Exposing Culture: A Form of Cyberbullying

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Note: This post was produced in 2022 by a participant in DNDA’s Summer Youth Program writing workshop led by Beverly Aarons.

Author: Dreamy B.

If you’re an adult and you were in a room of teenagers and you pulled out a phone to take a picture, more than half of them would duck, cover their face or beg not to take a photo. This may be confusing to a non-gen z member. From the outside looking in, our generation is always taking photos and posting the best ones on our instagram accounts. The reasoning behind this is a lot deeper than you may think or know.

Let me set a scene for you. Imagine you’re having a usual day, maybe you don’t look or feel the best and someone snaps a photo of you. In the society we live in today that fixates on being picture perfect all the time sometimes just being a human isn’t enough. It starts with just a silly photo, texts or other digital media but ending up in the wrong hands can be catastrophic to the people it’s happening to. Typically when something ends up in the wrong hands it ends up being shared through social media sites such as Snapchat or Instagram. Now that simple piece of digital media is being used as an object of blackmail or used to manipulate. In some cases people don’t do it to be deceitful or cruel but simply as a joke not realizing that their ‘joke’ is hurting people deeply.

“It can make you feel really insecure,” said Zy’ona White, a 10th grader in the Pacific Northwest.

In this day and age things can be easily shared or posted. White talked about how people would post old photos of her and how that would make her feel. “I really didn’t like the feeling. It made me feel bad,” said White. “I start to compare myself to others and feel like why don’t I look like them.” Comparing yourself to others is very detrimental to self esteem. “ I really didn’t like it when people would laugh at the photos and call me ugly.” When this happened to Zyona White it was very hurtful and damaging and she didn’t know what to do. “Everyone thought it was a funny joke. I asked people to stop sharing the photos, but they wouldn’t.”

Another friend of mine named Laniyah Johnson went through a similar experience.

“I remember this time when my so-called friends took unflattering photos of  my mom at the grocery store and posted them and they got around the school. Eventually my peers began making fun of me and my mother” said Johnson. “I remember crying because my mom had just got off work and was just grocery shopping for her kids and now, for no reason, she’s getting made fun of by a bunch of high schoolers.”

She asked her “friends” to stop distributing the photo around the school. None of them took her concerns seriously. They made her feel like she was overreacting and that it was just a silly joke.

Personally, I’ve dealt with my own share of these same things over the years. I remember when I went to my first concert, I posted a video of myself happy and excited, and a group of kids in my neighborhood took a screenshot of the video and shared it in a group chat. Someone from the  group chat shared the messages with me. They were very hurtful. They said things like, “wow dream looked so ugly on her instagram story today “ and “she thinks she is so cute but look at her she’s not.” I remember they even made an interactive poll named “Did Dream Actually Look Good In The Video?” Everyone in the groupchat voted. Luckily I’ve worked on building up my self esteem so i didn’t let the words penetrate too deep. I told myself that those people don’t really know me so what they said didn’t matter. The words did still stick with me though either way.  It made me feel exposed. Like all of a sudden all these people, who I didn’t really know at all, commented on my looks and body.

A 17-year-old friend of mine told me a story of how a group of kids used screenshots of text messages to blackmail her. “It started with simple text messages,” she said. She explained that she was texting her ‘friend’ about another classmate.

“She kept asking me questions about this girl who we knew. She asked me if the girl looked dumb, I agreed not really thinking much of it,” the 17-year-old said. Her friend then threatened to share the text messages if she did not let her cheat off her in school the next day.

“I gave in because I did not want to deal with the social consequences.” She knew that if what she said got back to her classmate it would be much worse than letting her friend cheat off her.

These are just a few stories about this topic but I know for a fact that it is unfortunately a common experience. What are some ways we can stop it? First thing is not reposting personal photos or other forms of digital media. Also, letting people know that this behavior is not okay and that it actually hurts people. In serious cases, you should let an adult know since it is a form of cyberbullying. Remember, when people try to make you feel bad it is a reflection of themselves. If we all work together we can make stop Exposing Culture.