Cyberbullying: When social media is part of the problem and how social workers can respond

Limestone College Social Work

In our recent post on setting client boundaries, we discussed some of the ways social workers can manage client relationships in the age of social media, such as instituting a social media policy and not interacting with clients on social media channels.

However, what happens when social media is part of the problem the client is trying to resolve?

Take for example, cyberbullying. According to a government-sponsored site, stopbullying.gov, cyberbullying takes place via electronic technology such as cellphones, tablets and computers. Cyberbullying occurs when a person receives or is exposed to mean personal attacks via texts, emails, or conversations posed on social networking sites such as Facebook.

The challenging aspect of dealing with cyberbullying is the very thing that makes it different from standard bullying. It can take place around the clock and it can be non-stop. The attacks can be done anonymously making it difficult to identify the bully. And, it makes it impossible for the victim to ‘walk away’ since the messages and posts are very hard to delete and can be shared so rapidly.

According to an article on socialworklicensure.org, Jonathan Singer, a professor of social work at Temple University in Philadelphia, explains that the difficulties schools and their social workers face when dealing with cyberbullying relate to the reasons mentioned above. Schools are used to looking for bullies on the school playgrounds and often lack clarity on their responsibility to prevent cyberbullying that happens outside of school.

While schools can’t control what happens at home, one suggestion offered by Singer is for schools to create programs and initiatives that teach kids about empathy and respectful communications while promoting a culture of zero tolerance for bullying. Schools and school social workers can also leverage technology to provide helpful advice and guidance to students on how to protect their personal information. Some tactics include choosing stricter privacy settings on social media profiles or using technologies that help safeguard against blackmail bullying like Snapchat — an app that allows users to send messages that disappear after being viewed.

Limestone Bachelor of Social Work students, who may be interested in working within school settings in the future, will undoubtedly face the challenges of dealing with cyberbullying. For this reason, Limestone College’s Social Work Program offers courses in Human Behavior and Social Environment which focus on various school system issues.

For more information on cyberbullying resources, research, laws and state-by-state regulations including South Carolina, check out cyberbullying.org.

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