Social media is wonderful in so many ways, one of those being that it promotes a freedom of speech. We prefer that freedom of speech be positive, but alas, it isn’t always. Cyber bullying is becoming more and more common. The word was first used in 2000 and eleven years later it was added as officially to the dictionary. But this is no surprise. Bullying has always happened, whether it is teens ganging up on a peer, an ex seeking revenge, or consumers going overboard complaining about a local business that didn’t serve them to their unrealistic and entitled expectations.

“The Internet just serves as a magnifying glass and an accelerator to what people have already done and will continue to do.” –Sean Burrows

Cyber bullying and traditional bullying are similar in many ways. They involve verbal abuse, sexual harassment, exclusion from friendships and groups, ruining reputations and sometimes violence. The difference between these two forms of bullying is that cyberbullies harass their victims anonymously, while traditional bully victims know who their attacker is. Cyberbullies like to attack those that live far away from them so that they cannot easily be identified. Traditionally, victims would move or even change towns. But cyberbullies are difficult to get away from and can attack you 24/7. They can spread lies that keep individuals from employment and lead businesses to fail. Victims are frustrated at the very least. Prolonged bullying can cause damage all around. In cases of threatened violence, most victims to live in fear.

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Man is at least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth.” –Oscar Wilde

A desire to become anonymous may have stemmed from Edward Snowden’s reveal “that the National Security Agency has access to just about everything we do online” –Steve Kovach, Business Insider, CNN.

As a result many anonymous social media apps have been developed, one of which is Yik Yak. Yik Yak was developed in 2013 by Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington to give people freedom to say whatever they wanted without anyone knowing it was them. Just as their homepage says, they encourage people to “share [their] thoughts with people around [them] while keeping [their] privacy” –Jonathan Mahler , NY Times

They are one of the most popular anonymous social media apps at the Apple app store, allowing users to get the “yaks” of anyone in a 1.5 mile radius, making them great for college campuses. But as you would imagine, they lead to a lot of cyberbullying for students, professors, and anybody in general. At Eastern Michigan University a teaching assistant approached her professor, showing her what students had been saying about her during the lecture. Most of the posts were “demeaning, many using crude, sexually explicit language and imagery” –Jonathan Mahler , NY Times 121415 Bullying Yik Yak_II This professor sent screenshots of the comments to university officials, pleading for them to take action, but they couldn’t, because it was all anonymous. How does this affect this individual business person? How does cyber bullying affect the organization as a whole? If it can’t protect it’s people, it is a less desirable organization to be a part of? Is it a less desirable place to receive services (education in this circumstance)? Are other customers (students) less likely to attend this university too?

In response, colleges have tried to block it on their internet networks, but people can still access it through their 4G devices. After it became a large problem, Droll and Buffington added filters to prevent full names and words like “Jewish” and “bomb” from being posted. While first uneasily traceable, they have begun to cooperate with the authorities and over 10 people have since been arrested for threatening violence. In ninety percent of the nation’s high schools and middle schools, they have built what they call virtual fences – or “geo-fences” so that it’s nearly impossible to open the app on school grounds. All this to prevent Yik Yak from being used as a cyber bullying tool.

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Remember that cyberbullies are usually cowardly, insecure people with no lives, who don’t have the courage to say their feelings to someone’s face. That is why they love hiding behind distance and online anonymity.

Businesses have problems with cyber bullying too. They “have run-ins with mistreatment, harassment, and intimidation every day” (Paige Arnoff-Fenn) from unhappy customers, competitors, and possibly co-workers.

These companies “join a gallery of big companies that have learned the hard way that hell hath no fury like a twitter user scorned” –Javier E. David, CNBC

Social media keeps businesses accountable, showing them that they can’t control everything. It gives customers leverage. In March 2015 DC Comics and Starbucks were attacked by unhappy customers on social media when they released new products and initiatives. DC Comics released a new comic book cover of “Batgirl.” Some people made their opinion very loud and clear that they considered the cover sexist, resulting in a week of backlash until DC Comics retreated and yanked their product. Starbuck’s initiative “Race Together” encouraged workers and customers to discuss race, though they didn’t think about how people would react. They had to discontinue the initiative.



“While [business cyberbullying] can help a company to acknowledge a bad decision, it can also cement a negative impression”Javier E. David, CNBC

So what can businesses do to combat cyber bullying? Could businesses have consequences for their workers using social media inappropriately? Above all they should retain a professional appearance and attitude.

“One of the greatest byproducts of social media is that transparency and authenticity are expected and valued” –Paige Arnoff-Fenn, Forbes

Encourage this authenticity, transparency, and trust in your business. A company’s culture –and how it treats others– starts with its leadership. It is also affected by every individual throughout the organization. Where there is bullying, people do not perform to the best of their abilities. Some might even hesitate from performing well because standing out could lead to negative attention. To counter this and to encourage their employees to take reasonable chances, one business awards their employees for the most visible failures and emboldens them to try again while the lesson learned is still fresh in their minds. One lady follow those she knows are cyberbullies so that she can warn their victims before they attack. But the best way to beat cyberbullies is to work as a team against them. If there is no audience, bullies usually get bored and stop.

So is anonymity a good thing or is it destructive? How does it affect your business and what can you do to stop it?

For more on recognizing bullies and responding to them, see “Bullying in Business.” See this blog posts to read more on “Reputation Management & Negative Business Reviews.