Social media opens door for bullying, even in college

By Drew Schertzer | 4/5/18 3:20am

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GVL / Emily Frye

Bullying can take many forms, including harmful comments, physical abuse or other degrading actions toward a person. Victims of bullying can feel isolated from their peers and suffer from stress. As more social media platforms develop every year, there is an increasing number of places to be in contact with others. One downside of this, however, is the increased potential for online harassment. 

“I was harassed for years in middle school after telling students I would attend a different high school than them,” said a Grand Valley State University student who asked to remain anonymous. “Every day, people would make fun of me and even go as far to ignore me completely.” 

The stress this GVSU student faced was so immense that they often thought suicide would be the only way out. Facebook made it possible for people to send harmful messages, even when the student was at home.

Cyberbullying is something that prior generations did not have to worry about. Currently, more than one billion people use Facebook. Millions of people use other forms of social media, such as Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. These sites all give people access to message others directly. This has done a lot to enhance communication, but it isn’t always a good thing.

“All of my friends have social media,” said GVSU student Elise Snyder. “It’s easy for people to be ganged up on online, especially if they say something unpopular or voice a different opinion.” 

Snyder said she has been on Facebook and Twitter for as long as she can remember, and she has seen many accounts of students being put down by negative messages online. Snyder said it’s hard to make everyone happy, and you often see a lot of negative things on your feed. 

With the rising popularity of online video games like Fortnite, millions of players also have the chance to communicate with each other anonymously. Players have the option to communicate through typing or by talking to each other through their microphones. 

“I’ve played most games, from League of Legends to Fortnite,” said Matthew Jawahir, GVSU student and avid gamer. “People take things too far sometimes. It’s just a game.” 

You’d be surprised how toxic gaming communities can be, Jawahir said. Online video games allow players to hide their real identities with usernames. Jawahir believes this anonymity gives people a platform to say harmful comments with no repercussions. 

While older generations may think of bullying in terms of physical abuse, cyberbullying introduces new issues. People who get bullied can see physiological effects. Depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and many other mental problems can develop for people being bullied, according to www.stopbullying.gov. This, in turn, can create academic barriers for students, making it harder for them to be successful in the classroom. 

GVSU maintains a policy of collegiality, which reads, in part, "In order to foster a healthy and diverse environment, we will act with integrity, communicate respectfully and accept responsibility for our words and actions.”

The policy recommends that students having issues with other students first try to resolve the issues with their counterpart. If that is not possible or too difficult, the student should then seek assistance from the Dean of Students Office.

“Sometimes, people think that cyberbullying is just related to high school, which isn’t the case,” said Sgt. Jeff Stoll of the GVSU Police Department. “We as a police department see things that we are concerned with, namely threats of harm or harassment.” 

Stoll said conflicts can often be resolved before an individual has to turn to the GVPD, however. He said students can turn to their resident assistants (RA) when they first start having issues, as he believes the GVPD does a good job of informing RAs about how to recognize when students’ conflicts are going too far. As part of their training, RAs are available to help mediate conflicts between students.

Stoll advises students experiencing conflict such as cyberbullying to stop communicating with the other party. Blocking people on social media or blocking someone’s phone number can be effective ways to reduce the problem. 

The line between negative comments and harassment is fine, Stoll said, adding that the GVPD is always available if someone's behavior turns into harassment or threats. Stoll said students feeling unsafe can also call the GVPD to be escorted from any place on campus to another. 

Students can also access other departments, such as the Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center, Gayle R. Davis Center for Women and Gender Equity, Division of Inclusion and Equity, etc., for help. 

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