Social Media: Cyberbullying, Body Shaming, and Trauma

TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. These are the apps and websites that are most frequently visited by today’s young adults, teens, and children. While these apps have the potential to serve as an outlet for creative, educational, and social opportunities, they often instead function as a domain of negativity, bullying, and shame with long-lasting impacts on the emotional well-being of its users. 

Since the creation of social media, cyberbullying has also existed. Cyberbullying is the use of an electronic device to bully, threaten, or intimidate another person. Cyberbullying differentiates itself from in-person bullying with a few key characteristics. First, the potential for bullies to remain anonymous. Abusers are able to keep their identities hidden on social media which can lead to harsher and longer-lasting torment. Bullying over social media is also often much more public. Traditional bullying typically only involves those directly involved, while cyberbullying can be made visible to hundreds of people, regardless of their involvement in the situation. Lastly, cyberbullying can have much more permanent effects. Anything said and done online can never be erased entirely, causing potentially permanent damage to both the bully’s and the victim’s reputation. 

One common form of cyberbullying is known as body shaming or making critical comments about the shape or size of someone else’s body. This type of cyberbullying can take place on all forms of social media. While it is completely normal and even common for individuals to experience some form of self-doubt or shame once in a while, body shaming can make these feelings become constant and overwhelming. According to the Girls’ Attitudes Survey conducted in 2016, 47 percent of girls aged 11-21 disclosed that the way they look holds them back and limits what they can do. Unfortunately for most, body shaming has become part of their daily routine and day to day experience. 94 percent of teenage girls have reported being body shamed and 57 percent of 12-20-year old’s think that the cause of their bullying was due to their appearance.  

Over time, bullying can become a traumatic event in a child’s life. There are endless lasting effects that bullying can have on an individual, including effects on their physical, emotional, psychological, academic, behavioral, social, and economic health. Several studies have shown that the symptoms of bullying are remarkably similar to the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and that there is a correlation between the two. At times, adults who experienced bullying in their youth may experience intrusive memories of being bullied many years later. In one study, 57 percent of bullying victims reported enough symptoms to formally classify their experience as trauma. 

Social media is not all doom and gloom, however, there are plenty of positive aspects to the apps and websites that are being viewed all over the world. TikTok, for example, is an app with over 800 million users who create and download 15-60 second videos equipped with algorithms that work to identify the type of content each specific viewer might be interested in. In certain cases, TikTok serves as an open and inviting environment where users can become extremely comfortable in expressing themselves and sharing their own creations and experiences. Kids and teens that do not feel comfortable at school, or even at home, may find their safe space to be virtual. Genuine and lasting friendships can be made over the internet without ever having to meet in person. Just like TikTok, each app has its own appealing components that keep users coming back, and at the end of the day, these apps provide easy access to endless entertainment. 

The internet can be exciting, welcoming, and fun but it can also be damaging, offensive, and mean. In the case of someone experiencing cyberbullying or body shaming, there are some strategies they can practice to prevent trauma. For example, practicing self-care. It may seem simple, but this is one strategy that many people struggle with prioritizing. We have to take care of ourselves first in order to effectively take care of anything or anyone else. Some examples of self-care include journaling, taking a walk, or practicing breathing exercises. To properly take care of yourself you need to find which strategy best works for you. This is just one example of a few strategies that are available to prevent the lasting trauma related to bullying. Another key strategy that everyone can participate in is spreading awareness. Cyberbullying is a topic that needs to be talked about to encourage more positive and fulfilling online interactions and experiences. 

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