Despite the social media giant’s best efforts to the contrary, Facebook and Instagram remain the worst offenders for online bullying, with children as young as 10 being subjected to racist insults, according to a report from McAfee.
“Though Meta has put together comprehensive resources for family safety on Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger, and taken steps to put additional protections and features in place, cyberbullying persists on Meta properties at the highest rates,” said McAfee.
Facebook is in first place when it comes to children both witnessing and experiencing cyberbullying, with around half of underage respondents – or their parents speaking on their behalf – saying one or the other happened to them while using the popular platform.
By comparison, only one in five said they had either witnessed or suffered being bullied on Twitter, with TikTok reporting roughly one quarter of child users saying the same thing had happened to them.
Online racism rife in India
When viewing cyberbullying by country, India leads the way for incidences of racist attacks on social media platforms, with a shocking four in ten children suffering this kind of abuse online – as against the global average of one in four. The US was also shamed by the McAfee report, with a third of children being singled out online for their racial characteristics, just second behind India.
By contrast, the UK (19%), France (17%), Japan (16%), and Mexico (14%) appear to have fewer problems with open racism among child internet users, although this is still a persistent issue in all four countries, with between one in seven and one in five underage users suffering.
Perhaps most shockingly, worldwide “22% of children as young as 10 years old report being the victim of racially motivated cyberbullying,” according to McAfee, which said that more than four in ten child internet users of both sexes in India aged up to 14 had suffered in this way.
When it came to cyberbullying escalating to the most severe forms of abuse including physical threats issued online, sexual harassment, and stalking, the South Asian country had the dubious honor of topping the poll once again, with 28% of children suffering in this way.
The US came in second place behind India here as well, with one-fifth of its children suffering the worst kinds of abuse at the hands of cyberbullies. And again, Japan led the other nations by example, with just one child in 25 reportedly subjected to this kind of extreme treatment.
Different ways to misbehave
Offensive slurs, social exclusion from online groups, and spreading false rumors were named by McAfee as the top three weapons in the cyberbully’s arsenal – and this time not even Japan escaped censure.
“Name-calling leads the way among all forms of cyberbullying reported by children, at 40% worldwide,” said McAfee, emphasizing that 56% of children in the UK and 50% of children in the US had suffered being insulted online. “This figure is high across all nations, including Japan (23%), which has otherwise shown low reported rates of cyberbullying,” it added.
And Japan, having been a relative haven for its children in other aspects of cyberbullying, raced into the top spot for spreading false and potentially damaging rumors online – a staggering 44% of cyberbullying incidents in the Asian nation entailed this method, suggesting that Japanese children prefer backstabbing to browbeating when it comes to making their schoolmates’ lives miserable.
That said, cyberbullies in Japan are at least more inclusive than their counterparts in other countries – excluding victims from social groups appears to be far less prevalent there than in other countries, while in Australia on the other hand it seems to be almost commonplace.
“The absence of communication is the second-highest form [of cyberbullying], where exclusion from group chats and conversations comes in at 36% globally, reaching as high as 49% in Australia and 43% in the UK and Mexico,” said McAfee. “With all nations registering a rate of at least 30%, Japan once again stands as the outlier at 13%.”
Meta set to lose out
It appears from McAfee’s findings that Meta itself stands to suffer if it continues to lose its war on cyberbullying, with millions of children deleting their social media accounts rather than continue to put up with being trashed online by their peers.
“Faced with serious threats online from a young age, more than one in three children worldwide say that they have deleted an account to avoid bullying,” said McAfee, adding that Meta’s messaging platforms WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger outpace all other like platforms for cyberbullying.
“Whether witnessed or experienced themselves, children indicate that cyberbullying can occur at up to four times the rate on WhatsApp than other messaging platforms, such as Discord, a popular chat and voice app for gamers and online communities,” said McAfee.
And with three-quarters of parents surveyed saying they are more worried about cyberbullying this year than they were the last, the trend appears set to continue.
Six in ten are also concerned that their own children might turn out to be cyberbullies, perhaps unable to resist the temptation proffered by social media to have a dig at easy targets in their peer group.
“Based on the responses of children, some of these parental worries may have merit,” said McAfee.
When asked if they had ever cyberbullied anyone, child respondents were – perhaps predictably – reluctant to fess up. Around four in five said they had never done so, with the highest rate of denial coming from UK children – 93% claimed to be entirely innocent.
Given the age-old propensity for children to be somewhat economical with the truth when it comes to admitting wrongdoing, especially to an adult, some might find such claims hard to believe.
Indeed, McAfee found that “more than half of children have cyberbullied, but don’t realize it [...] perhaps indicating that their definition of cyberbullying differs from the clinically accepted definition.”
McAfee outlined the latter as constituting any one or more of the following: “flaming” or personal slights during online disputes, outing somebody’s sexual orientation without their consent, trolling, and doxing – publishing private information about someone without their permission.
In addition, McAfee cites the following formal definition by StopBullying.gov: “Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets [...] through SMS, text, apps, social media, forums, or gaming. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else.”
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