Cyberbullying leaves a lasting trace – and none at all

Apps like Snapchat allow teens to bully without evidence
By Laura Daniali | Mar 02, 2016

The following article is the fifth in an eight-part series produced by The Beacon on teen issues. Called “Turn Up The Volume,” the series aims to educate our readers while offering information – and hope – to those needing help. – Ed.

Today’s teen bullies don’t have to leave home or even lay a finger on his or her victim. They have 24-hour access to victims and, in some cases, there is no evidence – no bruises, no texts, no photos.

According to Snohomish County’s Healthy Youth Survey of 2014, about 12.5 percent of 10th graders and 12.6 percent of 12th graders said they had been cyberbullied in the past 30 days.

Cyberbullying is considered to be willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices.

While physical bullying does still occur, the use of social media sites and apps like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have moved bullying from classrooms to screens.

Snapchat is an app that allows users to send brief photo and video messages that delete automatically after a short time.

“It is the fastest growing way to cyberbully,” said Olympia Edwards, executive director of Project Girl, a local nonprofit that works to empower young women of color from ages 12 to 18.

Edwards works with teen girls in area middle schools and high schools, and said teens are sending over 200 million “snaps” a day.

“There is no way to prove that you’re being cyberbullied,” she said. “There’s no evidence, which makes it the ideal place for bullies to target their victims.”

According to Snapchat, it is unable to provide copies of snaps to users; however, it does warn that screenshots of snaps can be taken.

Its website says, “Delete is our default – so in most cases snaps are automatically deleted once they have been viewed or have expired. Unopened snaps are deleted after 30 days. Opened or expired snaps typically cannot be retrieved from Snapchat’s servers by anyone, for any reason.”

Snapchat.com encourages those who think a crime might have been committed to contact his or her local law enforcement agency.

While the Pew Research Center reported in April 2015 that for 71 percent of teens Facebook is still the most popular and frequently used social media platform, Slate.com reported in January that Snapchat is gaining in popularity.

It has surpassed Instagram, a photo- and video-sharing app, as the fastest-growing social app, with about 30 million active users last year to about 200 million today.

What does this mean for teens?

Bullies have a new, powerful tool for taunting victims.

Edwards said there’s a danger with Snapchat and no evidence, but sites like Facebook and Instagram, where you can post photos, allow the bully’s torment to reach further.

“They can take a picture and share it with friends,” she said, “or the boy down the hall that you really like could see it.”

Victims of cyberbullying might not be dealing with his or her bully face-to-face, but the torment can follow him or her 24 hours a day through online posts and saved messages that essentially never go away.

“You don’t want to sweep it under the rug,” Edwards said, “because it can escalate fast.”

Signs of cyberbullying

Teens are notorious for being “attached” to their phones and computers, but the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office warns if your teen is avoiding the computer, his or her cell phone or other technological devices, he or she potentially could be a victim of cyberbullying.

If they are not only avoiding devices, but also appear stressed when receiving emails, texts or snaps, this could be a warning sign.

Other warning signs include withdrawal from activities with friends and family or activities he or she previously enjoyed, an unexplained drop in grades, changes in mood, behavior, sleep and appetite or showing signs of depression and anxiety.

Edwards said victims of bullying will take on an “I’m here but not here” attitude. They might continue to show up to class or activities, but will not want to participate or be part of the group. They also will begin to isolate themselves.

For educators, there are communication clues from students in the classroom.

“They might be sitting in a spot they don’t normally sit in,” Edwards said. “A big one is not really being excited or willing to participate, because the perpetrator may actually be in the classroom.”

Prevent cyberbullying before it starts

Edwards said it is important for parents to know what their teen is doing online.

“A lot of times with teenagers, you have to pull out info to get somewhere,” she said. While that doesn’t mean tracking his or her every move online, it does mean asking to see your teen’s phone and checking his or her Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat accounts.

Teens also can help prevent cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying.org encourages teens to pause before posting or sharing any harmful or harassing messages about others.

It also encourages teens to take it one step further and tell peers that they will not share or post harassing messages.

If you are the target of a cyberbully, Edwards advises finding a trusted person to talk to – a parent, teacher, coach or counselor.

In addition, teens should report abuse to Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat – each have ways to report abuse and anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies.

How to protect your child from cyberbullying

• Tell your teen not to respond to rude emails, messages and comments.

• Save the evidence – if available – from emails, texts and take screenshots of comments and images. Also note the date and time when the harassment occurred.

• If the harassment is via email, social media, instant messaging or chat rooms, tell your teen to “block” bullies or delete your teen’s current account and create a new one.

• If the harassment is via text and phone messaging, change the phone number and tell your teen to only share the new number with trustworthy people.

• Report cyberbullying to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office at 360-805-6770.

Information provided by Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.

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