It is simple. It is intuitive. It can make social media safer for us all. But, most adults and teens are not doing it: blocking and reporting obscene, hateful, and threatening content.
Cyberbullying, hate speech, sexual harassment, propaganda are just some of the social media-related dangers that come in the form of posts, comments, or messages.
To be clear, the harm this content can cause is severe. Ten percent of cyberbullying victims attempt suicide. Social media-spread hate speech has spurred horrific mass shootings. And, propaganda has the potential to fundamentally undermine our democracy.
In theory, we should have more control over these dangerous posts, as all social media content exists entirely by the consent of the social media platform. That means that the content can be de-emphasized or removed. And, the poster can be hidden from individual feeds or removed from the platform altogether. Ultimately, if the platform can quickly remove harmful content, the platform can limit its harm. And, if the platform can remove or deter offenders, especially repeat offenders, the platform can prevent harm altogether.
That is why we emphasize to teens and parents the importance of developing a habit of reporting harmful content to the platform and then blocking the offender from their own social media pages. By blocking and reporting harmful content, we can not only protect ourselves, individually, from dangerous content, but, through reporting, we can do our part to make the entire social media community safer.
Unfortunately, blocking and reporting will never be a complete remedy:
- Reporting problematic content does not always result in having the content removed from the platform.
- Platforms’ guidelines for removing content can vary widely.
- Reporting will not completely stop determined, sophisticated actors, especially those using bots, that conceal their identities online for the purpose of spreading harmful content.
But, even though blocking and reporting are not complete defenses against social media-related dangers, they are still very important actions to undertake. Not only does the habit of blocking and reporting help the platform remove unscrupulous or dangerous users but it also encourages us and our teens to habitually look at content critically instead of mindlessly consuming and absorbing. One of the biggest dangers we face from hateful or obscene content is that it becomes normalized and no longer shocks our collective conscience. By actively engaging their minds and being on the lookout for inappropriate or dangerous posts when scrolling through social media, our teens are constantly defending their minds from racism, misogyny, homophobia, and propaganda.
That is why the importance of blocking and reporting should be one of the first conversations you have with your teen when you allow them into the world of social media.