#MediaMondayTip: How to Know – is it Cyberbullying, Exclusion or Something Else?

4 min read 

Cyberbullying has been one of the biggest issues facing kids today for a while now. The worst and most insidious part of it is that it can take many forms: from outright bullying to more subtle, backhanded insults. When the negative posts are less obvious, it can be hard to tell cyberbullying from a poorly conceived post. Cyberbullying, which often involves targeted harassment, pointed insults, and obvious exclusion, should be taken very seriously. However, when it comes to anything less intense than that, it can be difficult to know what to do.

What makes it hard for girls (and grown-ups) to tell the difference?

When we read and write posts online, things like tone of voice and facial expressions are completely removed from the equation, making it more difficult to tell what the true intentions are behind certain posts. Is that unflattering throwback pick a harmless joke or an attempt to make someone look bad? Is that snarky comment good-natured ribbing or a genuine insult? Is that subtweet about you?

The online world is getting increasingly harder to navigate, especially for young people. That said, here are some steps to take when you see a post that exists in the gray area between cyberbullying and harmless fun.

1. Assume the best intent

If the person who posted the questionable content is generally a friend, assume that they mean well. It can be hard to communicate intention and feelings online, and if they’re your friend, they probably didn’t mean to hurt you.

2. Phone a friend

If you’re not sure what someone meant when they commented or posted something about you, call in another friend to help you out. Sometimes a new pair of eyes is all you need to figure out what the poster was really trying to say.

3. Communicate

If a friend tags you in a less-than-flattering photo or comments something a little too snarky, it’s totally ok to let them know how it made you feel. Send them a quick message (or, even better, talk to them in real life) to just let them know that their post made you feel kind of bad. An open and honest discussion about this is the best way to make sure everyone is on the same page.

4. Ask for change

When you communicate how you felt, you can also ask for adjustments. See if they’ll check with you before tagging you in a pick, or ask if they could just take a moment to think before they post a jokingly mean comment on your picture.

5. Take a break

If you find yourself bummed out by a lot of small stuff on social media, like not being included in a group pic or missing out on a party, Insta and Snap may be doing more harm than good. Even if no one is actually trying to make you feel bad, a simple case of FOMO can be super upsetting. Sometimes the best way to deal is to take a short social media break- let your followers know that you’re taking some time away, log off, and enjoy the real world for a little bit! Instagram won’t go anywhere.

What if you’re the person on the other side?

It’s super hard to communicate intention behind posts, and everyone at some point has probably posted something that a friend wasn’t happy with. Here are some tips to make sure you’re not hurting anyone (even accidentally).

1. Be aware of tagging and cropping

A good rule of thumb is to check in with friends before tagging them in a pic and/or cropping them out of one. If your friend looks goofy in a cute pic with five other friends, your first instinct may be to crop them out before you post. However, they may think that you’re excluding them when you’re really just trying to have their back. You can’t go wrong with open communication, so before posting a pic with our without certain friends, check in!

2. Use emojis

If you comment a jokingly harsh insult or even text one to your friend, you may be laughing because of how hilarious it is. However, they don’t know what you look like! Maybe you’re stone-cold serious. Luckily, we have emojis. Emojis like 😂 or other light-hearted ones can imply that you’re joking. Easy fix!

3. When in doubt, be thoughtful

Funny throwback pics and fake insults can be fun, but they can sometimes do more harm than good. Think about your friends and how sensitive they may be to things like this. Try your best to be thoughtful about the different ways your post could be interpreted.

Through thoughtful posting habits and open communication about how certain posts make us feel, we can hopefully get rid of these grey-area posts. Now go forth and post something kind on your best friend’s newest photo! Because no matter an unflattering snap of your friend is, a supportive comment or post is always better.

Clare Reynders is a rising senior at Vassar College majoring in Media Studies with a minor in Women’s studies. She loves singing in her a cappella group, reading books, and, of course, empowering young women.

This piece was originally published on MEDIAGIRLS.ORG and is republished with permission. Michelle Cove is the Executive Director of MEDIAGIRLS®, a nonprofit organization that teaches girls how to critique the way girls and women are portrayed in pop culture with an emphasis on creating empowering content.

She is also an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and author whose projects have been featured on numerous national platforms including “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Katie Couric’s talk show “Katie,” “The Today Show,” The Washington Post, and The New York Times.

Visit www.mediagirls.org to learn more.

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