One of the topics that has sparked discussion this semester is social media’s role in mental health. Mass communication students were asked to share their thoughts about social media, bullying and harassment.
They were asked if they have ever heard of someone who was bullied using social media. Have they heard stories of others who were bullied or hurt? Have they personally experienced any social media behavior that was disturbing or unwanted?
Do they think an increase in anxiety, depression and suicide among young people can be attributed to social media, or are young people mostly unaffected by it?
Student names were withheld for this question so their answers would not identify anyone who has been the victim of social media bullying or harassment.
“I think social media has become a medium for kids and adults both to bully or harass people, while not having to physically interact with them. My brother is a freshmen in high school, and as I have watched him grow up, I can see the anxiety and stress that social media puts on him. He is scared to post pictures or videos of his family because he doesn’t want to be called a “loser,” and he overthinks everything he posts because he is scared of being ridiculed. This is not what social media was intended for. Social media should be a way to express yourself and communicate with others, not a platform for people to judge and criticize everything you do.”
“The amount of social media bullying and harrassment is overwhelming. I have personally been attacked through social media. Others being hurt or bullied is common enough for me to have heard about it. Yes, and oftentimes our youth are impressionable, so they are affected negatively.”
“I most definitely believe that social media has an effect on mental health among all types of people. It’s amazing that we constantly have access to media and what’s going on around us. However, with this being said, we are constantly able to compare ourselves, lives and happiness with others. Having this constant flow of media could definitely inflict mental health issues if taken in a negative light.
“I think bullying among social media plays a major role in anxiety, depression and suicide among young people. My sister is a 14-year-old freshmen at a public high school. I’ll never forget the day she ran home off the bus in tears explaining how her ‘friend’ made an Instagram account called “10 Reasons Why I Hate (sister’s name).” Hearing this and watching how it affected my sister broke my heart. Kids have the luxury and power to hide behind social media and display anything they’d like. People rarely deal with issues face-to-face anymore. I think young people abuse social media, which negatively affects kids who are being bullied or emotionally abused.”
“Social media is a gateway to bullying oftentimes. It allows the user to sit behind their phone and say something they would normally not dare to in person. My cousin is gay, so sometimes that comes with a lot of side effects and rude comments directed at him via social media. Though, I have never experienced bullying on social media, I do believe it can cause increased levels of anxiety or even depression. Oftentimes, social media users feel as though they have to keep up a certain image.”
“A friend of mine (best friend – middle school) was so badly harassed online, he went to therapy. I haven’t experienced that behavior towards me, but my friends have.
“Millennials are constantly basing their worth over how many likes they have on a picture. My younger sister was threatened over social media by her classmates and ended up having to leave her school because she was constantly harassed. I have received some criticism over social media, but overall, I try to stay off of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.”
“I had a friend who was actually bullied all throughout school, and a video that was placed on Instagram made a turn for the worst. He is not the only person to take his life because of stuff that was negatively posted about him. There have been many kids who have been cyberbullied to the brink of their lives. I do think the increase of anxiety, depression and suicide can be attributed to social media because there have been so many instances where events have occurred due to people using social media for the wrong reasons.”
“In middle school, I would always see kids picking on each other on Facebook, like social media gave them a voice they don’t typically have. I, myself, have never felt attacked by anything on the internet, because if someone only has courage behind a screen, their words are meaningless to me.
“Though I have never experienced it personally, I do know others who have suffered from being cyberbullied on social media platforms. I think it is so cowardly and mean. Bullying in every form is cowardly and a sign of low-self esteem, but in my opinion, to do so via social media is just a new low. You never have to truly face the person, but the effects of ‘Twitter-fingers’ can be devastating. It is so sad to see young people heavily affected, even taking their lives over this. If they would realize the culprits are people who have low self-esteem, that would hopefully change some of this terrible trend. ‘Trolls’ really are seeking attention and will do so by any means necessary. I think more and more young people are seeing ‘trolls’ for who they are and are ignoring or blocking them.”
“I have known people affected by this, and they feel they can’t get away from the bully.”
“Sadly, there are so many insecure people who find joy in degrading someone on social media, and it really upsets me. I actually know three girls who were the victims of an Instagram page called ‘Whores of (Town Name)’ Someone decided to create this account and post photos with some very mean captions. Luckily, I haven’t been the target of harassment, and I hope it stays that way.”
“I believe an increase in anxiety, depression and suicide can definitely be attributed to social media. Throughout high school, I experienced cyberbullying in a multitude of forms. Fortunately, my mother monitored my social media use closely. When she noticed the negative effects, she had me shut down my accounts until I was older and mature enough to handle the possible bullying. An increase in anxiety, depression, and in the most serious cases, suicide, can partly be attributed to social media. Not only does social media allow individuals to post pretty much anything. It also allows them to portray their lives as a perfect picture with nothing but opportunity, adventure and happiness. Individuals rarely post the reality or hardships of their life. This can cause depression in viewers who feel like their lives don’t measure up to this standard, and a constant feeling of the anxiety of not being ‘good enough.’ It is imperative that we remind people of all ages that social media is simply a ‘photo reel’ for someone’s life, not their constant reality.”
“It’s so easy for someone to make a fake profile and publicly humiliate people they don’t like, but they still get away with it because it’s easy to hide on social media. I have personally seen this happen very many times to my friends or people from my town within the last five or so years. I have heard stories and read articles about how some people push another person so far and bully them so bad that the person just kills themselves. Thankfully, I have never been cyberbullied, and I would hope that if someone had a problem with me, they would just confront me rather than hiding behind the internet to harrass me. I for sure believe an increase in anxiety, depression and suicide among young people can be attributed to social media. It is practically the most common way people our age communicate, so it would be foolish to believe that we are not affected by it.”
“This topic is very sensitive because it really hurts my feelings for someone to be cruel to another on social media … On Twitter, there are a lot of times when a boy would expose his ex-girlfriend’s old pictures she sent to him, and oftentimes, the picture and the girl goes viral from bullying.”
“Social media bullying directly contributed to an elementary schooler’s suicide in my hometown about five years ago, so I think it’s definitely imperative to be aware of kids’ social media habits to simply try to keep them off social media at that vulnerable age. When appearances and likes begin to define our self worth, a fun tech tool becomes dangerous and anxiety-inducing.”
“I’ve known a ton of people who have been shamed on social media. Whether it be distasteful words or harassment, people do it. We don’t see how awful it is either. We think it’s just a joke when it does lead to suicide and depression. I have definitely experienced unwarranted and harassing comments. Young people are the most affected by this. You don’t ever see an adult live-streaming their suicide.”
“I’ve seen social media destroy kids’ lives. A girl from my town took her own life because of the damage to her reputation and image caused by people exposing private, embarrassing parts of her life publicly on social media. It is an extremely powerful tool and shouldn’t be used so carelessly by people. I do think social media increases self harm rates because the amount of eyes looking down on you increases exponentially with social media amplifying the pressure/stress.”
“In middle school, me and my friends found a new social media account called Formspring. This was a site where you make a profile, and then people can post questions for you to answer. Here’s the trick – they can post either under their name or as ‘anonymous.’ Middle school girls were ruthless, and I got my feelings hurt many times. Other than stupid teenage girls, I have fortunately not experienced a bad case of cyberbullying or harassment. I do very much believe that social media has a strong connection with suicide and depression among young adults. When you are 13, social media and your image is so very highly valued. So when people are anonymously bashing someone, or even not anonymously, it can really effect a young boy/girl’s perspective of themselves and really make them feel unwanted in the world.”
“Though I have not personally experienced this phenomenon, I do know of people who have had to delete social media and even move to get away from harassment on social media.”
“My little sister was bullied using social media, and I can tell you that it really affects a person. She is the kindest and most outgoing person I know, so I don’t really understand why those people bullied her, but during that time, she really changed. I’ve known several other people who have been cyberbullied, and it’s devastating to watch. I do think an increase in depression, anxiety and suicide can be attributed to social media. Young people can be cruel, and with all the new ways to post things anonymously, it’s easy for people to say harsh things online. I’ve never personally experienced any unwanted social media behavior, but I tend to stay away from those forms of media. I do my best to not care what people think and avoid social media so I don’t have to experience people’s comments in my life.”
“I babysat a little girl who was in the third grade when I was a senior in high school. One day, she was acting a little sad and was not very talkative. After further investigation, I came to find out that she had been getting bullied by another little girl on Facebook. I was so surprised that she even had Facebook. I explained to her that whoever this person was and whatever they were saying was not true … I believe that everyone, when signing up for a social media platform, should be required to take a class on self-confidence and self-worth before they surf the web.”
“When this topic arises, I immediately remember the ‘gossip Twitter accounts’ phase my high school went through. They were completely anonymous Twitters that allowed other users to DM hurtful or degrading gossip statements, then have that information Tweeted by the anonymous account. I was never personally targeted, but my close friends were. They played it off as though they were unphased, and maybe they really thought they were. However, whether they wanted to admit it or not, it had to have caused slight anxiety.”
“When I was in my freshmen year of high school, the most popular form of social media was a platform called ask.fm. Ask.fm was a website that allowed a user to field anonymous questions from others using the app. Most everyone I knew had one, and although at first ask.fm was harmless, it quickly spiraled into bullying. Because of its anonymous feature, many people would have embarrassing secrets posted about them on their ask.fm, and some would receive flat out rude and insulting comments. I personally had an ask.fm, and once the rude and disturbing questions began to flood ask.fm, I began to have anxiety, and my self-esteem was negatively impacted. From this personal experience and seeing how the app adversely affected my peers who would receive similar messages, I absolutely believe social media can be attributed to increased anxiety, depression and suicide in teens. Teens can be vicious to each other and typically do not have good coping mechanisms. Social media only further aggravates these problems.”
“I have caught myself checking for likes on numerous occasions, and I feel like this represents a certain psychological reward that could easily lead to obsession and mental illness.”
“I was personally a victim of bullying via social media. It’s something that I still have not forgotten, even though I was in high school. My opinion on the bullies is that it is easy to hide behind a computer screen, but they would not likely have said that to my face. I was bullied about my weight mostly, which leads me into the anxiety part. Social media puts so much pressure on girls to look a certain way. I think this increases anxiety as well as depression for many girls, as it did for myself. Today, I am totally confident in my skin, but that took many years to reverse the negativity cyberbullying had on my life and has on many other people’s lives.”
“I have multiple friends from high school who were made fun of on social media through words and also through embarrassing pictures. Social media needs some kind of monitoring to insure that people are using sites, such as Facebook for all the right reasons. One shocking thing I have seen on social media was a classmate of mine was bullying another classmate on Facebook who has autism. Examples like this are the problems social media could cause.”
“Being a girl and growing up in the social media generation, I think basically everyone I know, including myself, was bulled at one point or the other on social media. Girls are so catty throughout middle school/high school. One time, I remember a girl wrote a Facebook post about how I ruined her life when we were 12 … It is so heartbreaking to read stories about young teens killing themselves because of something someone said to them online. As much as we try to act unbothered by these kind of things people say about us, we know deep down how much it hurts your feelings to read a comment, such as you ruined someone’s life.”
“In high school, it was common to hear stories of cyberbullying, which consisted of home calling, harassment, mean comments and embarrassing photos shared all through a computer screen. I have only used social media for good, positive reasons. I have never received any type of bullying on social media. Although I was lucky, some others were not.”
“My freshmen year of high school, a junior football player came out and shared this with a few close friends, myself included, that he was gay. As this was still earlier in the years when society was warming up to the LGBT community, some students were not as supportive of (name withheld) as they should have been. Mean comments, posts, photos, videos, etc. began circulating social media about this new instance. The things that were said were completely awful, and I couldn’t believe someone could be saying such things, especially online.”
“My cousin was actually bullied through social media.”
“I believe that, by the time a student (male or female) reaches college, they have almost certainly been the target of bullying or harassment via social media. I personally have been the victim of such harsh treatment that I’ve deleted accounts and blocked phone numbers before realizing that we are never truly beyond the reach of social media and its influence. We are all affected by the media, so I am not surprised that the rates of depression and anxiety have increased along the way.”
“I think social media provides a direct outlet for bullies to harass anybody they deem unworthy of basic respect. I have known multiple people who have been bullied on social media that, as a result, had to receive counseling.”
“I know several people, including myself, who have been bullied on the internet. In middle school, girls made fake Facebook accounts and would write mean, vile rumors on my wall. Over time, I’ve learned to combat the sadness I felt from these posts with humor. If I see someone post something bitchy, I’m the first person to intervene and say that’s not OK. That’s a lesson most people have had to learn in their lifetime; ours just requires an app on our phones.”
“I have seen someone bullied on social media. One girl on Twitter stated her opinion and view on birth control, and people took it the wrong way and started calling her ugly, explicit names. In addition, I’ve seen people judged and made fun of for their appearance in a selfie or photo that they posted online of themselves. Fortunately, I’ve never experienced any disturbing or unwanted social media behavior. It still hurts my heart, and it makes me angry when I see that behavior online.”
“My friend was harassed last year over Facebook Messenger by an anonymous person threatening to do bad things to his relationships if he didn’t give them $1,000, so I have seen the effects it can have.”