a common experience for students on the playground and at school. In the past, it’s been easy to physically get away from a bully when a student goes home after school or on the weekends.
However, now that many students get a smartphone as early as elementary school and middle school, cyberbullying is something they can’t get away from so easily. Cyberbullying can be a constant barrage of comments inducing anxiety that is always in the student’s back pocket (and in some cases, can be next to their bed as they sleep).
Also, bullying doesn’t just happen in a direct fashion anymore. Some students can experience the fear of missing out (FOMO) when they see their friends at a place together and notice that they weren’t invited. In addition, some students will cause drama by directing negative comments toward another person who’s in the same group chat.
There are lots of ways that cyberbullying may happen to students. Here are five places it might happen the most in 2022:
Students of all ages use Snapchat to message each other and keep up with what’s going on. Because of the disappearing nature of the content, students tell us they feel comfortable sharing fun experiences in their story and in group chats. However, Snapchat lets you start a group chat with up to 100 friends, and this can be a prime place for some students to bully others. Because the content disappears, this can be difficult for a student to show an adult, as a screen capture/screenshot will alert the sender that the bully recipient captured the data.
Check out our complete guide to the 360+ emojis and hashtags students often use in Snapchat.
Instagram is wildly popular with students because it offers so many features. In 2019, Instagram adopted many of Snapchat’s “story” features and created a place where students could post videos and photos that disappear in 24 hours. Instagram updated its DM (direct message) feature by implementing a “vanishing” mode that will erase all of the messages after both parties see the message. Some students have been known to bully others in this direct message fashion. Because the content will disappear, the recipient might not be able to screenshot the bully message in time to show an adult.
In schools all over the country, there are “fake Instagrams” (aka Finstagrams) that pop up on campus. These fake Instagram accounts usually make fun of a teacher, admin, or other students at school, and some of them spread false rumors about students. Many parents are shocked at how easy it is for a student to create a second Instagram account on their phone and start tagging many of their friends to get more than 100 followers in less than a day. These Instagram accounts often will make fun of a student and can be devastating because it’s out there for all of their peers to see. Schools and districts find the fake accounts especially difficult since this causes a lot of distractions on campus and keeps students from focusing on their school activities.
- Group Text Messaging
Text messaging (SMS) is perhaps the most-used app by students. Similar to other group messaging platforms, some students bully in a direct text manner, but others feel the need to bully in a text message group. This is especially hurtful because many students worry about how they might look to others in the group—and some might screenshot the conversation to send around the school. Some students send upwards of 100 text messages per day and are constantly being notified of new messages. Many students tell us that they feel the need to read and respond to the text message immediately (unlike email or snail mail). This addiction keeps them glued to the screen and makes each message a priority.
WhatsApp (owned by Meta/Facebook) is one of the most popular messaging apps in the world. Many predators and spambots will use it to message people to start a conversation. Sometimes these messages will start off very complimentary and the stranger will try and befriend the student. After a lot of compliments and back-and-forth, the stranger will try and get the student to send an inappropriate photo. To get more photos, the stranger (or predator) might begin to belittle the student and bully them into sending more photos. This happens on many apps, but on WhatsApp, it can pressure a student since they are told by the sender that they will contact their family. This type of bullying is sometimes called sextortion and can lead a student to act differently.
For a complete list of 130+ apps students may use, visit Smart Social’s popular teen app list.
Regardless of what social media app a student is on, there is a chance they can be bullied by people they know individually, in groups, or by strangers. Parents and educators need to keep an eye out if the student’s behavior changes and remind students that they can always come to an adult for help.
Josh Ochs is the founder of SmartSocial.com and the author of the book series “Light, Bright and Polite.” His team’s videos teach over one million students and parents how to be safe on social media so they can shine online.