Cyberbullying remains among the top critical modern crimes, with more than 59% of teens victimized every year (Anderson para.1). This aggravates social and health issues such as depression, social isolation, school phobias, social anxiety, emotional and physiological damage, behavior problems, and drug abuse (Peled 2). While efforts from many social quotas attempt to bring a solution to cyberbullying, often through legislation, regulation of use of technologies, and sensitization, one issue is generally overlooked – that cyberbullying is a behavioral problem, and it is learned. According to Waseem and Nickerson, bullying is a learned behavior, and can be changed (n.p). The one place where behavior is currently learned is social media, as users, especially youths and teens, emulate celebrities such as athletes, artists, and politicians. This proposal essay will focus on politicians only, which is within the context of my previous essays on how politics through social media causes influenced voting, polarization, protest, and ultimately violence. Politicians should change their behaviors on social media, such as name-calling, spreading rumors, reputation bashing and sending threats that escalate cyberbullying since it is a learned behavior.
Politicians are arguably elites in society, which makes society susceptible to learning from them. Houston is one of the cities where political partisanship is very strong, and power sings fairly between Democrats and Republicans. That also causes fierce competition for votes in the political arena, leading to political scheming, social manipulation, and influence on voting outcomes. As mentioned above, some politicians end up blame-shifting, name-calling, spreading rumors, reputation bashing and sending threats to their competitors, something that society has now learned. Since all these behaviors are done online, it is plausible to say that name calling, spreading rumors, reputation bashing and sending threats are cyberbullying, which is being replicated by society as a learned behavior. Recent examples include the push and pull between Rep. Dan Crenshaw and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose differences push on social media (Wallace n.p). A report by Crime Stoppers of Houston indicates that in 2020, 13.3% of Houston students missed school because of cyberbullying, which has victimized 76.7% of tweens and 82.0% of teens in the city (Crime Stoppers of Houston para.3). These statistics are disturbing and inform how much cyberbullying and aggravating behaviors have been normalized and learned, calling for immediate behavior change.
The existing laws against cyberbullying are not enough, and more is required of adult behavior to stop cyberbullying on social media. This argument is not ignorant of the value of existing cyberbullying policies, but they too are a sophisticated agenda. However, Texas cyberbullying laws generally protect students and fail to focus on adults, who are the immediate behavior factors for the students. As such, adults in the political arena bash each other, call names, and spread propaganda and political threats without any serious repercussions, except maybe the host’s closure of their social media accounts. Importantly, politicians are an elite of the society, and young people learn a lot from them directly and passively. The social structures have made it so that politicians and other celebrities considered important, powerful or famous, tend to be idolized and admired by their followers. A study in a Social Psychology journal found that “celebrities can influence their behavior by activating bundles of social norms” (Lindenberg et al. 98). Followers of arrogant and hateful politicians are likely to adopt such behaviors and use them against their insignificant others. Therefore, while existing policies are good, they are not enough.
Nevertheless, positive behaviors can shape society and create a positive feedback loop of anti-cyberbullying behaviors on social media. For instance, politicians should stop spreading false information, especially on social media. In the recent Twitter ban for Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, she was alleged to have spread false (non-official) information about Covid-19 vaccine deaths (Madani para.5). As far as truth is concerned, such statistics are not to be taken seriously, yet the gravity of the matter is significant. The best behavior should be communicating through appropriate channels and taking responsibility for misinformation. However, Greene condemned Twitter for the ban and linked the ban to her current political battles. Such behavior escalates bad conduct on social media while simply confirming truths despite their unfavorableness, and taking responsibility for the wrongs would encourage others to conduct themselves with dignity in cyberspaces. As such, politicians should encourage truth-finding and speaking, stop the name-calling, spreading rumors, and reputation bashing, and send threats to their competitors, which will be replicated in society by people who idolise, worship, and admire them. As per the social learning theory explained by Lindenberg et al. (98) and evidence that adult celebrities model teen behaviors, it is important that politicians adopt such behaviors which are anti bullying and promote tolerance despite political and ideological differences in the society.
However, the blame is not all on politicians, and their social media behavior should not give a blind eye to the issues that need callouts. Instead, parents and caregivers of young people should guide them on the safe use of social media, avoidance of cyberbullying and cybercrimes, and reporting cyberbullying. Also, politicians should find a balance between aggressive and unacceptable behaviors that can influence their followers into becoming social media bullies. Although Lindenberg et al. (98) blames celebrities for teens’ behaviors, a highly agreeable study found that parents are the number one factor influencing human behaviors (Davis-Kean 301-303). Parents are firstly responsible for countering social media bullying behaviors before politicians. Besides, politicians need younger generations to emulate fearlessness in dealing with social injustices, which sometimes comes at the cost of calling out evils explicitly and even leading protests.
In conclusion, it is reasonably important for politicians to adopt good behaviors on social media, which will influence society into anti-bullying behaviors such as political tolerance. Given the differences that often arise among politicians in their quest for political powers, they are likely to influence cyberbullying through social media such as name calling, spreading rumors, reputation bashing, and sending threats. This is critical since the existing policies only target students and fail to challenge adults, who are the primary factor influencing teens’ behaviors. However, parents are the number one responsible adult in children’s use and management of social media, and politicians must be prompt to call out the evils in society. That leads to a dilemma on where the boundary exists between acceptable aggressive callouts and unethical behaviors that are likely to escalate cyberbullying on social media. Should this proposal be accepted, policies that specifically screen politicians’ conduct on social media can be implemented? There should be active sensitization of appropriate social medial conduct and desensitization of the current name-calling, spreading rumours, reputation bashing, and sending threats.
Anderson, Monica. “A Majority Of Teens Have Experienced Some Form Of Cyberbullying”. Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, 2018, https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2018/09/27/a-majority-of-teens-have-experienced-some-form-of-cyberbullying/.