Decoding Your Digital Footprint

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on June 12, 2013

When individuals are online, they are assigned an Internet Protocol (IP) address by their Internet service provider (e.g., Earthlink, AOL, Qwest, Comcast, their school) or cell phone service provider (e.g., Sprint, AT&T, Verizon). This IP address is unique and is bound to a person’s current online session—whether it is via a computer, cell phone, or other portable electronic device. It is continually associated with the data transactions (sending [uploading] and receiving [downloading], interacting, communicating) that are made between one’s device and the rest of the World Wide Web and between one’s social networking site, email, instant message, and chat software and the existing population of Internet users. All data transactions are stamped with one’s IP address and the exact date and time (to the millisecond) that it occurred, and they are kept in log files on computers owned by Internet service providers, cell phone service providers, and content providers (Facebook, Google, Hotmail, Yahoo!, etc.).

When attempting to discover the aggressor behind the keyboard, it is vital to know the IP address bound to the malicious message or piece of content. Once that is discovered, the relevant provider can assist school police (or local, state, or federal law enforcement) in identifying the online session in question, which points to the Internet service provider or cell phone service provider through whom the online connection was made, then to the person connected to that specific account (by way of the billing information), and finally to the family member who was logged in at the time the cyberbullying took place.

From School Climate 2.0: Preventing Cyberbullying and Sexting One Classroom at a Time

How to Report Cyberbullying on Instagram

Posted by Sameer Hinduja on May 28, 2013

Recently, we’ve discussed general safety tips for teens related to Instagram, and also fleshed out in detail how individuals are cyberbullied on Instagram. Today, I thought I’d summarize the ways in which teens (and adults) should use the social media platform to reduce their chances of victimization and to have the most enjoyable and hassle-free experience.

When you’re tagged in a photo that you can see that you dislike or is cruel or embarrassing, you can click on it and Hide it from your profile, Remove yourself from the photo, and/or Report it as Inappropriate to the site. All of these options are available by selecting the photo, clicking your name (the tag), and then choosing from the various options presented. They are also available by clicking on the […] button to the right of the Like and Comment buttons at the bottom of every picture.

Always remember that you can report *any* inappropriate picture posted by someone else in that manner – by selecting the […] button. Please know that when you “report” a photo, the person you are reporting against doesn’t ever find out that it was you who reported against them. You remain anonymous. Instagram then just simply looks into the matter to verify whether the picture is, in fact, inappropriate. If it is, they will delete it.

Let’s say someone is being a jerk to you on Instagram in numerous ways. If you go to that user’s page, at the top right is an icon that looks like a box with an arrow flying out of it (if you use iOS devices, you are very familiar with this icon as it represents “Send…”). Clicking on that button will allow you to Block that user, or Report him/her for Spam. When you block someone, that person can’t search for you or view your photos – and they don’t get any sort of notification that they have been blocked. If you have mutual followers, though, that person can still see the likes and comments you make on other people’s pictures (you don’t become completely invisible to each other, like on Facebook).



Even if you block someone, you can still be mentioned in captions and comments with your username (in my case, @hinduja) and cyberbullied in that way. What you have to do then is to Block that person, and change your username (under Edit Your Profile, accessible via the right-most button in the main navigation bar at the bottom of Instagram). I know this is a chore, and you probably don’t want to do that – but it’s an option if absolutely necessary.





When it comes to comments on pictures, always remember that you can manually delete ones that are harmful or humiliating – or report them. If it is on your picture, click the Comment button, and then swipe on the problematic comment. This will give you access to a trash can icon – allowing you to either Delete it and Report it as abusive, or simply to Delete it. If it is on someone else’s picture, do that person (and cyberspace) a favor by clicking the Comment button, swiping on the problematic content, and Report it (using the icon with an exclamation point on a stop sign). Eliminate hate. All the cool kids are doing it. And it’s definitely worth the two seconds it takes. Again, the person you are reporting against never learns who flagged them, their image, or their comment.


Finally, a point I made in a previous blog bears repeating: to avoid stress and headaches that might come from dealing with unwelcome interactions from people you don’t really want to know or be in touch with, set your Photos to Private. This one step does so much to keep you in control of your content. Try not to simply desire to connect with as many other Instagram users as possible, just to raise the number of your Followers. You’ll never be satisfied. Rather, have quality interactions on Instagram with people that you like and know, and want to be in friendship/relationship with. The bonding experiences over pictures and captions and comments and hashtags become so much more meaningful. It’s like you’re actually sharing your life with people that are in your life. And they’re doing the same! Hope this helps!

Cyberbullying on Instagram

Posted by Sameer Hinduja on May 21, 2013

Last time, I shared my viewpoints on Instagram safety in a general way. Today, I’m going to talk about cyberbullying that occurs on Instagram. As I mentioned, Instagram is minimalistic and intentionally doesn’t provide a lot of features that you might find on Facebook. This also means that various forms of victimization – identity theft, impersonation, intellectual property theft, grooming by sexual predators, private threats, and hate speech going completely viral – are rarely going to happen. In what ways, though, can you bully, mistreat, or humiliate someone on the site?

1. You can post a malicious or embarrassing photo of a target for all of your followers to see.

2. You can caption a gross or disgusting or otherwise insulting or demeaning photo with a target’s username and perhaps a negative sentiment (for example, uploading a picture of a sumo wrestler and then captioning with something like “this reminds me of @hinduja”…I’ll let your mind come up with much more offensive and hurtful examples)

3. You can post cruel comments under a photo that someone posts.

4. Different than adding a username in a caption or a comment, you can tag a user through the new “Add People” feature on the Share screen – where the tag is added to the image itself. If your Instagram profile is  public, anyone can see it – and it could go viral. If your profile is private, and the target is not following you, they will not be notified or be able to see the photo, tag(s), caption, comments. Which could be completely awful, where they are humiliated or harassed until a sympathetic friend finally clues them in.

4. You can add hateful hashtags under a photo that you post (in the caption or comments) or that someone else posts (in the comments). For example, #dork or #loser or #fuglyslut or #tryweightwatchers or #crackwhore or #cantbelievesheworethat or #peoplewhoshouldoffthemselves. Once again, I’ll let your mind come up with a million more that are so much worse.

5. You can create a fake account to impersonate someone else, and be cruel through pictures, captions, comments, and hashtags.

Here are a few stories from some teens who have talked with us about their experiences on Instagram:

“Last year I got an Instagram account made about me. The got pictures off my Instagram and posted it on theirs. I was being called a w****, s***, and a b****. I was so upset, that I self-harmed. But then I realized that I had to stay strong so I stopped. Then on may 2 I got 4 more made about me and doing the same thing except calling me a lesbian. This time I got help, and it got taken down. From this day police are still trying to find out who made the account. Stay. Strong.” 13 year-old girl from Tennessee

“I am 18 years old. This year on the 2nd week of school, I parked my car crooked. A girl in my class took a picture of it and put it on Instagram stating that I couldn’t park because I was deaf. That picture circulated. A boy in my class posted on twitter the next day “Tomorrow is national Park like a Retard day. AKA park like “MB day”. The next day 30 cars parked crooked in the school parking lot. I went to the office and told my principal and he put parking tickets on their windows. My name was all over twitter and Facebook and everyone tried to make an a** out of me.” ~ 18 year-old female from Pennsylvania

“I posted a picture of myself on Instagram and people started commeting these awful things like “Eww ur so ugly” “Why don’t you go kill urslef everyone would be happier that way” And I KNOW these people…they go to my school. I cried for a good 2 hours. But this wasn’t the first time this has happened on all my pictures at least 3 people say something like that. I’m never going on Instagram again. I wish I could disapear so I don’t I have to go to school.” ~ 12 year-old girl from Colorado

To be sure, these unfortunate, sad, and frustrating experiences could have occurred to youth in any online environment. Instagram is not the problem. Social media is not the problem. Technology is not the problem. It is the underlying issues of peer conflict, immaturity, insecurity, ethics, socioemotional dysfunctions, and behavioral issues that foster instances of online bullying among individuals. And that is something we must all continue to target, so that we can make further headway in safeguarding, equipping, and empowering our youth as they navigate the difficult waters of adolescence. Next time we’ll discuss how cyberbullying can be prevented and combated on Instagram.

My Advice to Teens about Instagram

Posted by Sameer Hinduja on May 13, 2013

Instagram is great. I use it and like it very much, for a number of reasons. Even though I have to view it through the lens of “online safety” given my work and professional passion, I still completely support (and am excited about) its widespread and growing adoption by teens (and adults). Similar to other blogs I’ve written, I want to provide some thoughts to those teens who use it, and those who don’t – just a variety of important things to know and consider. Overall, we obviously care greatly that youth embrace technology and have a ton of fun with it, but are also safe and responsible so they can do it for the rest of their lives…without also messing up their lives (or the lives of others) in the process.

My favorite aspect of Instagram is that it is minimalistic. Keeping the design, interface, functionality, and interaction options naturally reduces points of vulnerability in social media participation. As compared to Facebook, you can’t see, share, or do much – and I like that. You can take a picture through the app (or just access your Camera Roll to select a picture), add a filter if you want, correct colors and levels, and add a location if you want (which we advise against – if you want someone to know where you are, just text them using your phone – don’t post it in relatively public social media environments!).

After you tweak your photo, you then can share it with others through your account (40 million are uploaded every single day!). Also, like in other social media environments, you can add a caption, tag other users in the caption or in comments, and add hashtags in the caption or comments to help others find similarly tagged/categoried photos. For those of you who don’t know, a hashtag is what you’re seeing more often in captions and comments – a word or phrase preceded by a “#”. For example, I could tag a picture of myself at my local beach with hashtags such as #surfsup and #soflo (south florida) and #sunshine and #atlanticocean (or whatever I want). That way, others can select that hashtag (which becomes a hyperlink that you can click through) and see all of the other images that have been similarly tagged or categorized.

Instagram’s latest update added the ability to tag others users in your pictures, and I understand why they did this (to facilitate further connections and interactions) but I was like, “nooooooooooo.” I don’t want it to be feature-rich. I want it to be stripped down. I want it to do what it was originally intended to do, and do it well. That said, we are seeing a shift from the way it was originally used as its user base grows.

Initially, I would say that it was primarily used as an avenue of artistic expression where unique, creative photos enhanced by fun hipster filters were uploaded – and where others would critique and praise those creations of “instant art.” Now, it’s most-often used by teens and young adults to just take and share pictures of themselves, and themselves with others. In fact, I see a TON of selfies on Instagram, which shows me that it’s just another (currently cool and relevant) way for teens to express themselves to get likes and comments. No big deal. I like selfies. My friends give me crap because I probably post a selfie a week. But it makes me happy to do so, so I am going to keep doing it! And clearly, it provides that same benefit to many others.

There are much fewer ways to open yourself up to victimization (or victimize others) on Instagram (than on Facebook or sites which encourage more information sharing). For example, you are not sharing as much of yourself as you typically do on Facebook. You have a nickname, you have a short biographical sketch, you upload photos, and you follow others who do the same. I could say that I don’t want teens to use their first and last name as their nickname, but I don’t think it’s a fatal mistake to do so.

I do see some teens post contact information in their Instagram bio sketch (like their Kik nickname, or their Skype nickname, their Facebook username, etc.), and I would strongly advise against that. If you choose to put other contact information in your Instagram profile, know that you’re opening yourself to being contacted by people you don’t know. And maybe you want that, because you’re bored, or lonely, or just really want to connect with others who are into the same things as you (no problem). Just check yourself to make sure it’s not because you’re desperate for random strangers to notice you, like you, and chat with you. Based on the stories we hear from teens, that sort of thing tends to lead to more problems and drama and headaches than it’s worth.

Some of the teens that I know would love for there to be some sort of one-on-one behind-the-scenes messaging functionality within Instagram. I hope that never happens. Instagram is a comparatively safe space for users in large part because you can’t privately message another person. Let’s say you are exploring users, or hashtags, or your friend’s followers – and you see a really good-looking girl, and really want to message her to get to know her better. Unfortunately for you, you can’t.

All you can do is post a comment to one of her photos (if her account is not set to private). And she may reply in a comment under your comment – once again, publicly viewable to everyone – but she may not because she might think you are creepy for commenting on a photo of someone you’re not actually following. I love this. I don’t want weird, creepy people with malicious or perverse motives having the ability to message others to try and connect and bond with them just because they liked a photo of theirs. Not that you are like that. But you know what I mean. Please, Instagram, don’t add a messaging functionality. Allow other social media environments to do that. Don’t try to be all things to all people. It will completely ruin what you’ve created.

This also brings up another point – teens, please set your Photos to Private, so that people you don’t intentionally accept to be your follower can’t view your photos. Stay in control of your online experience, and what you share (and don’t share) with others. I know you want to gain more and more followers, and perhaps the best way to do this is to let anyone see all of your photos through your own account and by following hashtags to get to your photos. But amassing more and more followers is a never-ending pursuit, and it’s shallow. First, you were so happy when you got a few likes to a picture you uploaded. Then you weren’t happy until you got double-digit likes. Now you want triple-digit likes. And multiple comments. And it kind of bums you out when it doesn’t happen. This is madness, and there is no end to this. It’s never going to be enough, and you are going to waste so much of your life this way.

And honestly, you need to remind yourself that people just quickly scroll through hundreds of pictures when they check their phone in moments of boredom (because they are, like you, often following hundreds of people), and just touch each one to like them. Liking a photo on Instagram is a quick, relatively thoughtless piece of interaction that often doesn’t mean much at all. It’s barely a token demonstration of interest. So please do not get caught up in it. It seriously makes me sad when I see so many teens that do. As I’ve mentioned before, your identity cannot be wrapped up in the number of times you are noticed, liked, or validated on Instagram.

Oh, and we also see more and more memes being posted and shared on Instagram. We initially saw that occurring most frequently on Tumblr, with memes being blogged and reblogged there. The bottom line is that teens love Instagram and are on it doing things they used to do exclusively on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. While many adults use and love Instagram, I would say that teens have largely taken it over, and repurposed it within their own circles. This isn’t a bad thing; in fact, it shows that the fundamental structure and functionality of the site is simply brilliant.

Finally, it should be mentioned that emojis are fun. It’s just really a blast to be able to use them (appropriately)! That said, though, don’t post too many in your captions or comments. It makes you seem like you’re five years old. And it will, in time, open you up to haters. I think one, or a couple, are perfect.  In my opinion, they just lose their meaning otherwise!

Next time, I’m going to talk in detail about cyberbullying among teens on Instagram – what we are seeing, and how it’s affecting who are targeted. And then we’ll talk about what can be done.  I welcome your comments and input!

Submit: The Documentary

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on March 11, 2013

submit-the-documentaryI just previewed the producer’s cut of a new film on the topic of cyberbullying. Admittedly, I was skeptical at first, because I have seen these kinds of productions before and have either been underwhelmed or downright angry at the way the problem was portrayed.  But this effort was different and I think has the potential to do some good.

Submit: The Documentary” presents the perspectives of many who have experienced the problem of cyberbullying from a variety of viewpoints, including victims and parents, but also educators, researchers, legislators, and policymakers. I was glad to see many familiar cyberbullying prevention and education colleagues prominently featured throughout the film, including my friend and Cyberbullying Research Center co-director Sameer Hinduja. Together, they present a clear view of the nature of the cyberbullying problem, and offer their insights about why we need to focus more attention on it.

“Submit” includes the requisite stories of those who have been affected most deeply by cyberbullying. Tina Meier, Donna Witsell, John Lowe, and others who lost their children as a result of, at least in part, experience with cyberbullying remind viewers that these behaviors cannot simply be ignored. Their experiences, while thankfully not representative, are instructive. We can learn a lot from what happened to Megan, Hope, and Johanna, and shame on us if we don’t do things better the next time.

As much as it was important to revisit these tragic stories, and even though it was a nice change to see and hear from some of “the experts” who have devoted their careers to this problem, the indisputable stars of this film were the students. They illuminate a reality of cyberbullying that has largely escaped mainstream media.  They talk about why they do what they do, and perhaps even more enlightening, why they don’t do what they don’t do. The teens pointedly acknowledge the challenges of dealing with cyberbullying and related behaviors–most of which stem from a general distrust of adults to do anything meaningful to curb the bullying.  Indeed, most young people we speak with say the number one reason they don’t confide in adults when confronted with cyberbullying is because they fear it will only make matters worse. Mike Donlin re-affirms this perspective in his remarks that were featured in the film.

As a film intended to capture broad public interest, “Submit” walks a fine-line between presenting a narrative of cyberbullying that is accurate and one that is shocking, fear-mongering, or otherwise “entertaining.”  To be a commercial success, especially in the documentary genre, it seems that a film needs to be portentous, provocative, or overly alarmist.  Compared to other films that tackle this subject, “Submit” does a better job balancing the hype with the lived-reality of teens in the 21st Century. For example, “Bully,” the 2011 documentary that followed the experiences of five youth and their families, focused so much on the extremity of the problem that while I was left physically hurting for the families featured I was no better prepared to do anything about it. “Bully” left me with the impression that adults are impotent when it comes to stopping bullying because most of the adults included in that film failed in their efforts, or worse, didn’t try.

To some extent, “Submit” begins to lead viewers down a path toward a similar conclusion: that schools, parents, the police, and other adult institutions are incapable at preventing or stopping cyberbullying.  But “Submit” doesn’t stop there and carries the discussion forward, presenting some of the emerging evidence about what does work to stop bullying. Among the promising approaches highlighted is to cultivate empathy among students.  Not only will empathetic students refrain from bullying others online and off, but they will also stand up for those who are being targeted. By encouraging young people and empowering bystanders to take action, we have a better chance at making strides to reduce this problem. As Sameer states in the film: “Bystanders can be heroes.”  We genuinely believe that.  Teens see a lot more of what is going on than most adults and they are, as a result, often in the best position to do something about it.

But they shouldn’t have to do it alone, any more than schools should have to respond to bullying by themselves.  Bullying, no matter the form, is a community problem which demands a community response.  Educators, parents, police officers, faith leaders, community partners, researchers, technology companies, and yes, teens, have the power *together* to adequately prevent and respond to this problem.  “Submit” is a solid reminder and all who care about the online lives of adolescents are encouraged to check it out. Trailer here.