Teenagers live in two worlds these days. There's the real world that includes school, family and activities, and then there's the virtual world made up of Facebook and other social networking sites.
It turns out that bullies populate both worlds, according to a new study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
The study says 69 percent of the teenagers who use social networking sites say their peers are mostly kind to one another on such sites. Still, 88 percent of these teens say they have witnessed people being mean and cruel to another person on the sites, and 15 percent report that they have been the target of mean or cruel behavior on social network sites.
Adults less likely to report bullying
Adult social network users are less likely to say they witness or experience this type of behavior, but they still report that it is prevalent: 69 percent of the adults who use social networking sites say they have seen people be mean and cruel to others on those sites.
Occasionally cases of social network abuse make the headlines, such as the time a teen committed suicide after being bullied online. ConsumerAffairs.com routinely hears from readers who run into everything from slurs to outright threats.
“For two years I've been sent awful messages calling me fat cow amd other names from Kelly **,” Sunniwest, of Sechelt, British Columbia told ConsumerAffairs.com. “She uses lots of phony names, but I can tell it's her by her language. She also sent me 25 same kind of messages on my msn. She's upsetting my whole family by this and I'd like her thrown off Facebook for good and blocked from me, because I know she will make another account.”
Kerry, of Pittsburgh, says she has been the target of harassment on Facebook by several people using girl's names.
“I have copies of a Facebook group they created about me titled 'You know you got haters when?'” Kerry said. “I have 55 pages of slander and threats of bodily harm and harassment. They have posted pictures of me and my real name. They have reported my account repeatedly and despite my reports to Facebook and my friends' reports to Facebook, nothing was done.”
Who can you complain to?
Numerous consumers like Kerry express frustration that there doesn't seem to be a human being at Facebook who can respond to their problems. Part of that may have to do with the size of the site. With more than 750 million members, any company would be hard pressed to keep up with everyone.
The problems on Facebook and other sites may seem to be growing because so many people use them. The Pew study found that 95 percent of all teens ages 12-17 are now online and 80 percent of online teens are users of social media sites. Teens of all ages and backgrounds are witnessing these mean behaviors online and are reacting in a variety of ways:
- 90 percent of teen social media users say they have ignored the mean behavior they have witnessed on a social network site.
- 80 percent say they have personally defended a victim of meanness and cruelty.
- 79 percent say they have told someone to stop their mean behavior on a social network site.
- However, 21 percent of social media-using teens say they have personally joined in on the harassment of others on a social network site.
“Social networking sites have created new spaces for teens to interact and they witness a mixture of altruism and cruelty on those sites,” said Amanda Lenhart, lead author of the study. “For most teens, these are exciting and rewarding spaces. But the majority have also seen a darker side. And for a subset of teens, the world of social media isn’t a pretty place because it presents a climate of drama and mean behavior.”