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Textual Harassment and Digital Abuse: Cell Phones, Facebook, and Twitter Oh My

Textual Harassment and Digital Abuse: Cell Phones, Facebook, and Twitter Oh My

I’ve had the new iphone for about 24 hours now and it’s incredible (and exhausting) how connected you are to everyone and everything from such a tiny device. This realization took on a whole new meaning when I remembered an article I read last week in the Washington Post about a new trend in dating violence that would be impossible without my savvy little phone – “textual harassment.”

In abusive relationships texting is a new way abusers choose to threaten, stalk, and harass their partners. With various unlimited phone plans this type of abuse can be relentless – sometimes 100 or more texts a day for some according to the Post. Coupled with phone calls, emails, Facebook messages, tweets, etc. dating violence has taken on a whole new dimension in the digital age.

Despite new digital harassing avenues, physical abuse in relationships remains. In fact, a federal survey last month revealed that one of 10 high school students nationally reported being hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend during the previous year. Imagine how great that number would be if you were to factor in “textual harassment” and other forms of online abuse.

Another survey by the Associated Press and MTV  revealed some other disturbing trends in what they coin “digital abuse:”

  • Almost a quarter of young people currently in some sort of romantic relationship report that their boyfriend or girlfriend checks up with them multiple times per day, either online or on a cell phone, to see where they are, who they’re with or what they’re doing.
  • More than 1 in 4 say their boyfriend or girlfriend has checked the text messages on their phone without permission.
  • More than 1 in 10 have had a boyfriend or girlfriend demand passwords.
  • Roughly 1 in 10 have also had a significant other demand that they “unfriend” former boyfriends/girlfriends on social networks.

With so many choices – text, call, slap, punch, facebook, tweet – dating violence has transformed greatly especially when I think about what students experienced when I was in high school.

There was a time not so long ago when teenagers didn’t have cell phones (it’s more difficult to harass someone via beeper, remember those?) and had to call their boyfriend or girlfriend’s homes to speak to them. That often meant speaking to their parents first which meant the parents could monitor phone calls.

There was also a time not too long ago when Facebook, twitter, and other social networks didn’t exist at all (imagine that). These new social networks now provide yet another platform for harassment, bullying, and abuse.

MTV has created a new campaign – A Thin Line – to raise awareness of “digital abuse” like forced sexting, textual harassment, and cyber-bullying. The campaign was developed to educate students to identify, respond to, and stop the spread of digital abuse.  In an age of ever expanding technology and increasing social networks we will need more programs likes this to educate youth. Who knows what other social networks – and accompanying abuse – we’ll have next year or even next month.

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Photo by Cyrillicus used under a Creative Commons license

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9:13AM PDT on Jul 28, 2010

Good article- thanks.

12:21AM PDT on Jul 23, 2010

Great article. Thanks.

4:16AM PDT on Jul 22, 2010

I personally believe that the digital age is merely an excuse for the fact that people have become addicted to public attention. Just one look at the type of information most people publish about themselves on social networking sites is testament to that.

It's a potential stalker's wet dream.

If we were more circumspect about what we post online, who we give personal information to and how we go about projecting ourselves in a VERY public sphere, many of these problems simply wouldn't exist.

In an effort to appear "popular", we've become far less selective about the information we share and who we share it with.

Unfortunately, people no longer value privacy... their own, or that of others. While modern technology has enabled that... I fear the root of the problem is much deeper.

7:47PM PDT on Jul 21, 2010

i wouldn't let just anyone in through my front door, so i apply the same principals with my electronic gadgets.... it works!

1:24AM PDT on Jul 11, 2010

I had a wannabe kinetic psychic weather mover stalk me all over the place. I couldn't go anywhere, and he had my phone number. I changed my cell phone number, and blocked him on my online profiles. I also have him listed as spam in my emails. Why should I have to put my life on hold or go into hiding because someone wants to be a techno bully?

6:39PM PDT on Jul 8, 2010

I dont hang out with people who would treat me with such disrespect

6:22AM PDT on Jul 8, 2010

I had to use the 'block this person' option on Facebook once - a handy little tool.

2:34PM PDT on Jul 7, 2010


5:17PM PDT on Jul 6, 2010

There is one simple solution when technological harassment gets out of hand: Refuse to take part. Don't get a cell phone, don't get a Facebook page, and don't sign on to twitter.

12:11PM PDT on Jul 6, 2010

Stupid is as stupid does.

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