Bullying in the Age of Disappearing Messages
Dial-up Internet, snail mail, and suffering through commercials are things of the past. Our world has evolved into a society that simply clicks a button and expects immediate results. We have high speed DSL, email, and DVR’s to make our lives easier. People proclaim the benefits of living in a digital age on their posts, blogs, tweets, and Instagrams.
However, this new technology has a dark side that lurks in the shadows. Many parents are aware of the threats of social media, but as technology evolves and changes, it is harder to monitor the current trends teenagers are utilizing. The negative implications of technology advances often sneak up on families and individuals, catching them completely off guard.
One of the newest fads to hit the market are apps that promote disappearing messages. People are drawn to these apps, because messages are erased after a certain amount of time. These self-destructing apps are becoming extremely popular for cell phones and other handheld devices.
Disappearing messaging apps are increasing in popularity for a variety of reasons.
First, we need to consider how traditional social media outlets keep running scripts of every post, message, and photo for prosperity. Social media sites, especially Facebook, collect personal information by monitoring our searches and friend lists. Sites are watching every mouse click and using this data to target consumers. The constant phishing for statistics is considered offensive to many people.
Some common apps like Snapchat, Wickr, and ask.fm are used to send disappearing messages. People enjoy the liberating experience of apps that promote disappearing messages. According to several users, disappearing messages allow people to freely communicate and live more in the moment.
Many of the disappearing messages vanish within a 10 second time frame, promoting more authentic posts. Numerous users enjoy posting almost anything they fancy, because they are not worried about photos or messages being visible for the entire population to view.
For instance, imagine a person who wants to send a photo of her cat to her best friend. She can click the pic without worrying that all her entire friend list (and their friends of friends, etc.) will think, “OMG crazy cat lady!”.
The ephemeral capabilities of disappearing messages, for the most part, are enticing. People are attracted to the fleeting messages, because disappearing messages promote a lack of accountability. Even after the message has long disappeared, it can wreak havoc on a person’s emotional well being and impact the receiver for years to come.
What About Bullying?
Disappearing messages can allow bullying to flourish in a world where evaporating messages are difficult to track.
Consider the case of Rebecca Sedwick, a twelve year old girl who committed suicide by jumping from a silo. She had been relentlessly tormented at school by bullies. Her mother, Tricia Norman, tried to shelter her daughter by removing her from school, monitoring social media, and withholding Facebook access.
The thought never crossed her mind to consider denying Rebecca the privilege of keeping her cell phone. Her mother believed she had taken all the necessary precautions. Unfortunately,the last time Rebecca was seen she was using her cell phone.
It is believed by authorities, that bullies tormented Rebecca on ask.fm, a popular disappearing message app. Family and authorities were unable to retrieve her ask.fm page, so it is unclear what was messaged during that fateful night. However, there is a strong indication that the suicide was prompted by malicious disappearing messages.
Bullies may favor disappearing messages over traditional social media, because the evidence disappears after a short period of time. Sadly, this creates the mindset that people can send vicious words and taunting posts without a fear of being caught. Luckily for victims, it is possible to gather evidence when disappearing messages are the vehicles used to attack or bully.
Disappearing messages increase the difficulty of tracing bullying behaviors, but it doesn’t mean the victims are defenseless.
Snapchat recommends parents review what is appropriate and inappropriate material to send over social media. If your child is too young, under 13, for Snapchat they have a special app available for younger demographics. Denying a child’s pleas and whines for new apps can be difficult, but following guidelines and obeying age limits will help prevent misuse.
Generally speaking, setting ground rules before allowing access to disappearing messages is a good idea. However, parents know that they can talk until they are blue in the face, but many children will not heed their advice. Problems and situations may still arise when a simple talk doesn’t work.
In bullying cases, screenshots are wonderful tools to combat disappearing messages. Learn to take cell phone screenshots and document inappropriate messages received. Encourage your teen to snap a screenshot immediately to capture offensive images.
Many apps allow users to restrict who can message them. Help your teen set privacy settings that allow interactions with friends only. You may seriously need to consider restricting users who are unknown or send offensive materials. This is a good strategy for parents who suspect a problem, but don’t want to punish their child for something that they have no control over.
If a child does receive bullying messages, one tactic is to ignore the messages. Acknowledging hurtful posts only encourages additional posts to follow. Have your child show you hurtful messages and contact authorities if necessary. A good strategy is to encourage your teen to refrain from opening disappearing messages until you can read them together.
Disappearing Messages Are Transient
We live in a digital age that enables us to send messages without contemplating the implications. Typed words don’t allow us the benefit of face to face contact, hearing tones, and explaining ourselves. The lack of personal interaction gives us a false sense of security, encouraging some people to say things they normally wouldn’t mention to a person’s face.
Sure, we can transfer bank funds or order pizza without picking up a telephone, but people need to take a step back and remember technology can empower us. Technology can be used to defend victims. We can create awareness for social issues ranging from cyberbullying to the use of disappearing messages to inflict heartache.