Teens and young adults say cyberbullying is a serious problem for people their age, but most don’t think they’ll be the ones targeted for digital abuse.
That’s according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MTV, which also finds that about half of both young people and their parents view social media as having a mostly negative effect on the younger generation.
Fifteen-year-old Matty Nev Luby said she’s learned to navigate Instagram and other social media apps by brushing aside the anonymous bullies.
“When I see a really mean comment about my appearance or something I did, if someone said that to me online, it means nothing to me, but if I pictured someone I know saying that, I would be really upset,” Luby said.
Roughly three-quarters of 15- to 26-year-olds say that online bullying and abuse is a serious problem for their peers. Seven percent of young people say they have already been a victim of cyberbullying, with young women (11 percent) more likely to say they were bullied than young men (3 percent).
“People will make fun of their outfits or weight, their choices,” said Luby, who lives in a suburb of Hartford, Connecticut, and has been dabbling in social media since age 12.
Her popularity on the lip-syncing app Musical.ly, which merged this summer into the Chinese video-sharing app TikTok, helped win her some modeling contracts. Now she’s mostly focused on Instagram, where she follows makeup artists and fashion trends.
Her mother, Kerrylynn Mahoney, said she’s impressed by her daughter’s ability to keep bullies at bay.
“Her responses blow my mind,” Mahoney said. “I’d be fists up at her age. She’s like, ‘I’m sorry you feel that way. You should probably think in a more positive way and then we’d have more peace on earth.””
But she’s also vigilant about monitoring her daughter’s accounts, blocking any followers who seem creepy or fake and trying to steer her away from fixating on pages that degrade women.
“I have to constantly keep her grounded,” Mahoney said. “I’m thankful she’s aware that this is not real. It’s our jobs as parents to reel them back in.”
The poll shows majorities of both young people and their parents think parents have a responsibility to help prevent online harassment.
The long-documented problem with online bullying is that it is relentless. It doesn’t let up when kids get home from school, safely in their homes, or even when they move away from their tormentors. Still, like Luby, many young people tend to be more resilient to trolling from strangers online.
“If they don’t know who it is, it doesn’t seem to bother them as much,” said Justin Patchin, a criminal justice professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center. “What concerns them is when it’s some kid at school.”
Patchin said that among adults, the people perpetuating harassment tend to be strangers, not people they know.
Leslie Hernandez, 39, said she thinks the impact of social media on people her age has been mostly positive.
“Adults tend to stay away from the drama that is part of adolescence,” said Hernandez, who lives in Tucson, Arizona. “It allows you to connect with people from your past.”
According to the poll, she is in the minority. Among parents of 15- to 26-year-olds, about a quarter, 23 percent, say social media has had a mostly positive effect on people their age, while 31 percent say it’s been negative; 45 percent say it’s neither positive nor negative. Among people aged 15 to 26, 47 percent say it’s had a negative effect on their generation, and 26 percent say it’s been a good thing, while another 26 percent think it’s neither. About half of parents, 53 percent, agree social media has had a mostly negative effect on their child’s generation.
No matter their age, the overwhelming majority say they see people using discriminatory language or posting such images. Seventy-eight percent of people aged 15 to 26 say they see such posts either sometimes or often, compared with 65 percent of their parents. Only 4 percent of young people and 10 percent of their parents say they never see discriminatory language or images.
Companies like Facebook and Twitter have been trying for years to clamp down on abuse and harassment, with varying degrees of success. Both parents (72 percent) and young people (67 percent) think the companies play a major role in addressing these problems.
Roughly two-thirds of parents also attribute responsibility to schools (68 percent), law enforcement (66 percent) and other users who witness the behavior (61 percent).
Currently, young internet users report using YouTube (48 percent), Facebook (47 percent), Instagram (40 percent) and Snapchat (39 percent) several times a day or more. Fewer use Twitter, Reddit, WhatsApp, Tumblr or LinkedIn as regularly. Parents who use the internet are most likely to report using Facebook (53 percent) several times a day or more, with few being heavy users of other social media sites.
Hernandez said she’s “pretty active” on Facebook, in part because of her job as a student housing manager at a college.
“Snapchat feels a little less personal to me,” she said. “On Facebook you can kind of follow people and see what’s going on in their lives in a more permanent kind of way. A Snapchat image, people will forget. On Instagram, people can enjoy the pictures but don’t really see a whole (life).”