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Ask Trish: Bullying Prevention Month 2023

Before I begin today’s post, I want to briefly say that I hope and pray that, amidst the many challenges…

Oct 24, 2023

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By Trisha Prabhu

Me thinking to myself, late last week: “It’s Bullying Prevention Month 2023! What a great opportunity to revisit the issue of cyberbullying, from how it’s evolving to what Ask Trish readers can do to combat it…”

Hi there! Welcome back to Ask Trish – thank you for tuning into another week of by-youth, for-youth internet education.

Before I begin today’s post, I want to briefly say that I hope and pray that, amidst the many challenges our world is facing right now, you and your loved ones are safe, healthy, and well. I’m sending you all a big virtual hug/lots of digital love. 

This week, we’re taking a moment on Ask Trish to recognize that October is Bullying Prevention Month here in the US. This month, countless organizations, activists, families, and youth work to raise awareness about bullying – online and offline – and what we can do to combat it. As we’ve already discussed on Ask Trish, bullying – especially cyberhate – doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, particularly as it relates to its impacts on historically marginalized communities, so this month and the perspectives/messages it elevates is, in my opinion, so very powerful.

In that vein, this week, I wanted to do a brief Bullying Prevention Month 2023 “cyberbullying update”; that is, I wanted to take a quick peek at the state of affairs on cyberhate. We’ve already discussed extensively on Ask Trish cyberbullying’s extent (including the way cyberhate is disproportionately aimed at marginalized communities) and impacts – but I thought it’d be interesting to take a moment to ask: what are recent, 2023-specific trends we’ve seen in the cyberbullying world? How is this problem evolving, if at all? I also thought it would be valuable to briefly recap the things you can do – big and small – to combat bullying and cyberbullying in your community.

Sound like a plan? Let’s get into it!

One key trend that I definitely think is worth thinking about is the way that generative AI technologies are influencing the content and character of cyberbullying. Generative AI – which is a term you’ve likely heard – refers to a type of technology that uses sophisticated computer algorithms to “generate” original ideas and content, whether text, images, videos, or even music. It can do this quickly and produce content that is remarkably similar to – or in some cases, arguably even better than – what its human counterparts can produce. Naturally, generative AI technologies present a lot of incredible opportunities – but they also pose threats, including potential cyberbullying-related harms. For one, generative AI technologies like ChatGPT allow for the automatic, rapid creation of harassing messages and content – trolls can now cyberbully at a much larger scale and much more “efficiently.” This means more hate, and possibly too much hate for authorities to effectively tackle after-the-fact. Generative AI technologies can also generate attacks that are more personal and individual-specific – and thus arguably more harmful. It might create outputs that reference very granular information about victims – attacks that are thus more frightening and “hit harder,” in some sense. Finally, generative AI technologies are increasingly being used to create deepfakes – discussed in detail in my last Ask Trish post! – which can make it easier for cyberbullies  to spread false, deeply harmful rumors about their victims. (As I discussed last week, deepfakes are also increasingly used to sexually harass women.) These are just a few of the ways that generative AI may impact online hate – but they go to show that we must take this influence seriously, as generative AI will likely transform online hate as we know it.

Another – perhaps more fundamental, but still valuable! – trend to keep in mind is the way that cyberharassment has shifted from text to images/videos. When I first got into the anti-hate space, way back in 2013, when we referred to cyberbullying, we were referring to text-based harassing messages. Back then, most of my friends and I spent our time on Facebook. But think about it…today, the most popular platforms for youth are image and video-based platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube. The result is that cyberbullying has changed. Certainly, text-based harassment remains extremely relevant…but in talking to youth, I’ve started to hear about harassing memes, or memes that target a specific individual or group. I’ve also heard a lot about sexting and sextortion, topics that we’ve covered in detail on Ask Trish. (Put simply, sextortion refers to a situation in which a harasser threatens to expose sexually suggestive content – normally, compromising images – until some financial or sexual gain is met.) Per the Cyberbullying Research Center, 5% of teens have been the victim of sextortion – which, in absolute terms, is a ton of teens. All that’s to say: as we look to tackle online hate in the future, we’ll increasingly need to be thinking in terms of images and videos.

Of course, all of this conversation raises the pressing question: what to do? Cyberbullying can sometimes seem to be so vast of an issue that there isn’t possibly anything you could do to tackle it. That couldn’t be further from the truth! In fact, there are a number of things you can do – big and small – to combat bullying and cyberbullying in your community. Here are three brief suggestions:

  1. If you see something, say something: report bullying and cyberbullying, whether it’s happening to you or someone else. Victims shouldn’t have to face this harassment alone – and there are so many valuable resources to support them. By saying something, you help yourself or a friend take advantage of those resources.
  2. Think before you type online. If you know anything about me, you knew I was going to include this one! In the heat of the moment – and looking at a phone screen, instead of someone’s face – it’s easy to say or do things you might regret later. It’s all the more reason to pause, review, and rethink before you say anything online. Do those words reflect who you are? Might you regret saying that later?
  3. Rally the youth in your community to discuss and challenge bullying and cyberbullying. Again, if you know me, you know I love by-youth, for-youth movements to tackle hate! If you’re as passionate about this topic as I am, consider coming together with fellow youth in your community to build a movement or initiative aimed at raising awareness about bullying/cyberbullying and working to end it. (If you want – shameless plug! – you might consider starting a ReThink chapter!)

I hope this post offered some interesting food for thought – and hopefully, some inspiring calls to action! – on the issue of cyberbullying. This problem will likely only continue to evolve and grow as technology does, so we’ll continue to revisit it, study it, and, of course, think critically and creatively about how to combat it. If you have ideas for interesting anti-hate solutions, please share them in the comments section of this week’s TikTok video!  And speaking of sharing…whether this post prompted a very similar, related question or there’s now an entirely different issue that you’re wondering about (also 100% here for it!), please, please, please (yes, that’s three “please”s!) go ahead and share that thought or question here. Your question just might be featured in an upcoming TikTok/blog post! It’s a win-win-win: I get an inside look at the internet-related issues you care about, you get what I hope is some valuable advice, and our entire community gets to learn and benefit too. Thank you so much in advance for your insightful questions!.

Thanks again, everyone! See you next week,

Trish


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