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InstaBullying: The Darker Side of Social

AKA TROOOOOLLLLLLL in the dungeon (if you’re a Harry Potter fan)

Social media is a beautiful evolution in engagement – a convenient mechanism to share with friends, meet new people, stay in touch across distance, share milestones, celebrate good news, and receive support in bad news. I have been an active social media user for more than twelve years (back when it was “TheFacebook”) and it is hard to remember a time when social media wasn’t a part of my life. But like most things, it can have a dark side.

The anonymity that avatars, aliases, handles, and fake accounts create has led to a wave of bullying on the web.

Cyberbullying is a topic that is especially close to my heart as I’ve seen countless examples of the good, the bad, and the ugly across the web. As a result, this single blog post has turned into an entire series which will go through what CyberBullying entails at the business and public figure level, our top strategies on how to deal with CyberBullying, and finally, some technical tips on how to manage Instagram bullying in particular.

Do you remember those times in middle school when you found out one of your “friends” was talking about you behind your back? Do you remember how gut-wrenching that was? I went to an all-girls school, so there were moments when the catty rumors were more like gaping wounds on an already fragile personality. The same schoolyard bullying runs rampant on the internet, except instead of whispered words behind your back, inflammatory graffiti stains the walls of our social profiles, marring our social networks for everyone to see and read, but shrouded behind the anonymity of an avatar or a fake name.

These cyber bullies post cruel taunts, misogynistic, racist, and homophobic memes, spewing vitriol and vile thoughts. These messages can be distributed anonymously, quickly, and widely, with significant challenges in trying to trace the source. Deleting messages can be difficult because, above all, the internet is forever; screenshots, caches, and digital records exist meaning harassing messages can even live on even if they’ve been deleted. The damage has been done.

Any why? Because it’s easy, it’s anonymous, and it’s available. Cyberbullying is especially insidious because it can happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and reaches adults and children alike.

The biggest question I run into is always who is doing this? Who could possibly be so vile? I certainly don’t know anyone who would be willing to say hateful things online, but given the prevalence on the web, maybe that isn’t true. According to Scientific American, there are three main reasons for all the hate.

  • First, commenters can remain anonymous, absolving themselves of any blame, accountability, or guilt. It’s much easier to say hateful things if people don’t realize it came from you.
  • Also, their targets are held at a distance. Saying something awful about a celebrity (even an InstaCelebrity) like “I actually hate that person,” “they’re so fat,” and other cruel words is easy because it seems like they aren’t real. Just watch a segment of Jimmy Kimmel’s “Mean Tweets” and you see how “easy” it is to pick on someone that seems out of reach.
  • Finally, it’s much simpler to be unkind in writing, when you have time to plan your argument and can paint someone’s wall with screaming text. How many times have you been in an altercation with someone and an hour later kick yourself and say, “I should have said THAT!” We’ve been given a model in mainstream angry, bullying media, and internet users are replicating those results in YouTube comments and on social media posts. Thanks a lot, Jerry Springer. (read more:

The end result? Bullying is everywhere on the web. I wish there was a way to see who perpetuates this cult of bullying – some say it’s the fault and danger inherent in technology itself. But technology is here to stay, so all we can do is rise above the hate and challenge ourselves not to engage in this type of behavior. In the next post, I’ll go through some of our top techniques for dealing with CyberBullying and reputation management for those who’ve been the victims of Cyber Bullying. You can go ahead and read that here.