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  • Writer's picture Mona Symone

Cyberbullying & Financial Sextortion: Protecting Teens in the Digital Age

What is Cyberbullying?

In today’s digital age, cyberbullying has emerged as a serious issue affecting individuals of all ages, particularly young people. Cyberbullying involves using technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person. This includes online threats, mean or aggressive texts, tweets, posts, or messages, and the posting of personal information, pictures, or videos intended to hurt or embarrass someone.

Cyberbullying can be particularly damaging due to its often anonymous nature and the potential for widespread dissemination. Vic



tims may feel overwhelmed and powerless, not knowing how many people have seen the harmful content. This constant exposure can lead to severe emotional distress, affecting mood, energy levels, sleep, and even academic performance.


A Closer Look at Financial Sextortion

A recent report by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and Thorn, an anti-child sexual abuse technology company, highlights a disturbing trend in financial sextortion. The report, covering data from 2020 to 2023, reveals a dramatic increase in cases, with over 800 reports per week in the past year.


Key Findings:

  • Target Demographic: Teenage boys aged 14-17 are the primary victims, constituting 90% of reported cases.

  • Common Tactics: Offenders often "catfish" victims, pretending to be peers to solicit explicit images, which are then used for blackmail. In some cases, artificial intelligence-generated deepfakes were used to threaten victims.

  • Primary Platforms: Instagram is the most mentioned platform, implicated in 81.3% of cases where offenders threatened to disseminate intimate images, and in 60% of cases where material was actually shared online. Snapchat and Google are also frequently used as secondary platforms.

Financial sextortion has been linked to crime networks in Nigeria and Côte d'Ivoire, where it is promoted as a quick way to make money.


Legal and School Consequences

Many states have laws against discrimination, and cyberbullying that targets someone based on their gender, religion, sexual orientation, race, or physical differences can lead to serious legal consequences. Schools and after-school programs are also implementing strict policies to combat cyberbullying. Bullies may face suspension, dismissal from sports teams, or other disciplinary actions. In some cases, cyberbullying can lead to legal trouble for violating anti-discrimination or sexual harassment laws.


Why Do People Cyberbully?

The motivations behind cyberbullying can vary. Sometimes, it can be accidental due to the impersonal nature of online communication. However, most instances of cyberbullying involve deliberate and repeated harassment. Bullies often know they are crossing a line, engaging in behavior that goes beyond typical teasing or a single nasty comment.


What Can You Do About Cyberbullying?


  1. Speak Up: The first step in combating cyberbullying is to tell someone you trust, such as a parent, teacher, or school counselor. Reporting the bullying can help you find support and potentially stop the bully.

  2. Walk Away: Ignoring the bully and stepping away from your device can help you maintain perspective and avoid engaging in a potentially escalating situation. Engaging in activities you enjoy can also provide a positive distraction.

  3. Save Evidence: Keep records of any bullying incidents. Screenshots or saved messages can serve as evidence if you need to report the bullying.

  4. Report and Block: Social media sites and service providers often have mechanisms to report abuse. Reporting the bully can result in them being blocked from the site. Additionally, use your device’s settings to block the bully from contacting you.

  5. Be Safe Online: Protect your online presence by using strong passwords, sharing personal information cautiously, and thinking twice before posting photos or videos that could be used against you.

Platform Responses to Sextortion


  • Instagram: An Instagram spokesperson emphasized their efforts to detect and report abusive content and mentioned recent features aimed at protecting users from sextortion.

  • Snapchat: A Snap spokesperson highlighted tools and resources developed to combat sextortion, including safeguards for teens and educational resources on identifying and reporting such crimes.

  • YouTube: A YouTube spokesperson reiterated their commitment to enforcing policies against harmful behaviors through a combination of human review and machine learning technology.

Helping a Friend Who is a Bully

If you know a friend who is engaging in cyberbullying, it’s important to talk to them privately. Explain the serious consequences of their actions and encourage them to stop. Standing up for what is right can help reduce the incidence of bullying and support a more positive online environment.


Resources

For more information on how to stop bullying, visit Stopbullying.gov.

You can read more about the recent financial sextortion report on NBC News.

Cyberbullying is a serious issue that requires collective action. By understanding the nature of cyberbullying, recognizing its impacts, and knowing how to respond, we can work towards creating a safer and more supportive online community.

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