Gen Z, Social Media And Cyberbullying: An Unsupervised Landscape

Featured Illustration: Alex Marino

grey-line-png-6

Recently, some Facebook posts have been making rounds on my newsfeed. Comments flooded the posts criticizing a girl who frequently posts videos of her dance choreography and skits for her lack of artistic values. Her dance videos and skits, which became the hot topic for trolling for some meme pages, had some objectionable remarks about her makeup, appearance, and demeanor. The comment section was filled with snide remarks like “You look like a clown”,  and I want to teach you makeup.” Making comments about one’s physical appearance falls right under bullying.

The social media landscape provides you the power to openly express your opinions and feelings, but have you ever taken a step back and reflected on how much each and every seemingly “innocuous” action might affect the person on the other side? Gen Z has grown up with the internet as a prominent part of their life, but when it comes to making it a safe space for all — how much are we doing, really?

My biggest concern seeing all those nasty comments was the lack of supervision around it. Had they been taught about the repercussions of their actions, would they have taken their word back? The answer is — yes. There is a huge gap when it comes to teaching our kids about internet safety. Cyberbullying had notably ravaged the safe space that the internet is supposed to be — long before the pandemic turned everything virtual. Now that our whole life has transitioned more to a virtual world, concerns grow over the increasing instances of cyberbullying and the lack of monitoring of the matter.

Social media is one such powerful tool where you can post about your opinions freely because of the freedom it provides. When posting on it, you are ever so careful about invading others’ personal space or aware of the consequences of your own actions on the person when you are just utilizing your freedom of speech. Because… freedom of speech, right?  The internet is an accessible digital space where people turn a blind eye to other people’s opinions because of being so caught up in their own heads. When they are given a tool where they can express their opinions freely without any real-life repercussions, the chances of such delicate minds going stray are more without any supervision. They don’t have any idea on how to be civil when presented with the idea of expressing their opinions unfiltered. After all, they are not going to face any real-life repercussions and no one is supervising it. The chances of going down that path are higher because you haven’t been taught before what to do when faced with such scenarios.

My first-hand experience with cyberbullying was fairly recent when someone from a group chat made some aggressive exclusionary comments. It was totally uncalled for, yet I couldn’t do anything. I went to sleep that night at 5 A.M in the morning with a close friend on the phone keeping me company because of the constant mental breakdowns I was having. For the next week or two, I wasn’t able to concentrate on any of my mundane tasks nor I could move on with my daily chores. The overwhelming anxious feeling doesn’t spare me even to this day. Even before the occurrence of this incident, I noticed patterns of bullying publicly in some form or other on different social media platforms. This cyberbullying is often fuelled by a group of people with the same mentality, or what experts termed as “herd mentality”.

Often, I notice a behavioral pattern in such elite groups, and to climb up the social hierarchy, people would mindlessly follow or stick to a certain mentality of that particular social group. Of course, there is also the prevalence of call-out culture. But what draws a boundary between calling out someone for their wrongdoings and being a part of the mob with a “herd mentality”? These people mindlessly go with the flow, throwing their own rationale and judgment out of the window to fit a particular social class/group. Even when it means dragging the person down in a petty way, and oftentimes using derogatory terms meant to break their spirits. This sort of behavior gives rise to more deep-seated issues.

Cyberbullying is one of the myriad side effects that sprung from the lack of supervision online. There is an evident absence of guidance but more necessarily, access to proper resources.

The first time I was cyberbullied, I couldn’t go to my parents and seek their help because they weren’t aware of the social media rules of Facebook, and Instagram. Most of our parents don’t know the current trendy meme or the current trendy TikTok. They are so out of the loop to even offer us help. But I was the most clueless I had ever been and so I reached out to my friends for help — in hindsight, they might have offered me comfort and support, but it could have easily gone wrong. A little bad advice in that vulnerable state could have pushed me to pull an act of retaliation and it could have gotten nasty really quick. Although I have been lucky to be able to avoid the matter, most cyberbullying instances don’t end up like this. This growing culture of cyberbullying online is just proof of how people are diverting more and more from conflict resolution and civil discourse. Had there been any sort of education at school or home about media literacy, one could easily make the internet a safe space for all.

Simultaneously, we haven’t received the internet safety manual from school, we also don’t have other resources like therapy or legal help to reach out to. Unfortunately, this lack of access to resources and understanding of the issue from the roots has led the internet to be an unpleasant place for the most vulnerable. Every other day, a post pops up on my newsfeed criticizing how this could have been that, posts regarding the leaking of someone’s personal information, or some meme page getting social points for posting sexist stuff. The list goes on and on.

A huge demographic of our current generation is exposed to these cultures and most of them are drawn into all the negative aspects due to the lack of proper discourse and supervision on it. Media literacy is one of the necessities of Gen Z as the number of internet users keeps growing and growing. As Gen Z makes social media an integral part of their lives and becomes the shapers of the world, how much are we really doing for media literacy which has a substantive effect on our everyday lives?