How Has Social Media Influenced Bullying on Campus?

Posted by Josh Young on 23 March 2017 |

campus social media bullyingAccording to the Pew Research Center, 92 percent of teens go online daily, with 24 percent stating that they are online "almost constantly." Much of this activity is thanks to the proliferation of web-capable devices, as nearly three-quarters of teens have regular access to a smartphone, and 91 percent go online via a mobile device at least "occasionally."

While entertainment, shopping, and research are frequently cited as reasons for time spent online, communication is also one of the leading motivations for web-based activity, particularly among students.

Approximately 71 percent of teens use more than one social networking site. And among those teens that own cell phones, 33 percent regularly use direct messaging apps, like Kik or WhatsApp.

Considering the vast amounts of time that today's students spend online, it should be no surprise that many of them determine much of their self-worth from these interactions. A national study by the Center for Generational Kinetics found that 42 percent of Generation Z -- the generation representing the current crop of students -- claim that social media has a direct impact on how they feel about themselves.

Similarly, 42 percent believed that social media had a direct impact on how others viewed them. And 37 percent of respondents stated that social media influenced their overall happiness.

Bullying: A Growing Problem

Given this strong connection between social media and self-esteem, today's students are particularly susceptible to the impact of cyberbullying, and unfortunately, this online abuse is far too common.

According to a comprehensive study of social media use among teens in the United Kingdom, 70 percent claimed to have been cyberbullied. In more detail, the research found that:

  • 54 percent of teen Facebook users had been bullied
  • 21 percent of teen YouTube users had been bullied
  • 28 percent of teen Twitter users had been bullied
  • 24 percent of teen Instagram users had been bullied
  • 22 percent of teen Tumblr users had been bullied

And this bullying on social media platforms can take a number of forms, including:

  • Posting negative comments on pictures
  • Leaving abusive posts on a user's wall or profile
  • Using pictures or videos to ridicule another user
  • Hacking an account
  • Cyberstalking

How Is Cyberbullying Unique?

Nowhere to hide

With so much of their lives occurring online, some bullying victims feel like they cannot easily escape incidents of cyberbullying. While they can choose to not go online and ignore the offending posts, given the nature of social media, their peers and friends will likely still see the upsetting material.


Most social media platforms allow users to sign up anonymously, simply requiring a valid email account. And this anonymity lends itself to more aggressive and offensive communication -- at least according to the "online disinhibition effect." Similarly, one study found that anonymous commenters to online newspaper articles were almost twice as likely to be uncivil than named commenters.

The ease of creating a profile on many of these platforms also increases the opportunity for impersonation.


One study found that 39 percent of teens admit to having sent or received text messages of a sexual nature, including photos and videos. And these messages are routinely being shared via social media as well. But these messages don't always stay private. More than 38 percent of teens report having sexually suggestive texts or emails -- originally meant for someone else -- shared with them.

These highly personal communications create unprecedented opportunities for embarrassment and extortion that can have tragic, long-term consequences for everyone involved.

What Can Your Campus Do?

Establish clear policies that outline appropriate behavior for students while online, and actively monitor any campus-related social media groups. With these guidelines in place, establish an anti-bullying program that:

  • Outlines the long-term damage caused by cyber-bullying
  • Explores the difference between bullying and teasing
  • Offers real-world strategies on how to deal with bullies
  • Helps students be proactive and prevent cyber-bullying before it occurs

Your campus should also develop resources -- such as a hotline or dedicated social media page -- to help students that are currently being bullied and communicate the availability of these resources regularly to all students.


Unfortunately, social media bullying will continue to be a reality, but your campus can take measures to equip your students to better handle these uncomfortable situations and stamp out their presence at your school.

To learn more about how we can help create a culture of civility and respect on your campus, schedule a demo of our bullying prevention courses.

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