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Violence 2.

0: A Review Of Social Media-Based Violence Experiences Among Teens


Gabriela Grosseck1, Carmen Holotescu2, Elena Liliana Danciu1
1 2

West University of Timisoara, Faculty of Sociology and Psychology (ROMANIA) Politehnica University Timisoara, Faculty of Computer Science (ROMANIA) ggrosseck@socio.uvt.ro, cami@upt.cs.ro, danciu@socio.uvt.ro

Abstract
One of the most common social activities of a teens life is that of using social media sites for entertainment and communication, for interactions or gaming, but also for information and documentation. In this paper, we focus our attention on social media platforms such as social networking sites, video sharing platforms or microblogging. The authors will explore teens exposure to violence in terms of cyber-bullying, online harassment, digital abuse, sexting / sexual violence, inappropriate content (misuse of social media), cruelty or anti-social behaviour etc. Additionally, this paper will focus on how teens perceive and protect their privacy and reputation on social media, and the extent to which teachers, policymakers and parents are aware and prepared for their role in digital safekeeping and guidance. Special care has to be given to mobile access of social media using cell phones, tables or iPads, for hypertexting or hypermessaging. Keywords: online violence, social media, teens, children, cyberbullying

Introduction

In a world that is increasingly being overtaken by social media tools and technologies [1], it is beyond doubt that, for its youngest users, the Internet in itself is not a bad thing: it is an excellent source of information, analysis tool or research medium; it is a method of learning and practising social skills; it enhances learning opportunities: it allows for educational collaboration and additional help; it grants access to health information; it provides opportunities for expressing ones creativity and self; it helps one stay connected with friends or family who are geographically dispersed; it enabled socialisation and communication, creating new friendships; it helps one overcome shyness, isolation and loneliness; it provides an opportunity for experimenting with ones identity, and so on. The youth of the new generation, which is often called generation Y or Millenias/Millenium [2], [3], [1] have a few common parameters, namely: They are extremely adept at using new technologies, having the basic skills to use them [4]. They own accounts on social networks that are popular now, such as Facebook or Twitter. They also have mobile devices with Internet connections (smartphones, tablets, iPads etc.), which they use especially in order to socialise and communicate with friends via instant messaging, texting or posting status / comments or tweets, tagging people in posts, photos or videos, play games on a social network site etc. [3]. They go to McDonalds, they enjoy extreme sports, some of them have credit cards to which parents make monthly deposits, they like teenage magazines, they watch MTV or other music stations, they listen to hip-hop, rap, they go to the mall and to the cinema (but only for action, adventure or sci-fi movies), they do not read books and find culture shows boring. Those who have access to large sums of money go to clubs and bars, buy designer clothes, have carefully styled hairdos (girls and boys alike), with fashionable accessories, etc. What they enjoy most are online competitions, the possibility to ask questions and receive answers online, surveys, games, but also life stories, message boards, forums, adding content. They have access to an overwhelming variety of social media options that allow them to share negative experiences with others and even boycott people (teachers or colleagues), a brand, an online company or even their school. There are similarities between the ratio of girls and boys who use social media tools, which means that the Internet has ceased to be dominated by the masculine segment. Differences occur in terms of their fields of interest. Boys are interested in the abstract digital aspect, in entertainment and games, exploration and adventure, while girls prefer practical things like chats and instant

messaging, which have a high social networking potential. They are liberal, tolerant, have life priorities like being good parents, having successful marriages, owning a home, helping others in need, earning enough money, etc. The main reasons behind the presence of children and teenagers in spaces dominated by social media are the following: for leisure, chatting being one of their favourite pastimes [1], playing games, search for music and sex-related information, for free software and computer applications; completing school tasks, reading the news, keeping up with sports scores, weather forecasts, their horoscope, reading about fashion, and, last but not least, finding information on issues they are too embarrassed to discuss.

A vast majority of the people who use social media tools do it for positive purposes [3], they are decent and respectable. Nevertheless, beyond the great opportunities that social media provides, it is also a medium for harmful content, full of traps or dangerous temptations, especially for children and teenagers, whose personalities are still forming. Unfortunately, social media has opened the doors wide to stalking, manipulation, misinformation, subversion and intimidation [5]. Therefore, youth can easily become a target for crime and exploitation in this environment. Because they are gullible, curious, anxious to explore this world and the relationships/connections that it makes possible, children need the supervision of their parents and educators, as well as their advice on the way in which they can be certain that their social media experiences are healthy and productive.

Types Of Digital Dangers

Negative content may appear on the Internet in various media such as email, chat, forums, as well as other forms of communications preferred by minors [3], [1], such as social networking sites (Facebook dominates teen social media usage) or sites for sharing multimedia content as video or audio (YouTube), (micro)blogs (e.g. Twitter), etc. It is necessary to keep in mind that, while todays youth may be more digitally savvy than their parents and teachers, their lack of maturity and life experience can quickly get them into trouble with these new social venues [4]. Therefore, we have included next a brief presentation of some of the dangers lurking on social media sites that might befall the young generation [6], [7]: Information with a negative impact on morality. Children and teenagers involuntarily often end up in virtual locations displaying inappropriate content as: pornographic material or materials of a sexually-explicit nature (in the case of the social network Facebook, the consequences can range from indecent proposals of a sexual nature to dangerous persons such as abusers and exhibitionists luring minors in order to engage them in physical contact); digital content glorifying criminals; teaching stuff about how to become hackers or to build bombs; web pages that protest against societys moral or cultural values, etc. The sexual exploitation of minors, for human trafficking or trade of transplant organs, etc. According to the [8] criminals intent on distributing images of children being sexually abused are finding new ways of exploiting legitimate online technology, such as fake commercial websites. Sexting refers to sending a text message, pictures of children or teens that are inappropriate, naked or engaged in sex acts [9]. The highest risk is among those teens who both hyper-text and hypernetwork [10], [1]. Promoting all types of violence by means of social media tools1: o Hate-sites: racial hatred, intolerance, xenophobia, etc., on the part of terrorist, Satanist, proNazi and/or neo-Nazi, ultranationalist organisations, etc. o Cyber-extremists sites [11]: instigation to commit various condemnable acts (killing by means of the computer, premeditated alteration of diagnoses, online decapitations carried out by terrorist groups, etc.). o Self-Harm sites, Suicide sites or Drug Forums: incitement to self-harm (self-injury, mutilations, suicide attempts or even live suicide). o ProAnorexic sites: promoting destructive behaviours that encourage starvation or other eating disorders (weborexia), emotional disorders, etc. o Supporting, promoting or inciting to the use of vulgar and violent language (unfortunately this category includes blogs and microblogs, in particular). o Deliberate misrepresentation by means of the content posted, or content that denies,

Though its hard to believe, social media has been directly or indirectly associated with a large number of incidents related to violence, terrorism and uprisings all over the world. [12]. See for e.g. the revolts in Egypt and Libya, the riots in London or the more recent Twitter Terrorism in Mexico.

grossly trivialises, approves of or justifies genocide or crimes against humanity. o Playing network games (inclusive Second Life). Social network games have some sort of social network integration or elements. On the one hand, violence contained in these games can be more dangerous than the one depicted in movies or on TV, because the child often identifies with the character(s) exhibiting violent behaviour. On the other hand, prolonged exposure to these games can seriously endanger childrens health and harmonious development by giving way to behavioural disorders or, in certain cases, by harming their social skills. Acts of a criminal nature: attacks against information systems such as virus infections, installation of malicious software, credit card fraud, identity theft, acts of blackmail and coercion, violation of third party or intellectual property rights, etc. It is usually very easy for children to cross the border between what is legal and what it illegal, etc. Excessive marketing and aggressive commercial promotion (alcoholic drinks, tobacco products, gambling, sports betting, Nazi-terrorist propaganda objects, guns and drugs, poisons, violent games in social networks, etc.). Online meanness: mean behaviour on social networking sites. Attacks on the image and private lives of people (gossip sites, sites that rate pictures of teens or teachers). Subculture and sub-education (defying social norms, triviality of language, plagiarism, reliability of information sources, information overload, theft of time due to Internet browsing, chatting or gaming, neglecting homework, online cheating). Cyber-bullying and cyber-stalking. Photos that are degrading, demeaning, indiscreet, immature, or that may prove harmful in the future (when applying for a job, in love relationships, etc.), personal disputes, flaming and trolling, filming sexual acts and violent scenes that take place on school premises and that involve teachers and posting them on YouTube, etc. It has become customary in our schools and high schools to post recordings of minors having sexual encounters or teachers being assaulted online. Emotional terrorism, especially on blogs (mini- and microblogs alike) and social networks by posting malicious, mean, humiliating, ill-intended messages, etc. Although the language used on mini/micro/blogs is very natural, uninhibited (and in the case of Twitter also limited in size), these social presence tools may become very good tools for practising writing and reading skills. Nevertheless, when not used properly, they become a source of exposure of minors to the risks entailed by inappropriate digital content, such as racism, child pornography, exploitation through street begging or sexual tourism, identity theft, bullying, stalking, violence, etc. Isolation, loneliness, addiction, individualism, sedentary life. The Internet can also be the best tool to isolate one from the world, from ones friends and from any other age-specific attractions. Moreover, by means of its new social technologies, it can aggravate the risk situation of teens suffering from social phobia or may even trigger obsessive behaviour. The first warning signs are a lack of interest in everything that is not related to the Internet, loss of friendships and direct contact with family and colleagues, difficulties concentrating, vision problems and so on. Serious issues occur when the temptation cannot be stopped and the person abuses this communication tool. According to [13] online gaming and social networking site users had a higher incidence of moderate to severe depression than other users, with consequences that could lead to poor health, behavioural changes, stress, fatigue, hallucinations, gaining/losing weight, etc. Facebook depression (defined as depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression). An alarming recent study by [14] provides compelling evidence that online chat rooms and social networking sites can have a serious impact on mental health, sometimes leading to moderate to severe depression in users.

This is a brief presentation of some of the dangers threatening our childrens safety in the virtual space. Of all these risks and vulnerabilities, social cruelty behind the screen2 is one of the most challenging issues that teachers and parents face when they advise their students and children to embrace new information and communication technologies, especially mobile phones and the Internet, the latter being generally perceived by children as a place of vendettas and personal attacks. When approached from a psychosocial perspective, the virtual space reveals two dimensions of interest: cyber-bullying and cyberstalking [15]. Slander and insult in the virtual environment are current manifestations of the term cyber-bullying [16], which denotes the use of electronic communication and information means such as email, instant
2

Here, cruelty denotes acts of defamation, libel or slander, as well as ridicule, humiliation, bullying, teasing, harassment or illegal acts of extortion or coercion.

messaging, blogs, sites, cell phones or other mobile devices (tablets, smartphones, etc.) for acts of moral brutalisation in the virtual space. Just as in real life, Internet bullying can occur individually or in groups, by attacking a persons image and private life or by other means, and it has been categorised as a criminal IT activity [17]. Cyber-bullying is also known as electronic bullying, SMS bullying, mobile bullying, online bullying, digital bullying or Internet bullying. Online bullying is a common practice, especially in cases of racism or other forms of expressing hatred and intolerance [17], [18]. According to [15] in order to disseminate their offensive messages into the cyberspace, supporters of critical language most often resort to: Flaming by sending emails: Two large categories of messages can be found in practice: o Hostile comments, the so-called flames. In Internet terminology, the initiator of a flame is known as a troll, i.e. a user that flexes his Internet surfer muscles in order to sabotage the information flow, plaguing forums with the sole purpose of ruining the atmosphere, deviating discussions from the initial topic and insulting other participants. o Messages that are extremely harsh, intolerant, full of disdain and hatred, which go beyond the limit of common sense. Impersonation. Assuming another virtual identity by breaking into an email account and sending vicious messages to the victim. Trickery. Engaging in chat sessions in order to find out personal information and then to disclose it in the online public space. Exclusion from chat sessions. Intentionally and cruelly excluding someone from an online group. Outing. Taking pictures with a digital camera or recording videos with a web camera (or even with a mobile phone) and posting these images/audio or video clips in busy forums without the consent of the persons involved. Denigration. Creating virtual locations (usually password-protected sites or blogs or Facebook pages) with stories, jokes, drawings, photographs or short videos that have been digitally edited in order to ridicule or discriminate against a certain person (on criteria such as religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation).

Because children cannot make a clear distinction between fantasy and reality, they are the ones who are most exposed to such actions. Worrying statistics made public by Pew (2007-2012) have revealed that, without parental supervision and sheltered by anonymity, there are children who see social media as the perfect tool for bullying and harassing others. On the one hand, a vast majority of the offspring of social cruelty would never do the things that they do online in real life. According to [18] more often than boys, it is girls who exhibit more courage to say something about someone online. Even when they are caught, they do not admit to their acts and claim that they are victims of a virtual identity theft. Because there is no immediate and positive feedback to their actions, social media tools raise serious concerns about the ethical behaviour of children, as they lack remorse or regret. If aggression continues, it often compromises childrens harmonious development, and the results of bullying might be devastating, to the extent that it affects their dignity, honour, safety, self-esteem, self-assessment or certain relationships connected to their social integration [19]. On the other hand, if bullying takes place on the school premises, teachers and educators can intervene directly and put a stop to the incident. The social danger is a lot greater, however, because, more often than not, such acts occur outside the security radar of the educational institution, right in the childs room, which is why it is very difficult to monitor and intervene in such situations. Cyber-stalking refers to using the Internet or other electronic means in order to stalk, intimidate through personal communication channels, and manipulate from an informational viewpoint, without resorting to physical assault, thus repeatedly violating the borders of emotional safety. It is used as a synonym for online harassment or online abuse. Emotional terrorists do not represent a direct physical threat, but they constantly monitor the online activities of their victims in order to collect information that they might use for future verbal intimidation. Their behaviour is often irrational, caused by their obsession (admiration) towards the victim. The anonymity of online interactions diminishes the chances of identifying the culprits and makes harassment in the virtual environment much more common than in real-life. Although some believe that cyber-stalking is not harmful, it can actually damage the victim psychologically or emotionally, possibly even physically: low self esteem, anxiety, anger, depression, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, high stress, food disorders, consumption of alcohol, drugs or cigarettes, lower grades and in extreme cases, acts of violence in school or attempted suicide. Although there are similarities between the two forms of online cruelty (they quench affection and compassion in order to make room for indifference and brutality), they differ in the nature of the threat, the time period and the

initiator of these condemnable acts. Cyber-stalking occurs repeatedly and has one single author, while cyber-bullying involves groups of colleagues or friends who prefer social networking sites or other popular virtual locations.

2.1

Methods of Treatment

What are the ways to stop illegal and harmful activities conducted over the Internet and threatening minors? A first step on our old continent was taken by the European Parliament, which has approved the Safer Internet Plus programme [6]. Its purpose is that of: creating hotlines where citizens of all Member States can report sites hosting illegal content; developing and implementing new technologies for filtering the information that circulates on the Internet; creating an enhanced code of conduct for suppliers of Internet services and promoting information campaigns within the population. What else can one do to protect children engaged in online activities so as to avoid a violation of their rights and fundamental freedoms? First of all, it is essential that parents play their part in avoiding such risks. As parents lead increasingly hurried and busy lives, as they become more and more stressed and disillusioned with their own existence, they spend less time with their children, and the lack of communication sometimes creates impassable barriers between the two. In order to win childrens trust and be able to communicate with them openly about all the moments in their lives, whether they are good or bad, they must be given the place and respect that they deserve within the family, these being the first steps that parents should take in order to provide real protection to their children. And the road to here is long and difficult. Parents can also adopt a very wide range of measures in order to protect their children such as: software filters incorporated into browsers, which allow for a limitation of childrens access to the sites, groups or chat rooms that parents consider harmful for their children; search engines created especially for children; applications for monitoring traffic remotely; web cameras or GPS services for supervising children; widgets as interactive tools designed to prevent / stop violence before it begins; interacting with experts in real time on Twitter; online petitions, following the message spread on Twitter (and Facebook too), etc. It is important that parents become aware of the nature of social media sites, given that not all of them are healthy environments for children and adolescents [20]. The most important thing, however, is for them to be informed. Then they must inform and educate children, maintain an open communication with them at all times and establish rules that all family members must abide by when browsing or communicating via social media [19]. Secondly, it is necessary to: 1. Learn about these technologies first hand. Be transparent and let your kids know what you are doing. 2. Increase knowledge in this field (educating younger generations to be responsible Internet users, supporting parents and educators by supplying information materials, training/counselling sessions for teachers and parents on the protection of children engaged in online activities). 3. Develop actions in order to promote and support child Internet users so as understand and avoid online dangers (launching mass-media and online campaigns promoting a safe Internet for children as a state issue). 4. Design and build a strategy for preventing online crimes at the level of child users, a set of materials serving diagnostic-prognostic purposes and active-applicable purposes aimed at informing policies of online development and security. 5. Increase the visibility of EU programmes on the online safety of children among both youth and adults (parents, teachers, educators, etc.) and provide counselling so as to find information on ways to browse the Internet safely. 6. Align to the European and international standards for promoting a safe Internet and fighting against illegal content and content that is not desirable/suitable for children (see the Safer Internet Plus programme). 7. Encourage cooperation between the players involved in maintaining a safe Internet for children and creating public-private partnerships (schools, law enforcement, police, government agencies, press, media groups, ISPs, educators, consumer protection, etc.). 8. Identify (together with the police) the ways to stop illegal and harmful activities conducted over the Internet and threatening minors. 9. Work together with other states that have developed such programmes (exchanging information on best practices, visiting countries with well-developed support nodes, participating in European events related to the Safer Internet Day, etc.).

Conclusions

Although they face the same risks as their children, adults have used their discernment and developed defence methods. Dangers do exist and it is very important to understand that, in the case of children, there are much greater risks of online activities causing psychological or even physical damage. A very important element that we must take into account is the distinction to be made between content that

Internet users are forbidden to access, irrespective of their age, and content that is dangerous for the physical and mental development of minors. Last but not least, it is important to keep in mind that we must treat the time that our children spend online with the same level of care as the time that they dedicate to other activities. For instance, we should be preoccupied with the educational value of the time that a child spends surfing the web, just as we are preoccupied with the things that a child might learn while watching TV. This is why, as teachers and as parents, as educators and as social science specialists, we are forced to not only understand this new lifestyle, but also adapt our pedagogical and communicational strategies in order to keep up with the sudden changes brought about by the Internet. Nevertheless, singular interventions will clearly not be successful. This is why measures at family, school and social level must be correlated with legislative measures meant to sanction any intended abuse or abusive action and all types of violent acts, because it is much easier to prevent than to rebuild a life or repair a soul.

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