In the year of the nurturer, we as a school are spending the second semester considering that ways in which we are called to nurture others, and students are encouraged to reflect on how they treat those around them. Because much of our interaction occurs over text and online, we must also consider the ways our posts, Tweets, Snapchats, and texts affect others. Though we hear about cyberbullying in the news, nationally recognized stories often feel like extreme cases that would never happen to us. Thus, we associate cyberbullying with blatantly cruel messages, attacks, and even death threats. But what is easy to forget is that our seemingly sarcastic or joking messages that stem from underlying aggression can still hurt others.
In February, SUA students spent an Advisory session analyzing the messages they send and receive online. One of the central discussions involved the ways we present ourselves on social media and the discrepancies between social media and reality. Here are some of those findings and we thank the SUA students and their 592 responses for these results:
Only 10.5% of students think that the way people speak and behave online reflects their genuine selves. This inauthentic behavior can pave the way for rude and offensive messages that would typically not surface in person.
40.9% of SUA students reported receiving negative messages online or over social media, though many said they rarely encounter similar behavior in person. One student claimed she has “been called [...] pretty much every offensive word over text but never to [her] face.” She feels that the senders of these messages “are insecure and are afraid to confront [her] with a problem” in person. Another widely encountered issue, according to our students, is seeing Snapchat stories and Instagram pictures of their friends hanging out, making them feel excluded and unwanted. One student reported that when her friends leave her out of plans, they “post it all over [social media] without even thinking about [her] seeing” the posts, or considering her feelings. This detachment provided by social media is also problematic in text messages, as we cannot convey our tone of voice or emotions to the other person. One SUA student said that within her friends’ GroupMe, “someone will say something [negative], but in a sarcastic or joking manner, although the intent behind it is really mean,” which she attributes to the false feeling of anonymity that accompanies social media.
Students also were invited to offer advice on what to do in the case of receiving an offensive message. The vast majority of students said they typically ignore it, or even block the sender. These girls think that if a message “is just ignored and not given any attention, it has no power.” Others prefer to confront the sender in person, as they believe “texting over the phone can be taken in the wrong way, or can lead to other drama.” One student said that “usually with texts, there are a lot of miscommunications and you can never say things” in the manner which you actually intend them. These girls also said that by talking to the sender in person, one is able to overcome the conflict at its root and avoid the creation of additional problems. Many students agreed, however, that it is key to stand up for yourself and not allow the sender to “harm [you] physically or mentally in any way.” In this course of action, one student emphasized that “being able to stand up for yourself and saying rude things in retaliation are not the same thing,” so as to not create additional conflict. In the event that they received a rude message, the majority of students reported talking to their guidance counselor or an adult they trust, and urged others to do the same.
47.5% of SUA students regret sending a text or posting something on social media because of the negative repercussions it had on those involved. To minimize the transit of these messages and to filter our own online messages, students brainstormed ways to spread kindness over social media rather than using it to promote conflict. The vast majority of students recommended pausing to think before sending a text or posting something online. One girl suggested that “before you post anything mean, take time away from your phone. Often we get caught up in our anger with someone so right away we want to lash out and hurt them. If we give ourselves time to cool off, most likely we will see that we should not post that hurtful message.”
Many other students also reported using a rule of thumb to only say something on social media that they would say in person, so as to promote being authentic online. One SUA student said to “treat texting like a real life conversation, [and] if you wouldn't say it to the person's face then you shouldn't be texting, Tweeting, or posting about it.” Some girls stressed that it can be easy to abandon the Golden Rule in online communication because we forget that “everyone online is an actual person, not just detached words on a screen.”
Additionally, these students said that “before sending something or writing something about someone else, think about how you would feel if your friends did something like that to you. You might rethink your decision.” Students are also aware that it is easy to be inauthentic online, so one girl suggested to “think about how what you're posting will affect you and your reputation.” To assist us in being mindful of how we will be perceived online, one student said she “always loved the rule that if you wouldn't let your grandma see it, you shouldn't post it.”
These suggestions provided by SUA girls show insight attained through experience and thoughtful reflection. To aid the spread of kindness over social media, our students are challenged to take a pledge to only post positive messages online and to be more mindful of how their messages affect others. To jump start this kindness, girls are encouraged to take initiative and post something kind on someone else’s social media account. Through our actions, we can begin a new chapter of social media usage and make the internet a more positive place.