Communities and Social Media

The Toxicity of Online Networks and one’s Identity Behind a Screen. How the Online World Normalizes Bullying.


Online communities based on social media apps allow for fake identities to be created and anonymity to be seen as protective when it can be manipulated to bully others. Bullying on social media whether it’s done from individual to individual or group to group has been normalised through certain social media features which make victimisation acceptable and even encouraged when backed by others. It can create a community but can also tear some apart through trolling others. This has been seen as a growing issue throughout online communities, yet nothing has been done to stop them as the normalisation of bullying, disguised as comedy, satire or constructive criticism. 

The online world is growing every day with social media, in its peak form, being a catalyst to creating online networks and communities which can serve as a strong form of identity for some. It is seen as a way to create a persona on how people wish to be seen and for others it’s a way to express themselves artistically, emotionally, verbally, etc. However, with freedom to share things on the internet, also comes the opportunity to criticize. The online world allows for cyberbullying which has become normalized through the use of fake identities/personas and lack of repercussions and social peer pressure. By empowering a community by its sense of identity and belonging, it also brings some individuals or other groups down through lack of support when everything is presented in a back handed way. With the rapid growth of users on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook, they have been known to be the largest and most toxic home to online communities.

Over the past 10 years, beauty standards online are showcased and set predominantly through Instagram. Instagram is a social media app which is mainly used for sharing photos and videos about your personal interests. It is also a place where many people create a false sense of identity just for others approval and to fit into a certain community. Social media influencers have been able to grow their image on Instagram with the focus being on, make up, fashion, travel or even as simple as comedy skits. Over time it has grown to become a place full of communities where people who share a specific niche like a hobby or interest, can come together. One of the biggest communities on Instagram is the beauty community which involves models, fashion icons and makeup and hair artists. This particular community has been ripped into my other communities for promoting false body types and overall unrealistic appearances. Beginning as constructive criticism, it has now turned into bullying and online harassment. Many profiles that are actively partaking are anonymous account with under ten followers, who are mainly bots, and has been seen as an abuse of technology (Nasaescu, E., et al, 2018). A form of bullying that some specific communities partake in is trolling. Trolling is creating controversial comments or posts to provoke a negative reaction, bothering those who interact with it, sparking an argument. It is seen to cause amusement to the individual who is “trolling’ rather than causing harm to another (Gavin, L., et al, 2019) which means that the troll can defend themselves by claiming to be making a joke without harmful intent. A recent influencer, Lil Miquela, who recently grew rapidly on Instagram with now over three million followers has been a focus of the beauty standard and how online communities form to attack and break down the confidence of those who work hard to inspire others. Miquela Sousa also known as Lil Miquela is a digitally animated character who started to gain the public’s eye in 2016. She has been praised for her fashion and positive lifestyle, but many criticize her for not having a realistic body shape, lacking acne and any imperfections whatsoever. Although that her followers and others on the app where aware that Miquela was a fictional character, they still chose to leave threatening comments towards the people who created and manage her, breaking down their personal appearances and bullying them to no end. They claimed that younger children would look up to her and they didn’t want them to hate themselves if they didn’t look like her. Although their reason for being upset for creating Miquela to fit an unrealistic beauty standard can be reasonably supported to a degree, it does not validate their reason to bully. The realm of Instagram quickly became toxic with many leaving nasty comments on others posts without consequence as their anonymity shelters them from other taking personal jabs. Some Instagram profiles would be made where the account was focused solely on bullying a specific person or group of people, creating a network of hate and negativity. Trolling can be done in the form of vandalism (Cruz, A. G. B., et al, 2018) and in this case, some started trolling Lil Miquela’s Instagram account in hopes of damaging her brand. This shows how the internet is aggressive and powerful in terms of bullying others online when it’s anonymous and they have a whole network of people to defend them as they would to others.

Online bullying isn’t always just typing a nasty comment on someone’s post; sometimes it can be done visually with even a simple facial expression made to create a reaction. TikTok, formally known as, has risen in popularity over the last four years with over 689 million users from all age ranges. Viewers can film a video up to 60 seconds and post it for anyone to see and interact with, if they chose to do so. However, whenever someone uploads a video, there are two specific add on features called duet and stitch. The features have been used negatively to bully and make fun of the creator of the post for other users on the app to see. This involves stitching or duetting a video, mimicking someone. TikTok is full of naïve children who are easily influenced by what they see (Weimann, G. et al., 2020) and sometimes cannot understand satire. This increases the vulnerability of bullying to others as children cannot comprehend right from wrong in certain situations, especially in their younger developmental stages. A particular community that is popular on TikTok is the alternative community, also known as ‘Alt’. This online network group comprises of people of all sexual and gender orientations and is generally an unproblematic group as they all post videos for the purpose of their own personal entertainment. The clash between them and the rest of TikTok starts with the difference in appearances as the ‘alt’ community dresses in multiple layers of black clothing with heavy eye makeup and chains on their neck. They produce content that tends to spark anger with other communities as some find them “annoying” when they aren’t provoking anyone or being controversial in the slightest. Bullying in private settings, such as online, have been seen to be more severe (Hellström, L., et al, 2020). In 2018, it was found that 44% of people were less likely to give personal information on websites (Statistica, 2019) which increases anonymity between communities. Anonymity doesn’t always mean that no one can see any information on you when they click on your account; TikTok has a feature when someone leaves a comment on a video, anyone can ‘like’ the comment, and you can see how many likes it has. From liking someone’s comment, no one can see it was you but can see the number of likes go up. Bullying can also be done through liking a demeaning comment. Most comments tend to be disguised as backhanded compliments with some of the most popular being “That was good! Now don’t do it again” or “You gave it your best shot! But it really wasn’t good enough”. The anonymity of liking a comment which supports it, shows the toxicity of online communities but how normalises their behaviours are as some comments can reach hundreds of thousands of likes as private comments are known to be the most frequently used way to cyberbully someone (Brody, N., et al, 2017).

Facebook is an app where many people click on at the end of the day to wind down with as they can see what their friends are doing, share what they’re doing, watch entertainment videos or even read the news. It is not a place that you enter, going in with the mindset that you’re going to be cyberbullied. Facebook is home to many online communities where people can make their own group or join a pre-existing group. When posting something in an online group, whether it’s a video, photo or simply text, there is the option to post anonymously so no one can see your name or identify you. This feature is available to protect people’s privacy or embarrassment if, for example, they wanted to post in a self-help group or ask a question they feel humiliated by. However, some have taken advantage of this feature. When trolling a group online, the admin or moderator may not be able to kick or ban someone if they cannot tell who posted or commented something demeaning. This can also be used to one’s advantage as there are multiple communities online whose purpose is to ‘roast’ or pick on a person. Whether that be an image or video of someone. These groups were made for others to anonymously make fun of people for a laugh but quickly escalates to bullying. Similar to Reddit’s subreddit of r/RoastMe, when trying to keep the comments as light-hearted passing comments, it can so easily take a turn when people say what they want, as it is not being said directly to the other person’s face. This can also be done within some groups that share overall ‘gossip’ within the public interest. That may involve sharing their thoughts on a couple in a fictional show or giving their opinions on what a celebrity wore to a red-carpet event. However, this can also take a turn when people start to personally bring others down. Many use the ‘gossip’ groups to post their fights with their friends, asking the community members to take a side. When the other person involved in the fight reaches the post, it breaks out into a back and forth fight but this time with an entire online community bringing each other down. Although Facebook’s target audience is adults, many children aged 12-15 create an account and are very impressionable. By children seeing adults partaking in bullying, it becomes normalised and dismissed as the children think that it is okay. The toxic online communities normalise bullying as their behaviours are conventionally condemned (Allison, R. K., et al, 2019). With having the constant bullying going on in online groups, it becomes normalised as targeting each other is seen every day.

Online networks on social media specifically, can be toxic not only others but themselves as they raise the platform for bullying throughout their anonymity and lack of direct repercussions towards themselves. With anonymity being easily achievable online, it is difficult to put a stop to bullying as they are untraceable. With micro bullying also growing in online networks, the toxicity of communities only grows stronger. With anonymity and fake online identities being used by many, it leads to the normalisation of bullying due to lack of consequences. By taking a step back from social medias communities and creating new ones in person it can create a rapid decline with these issues.


Allison, R. K., Bussey, K, Sweller, N., (2019), ‘I’m going to hell for laughing at this’: Norms, Humour, and the Neutralisation of Aggression in Online Communities.

Brody, N., Vangelisti, A. L., (2017), Cyberbullying: Topics, Strategies, and sex differences.

Cruz, A. G. B., Seo, Y & Rex ,M, (2018), Trolling in online communities: A practice-based theoretical perspective, The Information Society. Pages 15-26.

Gavin, L. Kirkwood, Holly, J. Payne, Joseph, P. Mazer. (2019), Collective Trolling as a Form of Organizational Resistance: Analysis of the #Justiceforbradswife Twitter CampaignCommunication Studies 70:3, pages 332-351. 

Hellström, L & Lundberg, A, (2020), Understanding bullying from young people’s perspectives: An exploratory study, Educational Research. Pages 414-433.

Nasaecu, E., Marín-López, I., J. Llorent V., Ortega-Ruiz R., Zych I., (2018), Abuse of technology in adolescence and its relation to social and emotional competencies, emotions in online communication, and bullying. Page 114-120.

Statistica, (2019), Actions taken in last three years because of security and privacy issues when using the internet according to online users in the United States as of September 2018.

Weimann, G & Masri, N, (2020), Research Note: Spreading Hate on TikTok, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. 

24 thoughts on “The Toxicity of Online Networks and one’s Identity Behind a Screen. How the Online World Normalizes Bullying.

  1. Hey Lauren,

    This was a good look into how communities online can become toxic. It almost seems inevitable that as long as there is anonymity online there will be people who will use it as a guise for bullying. But there are also benefits to online anonymity as it allows many groups to seek help, explore their identity and expose oppressive regimes more safely. Do you think the internet would benefit from the complete removal of anonymity or do you feel like some anonymity is required?

    You talk a lot about online bullying in your paper and you refer to the case of lil Miquela who I hadn’t heard of before reading your paper. I just looked her up and although I would be against bullying being taken too far, I would have to say that there is definitely something wrong with having young people looking up to a CGI influencer. I think it’s bad enough that unrealistic standards for beauty are being set on Instagram through filtered images and lifestyles and I think lil Miquela is another step away from celebrating the authenticity of people’s unique imperfections. Do you think that healthy arguments online against things like lil Miquela will inevitably also come with those who will take things too far?

    In my paper I discuss how toxic online incel (involuntary celibate) community is radicalising its member with misogynistic ideology. Here’s a link if you’d like to have a look:


    1. Hi Cameron,

      Thank you for your comment.

      I do think anonymity should still be a thing online. Sometimes people have to be protected. In other comments, I have mentioned to others that confidentiality and privacy is a right so if someone wishes to speak out on something, they should not have to fear being criticised/bullied. This can happen with things like #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter and #StopAsianHate where people tell their stories to educate and spread awareness of these important issues.

      I do agree. Lil Miquela should not be the standard role model for young people. Although she is not conventionally problematic, thing like her lifestyle, body shape and overall appearance, as they seem to be flawless, can cause damage to impressionable younger people who compare themselves to her and think that something is wrong with them. I think that even healthy arguments can sometimes come across as backhanded and therefore bullying so it is always best that we just scroll past the post and move on. Would you agree?

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


      1. Hey Lauren,

        I agree with you that anonymity is something that should be protected online even if it can sometimes cause negative outcomes.

        However, I would disagree with you that we should avoid healthy arguments online because “they can sometimes come across as backhanded and therefore bullying”. In having healthy discussions there can always be the risk of causing offence as people will not always agree, and just because something is perceived as bullying doesn’t make it so. If everyone just scrolled past things they disagree with no progress would be made to find common ground, don’t you think?


  2. Hi Lauren,

    I was intrigued by the topic of your paper as you have touched on what is probably the largest negative aspect of social media platforms in today’s society. I have never really understood why people in our society feel the need to bully and belittle others simply for being different, having different opinions or any other number of reasons.
    I am of an age that grew up without the internet and cyberbullying but found myself as the butt of many jokes and snide remarks growing up which thankfully passed during the later years of high school. I have always tried to concentrate on the positive aspects of any situation I have been in just as I have in this conference, but even so, I’m sure some comments I have made over the years may be seen as offensive to some.
    Your paper Lauren is extremely enlightening, well researched and exceptionally written. You make a lot of great points and I am still finding it difficult to understand why anyone would want to bully a fictitious character such as Lil Miquela but I think we would all go crazy if we tried to comprehend everyone’s thinking.

    It is a sad fact that bullying has gone on for a very long time, having many dire consequences and through the development of the internet and social media platforms, these technologies have simply given bullies a new space to act out in. I cannot see a simple answer to this grave problem as it is a problem that has gone unsolved for centuries.
    Attempting to eradicate anonymity in online profiles could work but that is also one of the advantages that attracts those to support groups who require anonymity to feel safe and seek the help they need and are too shy or afraid to look for in face-to-face meetings. I believe anonymity online can be just as much as an advantage to many users as it is a disadvantage at trying to stop the bullying.
    Maybe the best way is to simply try and ignore the negative posts and not give these bullies the satisfaction or the recognition they are after and not react or reply to them. I believe the les ‘airtime’ given to people like this the less interested they become.

    Thank you Lauren for a magnificent paper and the incentive to remain positive and compliment others at every opportunity.
    Have a great day Lauren.


    1. Hi Bernie,

      Thank you for your comment.

      I found it necessary to discuss the negative aspects of social media which will always turn to bullying. I did grow up when technology and social media really started to develop. However, I was quite sheltered which made me very vulnerable when I finally did hop on the social media and the online world. I did not watch any YouTube apart from music videos and I knew nothing about resilience and how to deal with cyberbullying. I created an Instagram paged and was shocked to see how much hate there was. I was very impressionable however, after discovering Lil Miquela I still knew that certain comments where not okay to make but what stood out to me was that these accounts were anonymous and I could not tell what type of people were making these comments.

      It is always a double-edged sword with getting rid of anonymity because it is sometimes highly necessary for one’s safety. Giving them less attention is a very effective as that is what most bullies and trolls are looking for. By not giving them a reaction at all, it should work.

      Thank you for the very kind compliment.


  3. Hey Lauren,

    I did love your physical description of the alt community, it made me chuckle.

    However, are you saying that all social media needs to go to combat bullying and hate on social media? As that to me seems like a step backward for society and does not combat hate and ignorance that are the real problems here.

    Anonymity online is one thing that really annoys me, I always think grow up and put your name and face to that statement. I think it’s weak and a total cop-out. But again while anonymity is bad and I hate it I don’t think it is the real problem here, addressing where this hate comes from is the real problem, then I feel we can all sing Kumbaya around a campfire.

    Thank you so much, Connor 🙂

    Read my paper it’s really good

    1. Hi Connor,

      Thank you for your comment and I’m glad that I was able to make you smile.

      I do think that all social media needs to step up with bullying with bullying but I do see your point. Silencing people would not work and in fact contribute to being part of the problem. Dismissing it would not be as effective as educating those on how to treat others kindly and also how to deal with njgavity comments. What would you suggest as an effective way to combat this?

      That is a very interesting perspective, Connor. It can be seen as a cop-out, for sure. That is why I think that anonymity allows for bullying online and therefore toxicity in the online world. The one time I do see anonymity being positive is when it is used to protect people’s privacy online when it may come to sharing something like a “MeToo story. Anonymity is also very important in journalism as they must follow media regulations.


  4. Hi Lauren,

    I really enjoyed reading your paper! It had never occurred to me that liking a backhanded compliment on TikTok is a form of online bullying, you’re so right! I also agree the anonymity is becoming increasingly dangerous and difficult to moderate.

    I found your point about bullying in Facebook groups also interesting. I’ve seen some groups such as ‘Tea Time’ in which some posts and comments seem to be a form of bullying. To be honest I find almost all Facebook groups to at one point or another facilitate online bullying.

    I read an article that identified that children who are being cyber bullied are also being bullied in ‘traditional ways’ (e.g. physically) (Wolke et al., 2017). Do you think studies like this also contribute the normalisation of bullying in our society?


    Wolke, D., Lee, K. & Guy, A. Cyberbullying: a storm in a teacup?. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry 26, 899–908 (2017).

    1. Hi Ruby,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I am familiar with the Facebook group, ‘Tea Time’ as I am a part of that group although I never post but instead read others comments. Your comment makes me wonder if by me participating in the group by liking posts or comments that may be hurtful to others, does that mean I am anonymously bullying? I could answer that with yes, to a certain degree. It may be seen mores as supporting a negative comment even though those are not my intentions, I normally find lots of comments and posts funny as it is always over petty ‘tea’.

      That’s a great question. I think lots of things normalise bullying and it has been like that way for many years. In case studies, it is allowed to happen, meaning there is no one but the victim to stop it. Of course this is very detrimental to the victims and in no way should bullying continue to be normalised. Do you have any thoughts on this?


      1. Hi Lauren,

        I think your question about whether participating is a form of bullying is a really interesting one! I think there is a lot of nuance in that situation but I agree with your points.

        I think that study highlights that the intensity of bullying has become so strong. It’s analysis that there aren’t more kids being bullied but rather a new more constant form I found really interesting. However, because of this intensity (as cyber bullying can follow children into their homes, whereas traditional bullying can not) we should be more intentional about stopping cyberbullying, in all forms.

        Ruby 🙂

  5. Hi Lauren,
    I was hooked as soon as I read the title of your article! I agree that online networks have supported a sense of anonymity by allowing people to communicate without providing their personal details and create fake accounts. Before I read your article, I thought of this as a positive thing because it allows people to experiment with new identities without fearing judgement (Lauri & Farrugia, 2020). However, I now see that anonymity can also make people more confident to express criticisms, which promotes bullying in online spaces. I also think that people are more malicious in online spaces because they don’t necessarily comprehend that they are talking to another person. Most conversations on social media occur via messaging, which doesn’t allow people to view each other’s emotional reactions to what is being said like face-to-face conversations. I think this has made people less sensitive to other people’s emotions and hence express themselves more harshly.

    Do you think that social media platforms should implement new rules to stop people from creating anonymous accounts and make people take responsibility for their actions?

    Thanks for sharing this paper, it was great to read! Please check out my paper on Instagram and feminism if you have time! Here’s the link:

    Lauri, M. A., & Farrugia, L. (2020). IDENTITY EXPLORATION IN ANONYMOUS ONLINE SPACES. The Routledge Companion to Digital Media and Children.

    1. Hi Rebekah,

      Thank you for your comment.

      I can see how anonymity can be a positive thing. It can be used to the better to keep people and information safe. Creating a new identity because there is fear of judgement is very sad and the stigma of a perfect body/personality/looks should not exist. That is what highlights the toxicity of the online world. I can see how anonymity can work the other way to stop bullying as if both sides are anonymous then there is limited personal attacks that one can make.

      Do you think that anonymity should exist with everyone or should we cancel it all together?

      I definitely think that social media platforms need to pick up a special eye on anonymous people as they are typically the ones that are doing the bullying. I don’t think it means that we should expose them but mores implement safety nets for others. I think it should cause some reflections towards internet trolls.


  6. Hi Lauren,

    I really enjoyed reading your paper! Its a great read!

    I totally agree that online bulling can be seen as a form of satire comedy. I feel like within the last couple of years the view of what is expectable on the internet has changed drastically. People are less cautious about their comments or content that they post on social media. Therefore, people think that there are no repercussions of what people say.

    I’m really intrigued on how the use of fake identities/personas are used as a form of trolling, but I would argue that it’s become more common that everyone can troll even on their personal profiles. Would you support the assumption that tolling has increased the use of editing photos on Instagram? With influencers setting unrealistic beauty standard and editing their photos their audiences are used to the unrealistic standard and criticise aesthetics less than, therefore comment negativity.

    Would there be a way to control this type of online bulling? Social network sites such as Instagram and Tiktok don’t have dislike buttons, would a dislike button contain some of the negative comments? Would there be an alternate to cutting off social media in order to decrease the toxicity that is seen?


    1. Hi Zoe,

      Thank you for your comment and I’m so glad that you enjoyed my paper.

      There is a very fine line between satire comedy and bullying but it all depends on how people perceive it. I am not saying that they should get cop an offensive/hurtful comment on the chin but they should not be having to receive these at all.

      It’s tough to say whether the effect of trolling has caused many to edit their photos as once again, it depends on how people respond to the bullying. I think it depends on the level of authenticity people share online. If they have a more authentic persona online then they are more vulnerable to bullying as they are more likely to take it personally. I think that this would lead to them changing how they edit themselves.

      I don’t think a dislike button on social media would help with bullying. On Facebook, you can sad or angry react to a post which normally shows your disproval but on YouTube there is a dislike button. I think that by creating one, it opens up a gateway to more negativity online which is what we want to avoid. In times like now where social media is a massive part of one’s life, cutting off social media would be a big culture shock and would cut off many things for people. I do think it would dramatically decrease bullying but considering other positive factors that social media provides the individual, I think that it is better to keep it.

      I would love to know your thoughts on my response.


      1. Hey Lauren,

        Yes, I too do believe that there is a line between comedy and plain rudeness.

        I think you make an interesting point in the cultural shock that would happen if social media was totally cut off. On on hand , There would be less online bullying, but do you think the would have a bounce on effect in the real world? Would the cut off be worth it?

        There has been multiple studies on the negative effect of social media on mental health. Would you argue that cutting off social media would have an positive effect, further than just bulling?


  7. Hi Lauren,

    Well done on writing about some important issues and giving me some new ideas to ponder.

    Regarding anonymity online facilitating the prevalence of bullying, I wonder with the perpetual nature of the Internet whether in the future bullies of the past will be revealed by society. Bullies may be able to hide now, but perhaps not forever. I agree that some online communities can be toxic. I hope that users can band together, as they do in physical communities, to combat anti-social behaviour and make them better. Online communities, like physical communities, have the potential to be spaces for good as well as evil, and it is up to us which way we take them.

    You touch on the act of people comparing themselves to others; this is an important subject, especially for young people developing their sense of identity; thanks for highlighting it. In my research for my paper’ Virtual support communities: supporting survivors of sexual assault’, I found an interesting article about the phenomenon of comparing online. Batenburg and Das examined this issue in their 2015 paper, Virtual Support Communities and Psychological Well-Being: The Role of Optimistic and Pessimistic Social Comparison Strategies. Social comparisons, where people compare themselves to others, can negatively impact psychological well-being behaviour. Therefore, I think you did well to make more people aware of it here.

    ‘One of the biggest communities on Instagram is the beauty community which involves models, fashion icons and makeup and hair, artists. This particular community has been ripped into my other communities for promoting false body types and overall unrealistic appearances. Beginning as constructive criticism, it has now turned into bullying and online harassment. Many profiles that are actively partaking are anonymous account with under ten followers, who are mainly bots, and has been seen as an abuse of technology (Nasaescu, E., et al, 2018)’

    Are you saying that bots or others are bullying people who post within the ‘beauty community’? Why do you think this is so? On a separate note, do you think that influencers that present manufactured body types, such as the ‘thick-thin’ aesthetic, created, promoted and monetised by the Kardashians, is damaging to women’s sense of what is beautiful? Do you think criticism of false body models a form of bullying?

    And on Lil Miquela, I find the idea of humans (or bots) trolling or bullying an animated character interesting and hadn’t considered the impact of bullying on imaginary characters before. If the character is created and isn’t real, how can it be impacted by negative attitudes? An avatar is a piece of art or a simulacrum. Therefore, for me, it is no different to the classical sculptures of European museums, impressionists’ portraits or abstract faces of Picasso—that all would have received similar negative criticisms (and praise) of their impressions of human forms. I’m not sure this type of criticism is the same thing as the bullying of a real person for their ‘perfect’ (or ‘flawed’) looks. I could be wrong.

    I agree that social media is rife with bullying, and there needs to be more moderation and consequences for true bullies. I find the ‘laughing’ emoji, especially when used to mock someone’s opinion, is a form of bullying these days. I also think there is a fine line between cracking down on bullies and shutting down free speech. Some comments may be genuine attempts at respectful discussion, but taken the wrong way, are considered bullying by some. So, who gets to decide what an anonymous (or named) person’s true intent was? Sometimes critical thinking requires some criticism, for example, a natural person criticising an avatar for being too perfect and creating unrealistic body-image models for children may be a valid point, while others may consider it bullying.

    I look forward to discussing this further. Thank you!

    Eve Kelly

    1. Hi Eve,
      Thank you for your positive and constructive feedback.

      For me, trolls can include bots and I should have gone into more detail about that, so thank you. When writing the paper I had ‘trolls’ in mind to be people on social media with anonymous/fake profiles whose only purpose/self fulfilment is to bring others down. I wouldn’t say that they only attack the beauty community but I do think that they are an easier community to bully as they seem to put themselves out there the most. This seems, to me, to be the gateway for bullying. In no way am I saying that is a case of “Oh they’re just asking to get bullied” because how ridiculous is that? I think that when having a certain body-type becomes an aesthetic then it definitely becomes damaging. Self-love is so important and comparing ones body to another because social media says that if you’re not that body-type then, as a whole person, you are unattractive and that is extremely problematic.

      Regarding Lil Miquela, you raise an excellent point. The way I see it is setting an example for young and more impressional people. It’s the whole “treat people how you want to be treated” scenario. If these impressionable people are seeing how others are responding to a person (who is not real but has a large following as they present themselves as real and constantly share their lifestyle) then they may regard these negative and hurtful comments as acceptable and how others should be spoken to/treated. It is simply setting a standard on how to interact socially both online and in person. I can understand how you may not see it as bullying and I do match your view to a degree but that is my take on it.

      The point of cutting off bullies and therefore free speech is every tricky. Where do we draw the line? I find your thoughts so fascinating. I’d love to know your thoughts on how we should manage micro-bullying to cyberbullying on different subgroups e.g. as mentioned, the beauty community and how we could potentially create a safety net. If we did, however, create a safety net, are we really able to express ourselves or are we now medalling with online authenticity?

      Here is an academic case study on online bullying. It is a lot to read but has some interesting points.

      Thank you for the interesting comments, they are much appreciated.


      1. Hi Lauren,

        Thanks very much for your detailed reply. It is great to have a discuss these important issues.

        I agree with your definition of a ‘troll’, as it does differentiate between authentic people offering constructive criticism and those who are out there to hurt others. Some people with sadistic personality disorder take advantage of the anonymity of the Internet to deliberately hurt others for their own pleasure and amusement.

        I think genuine bullying should be dealt with swiftly and comprehensively, through consistent moderation of forums and blocking offending users. If they continue to harass then perhaps the platforms should take serious complaints from users and have repeat offenders banned. In saying that, there also needs to be a change in the culture and that takes a long time to see the effects of. Bullying is very dangerous and needs to be stamped out of society. There needs to be more regulation of the platforms, so that they are more responsible for the welfare of their users. If it was a community centre, or workplace, or church for example, bullying and harassment wouldn’t be tolerated by the community; Internet platforms shouldn’t be any different. Platform owners make a lot of money out of their users, so they can afford to make them safer for everyone. Perhaps they need to fund more investigation into bullies who hide and have them dealt with by authorities e.g. police. Once bullies realise they have nowhere to hide and they will be caught and dealt with, hopefully the practise will probably cease.

        There needs to be more education about what is bullying and what is not. Free speech and being able to criticise others are important features of any society and/or democracy. Being offended by someone’s opinion of you doesn’t necessarily mean you are being bullied. Self-love, self-esteem and resilience i.e. and not becoming emotionally damaged by someone’s view of you, are equally important as dealing with bullying in my opinion; and these attributes should be taught to young people at the same time as courses in the effects of bullying. Knowing the difference between criticism and bullying will also save people a lot of heartache for some people.

        I see what you mean about those in the beauty community being picked on more because they put themselves out there. No one, no matter who there are, deserves to be bullied. And I agree with your standpoint on Lil Miquela, if taken from the perspective of ‘how to treat others’ real or not, then it makes sense to have good community standards in this area. I think though, it is important that people don’t confuse the made-up avatars or the unrealistic body images of photoshopped influencers, as being ‘real people’ because they are not. Because if young people (or anyone) aspires to be ‘as beautiful’ as these imaginary characters, they will always feel less than perfect; and that can’t be good for them.

        Thanks for the link, I couldn’t access it today, Curtin’s system appears to be down. What is the name of the paper, and I can try finding it another time.


        1. Hi Eve,

          Thank you for your reply.

          That is an excellent way to moderate bullying and harassment. Moderating platforms is definitely an efficient way to keep a safe and positive environment online. I have seen that on some platforms, people can filter certain words out of their comment sections. This means that if a comment contained something negative and hurtful, the comment would either be instantly deleted or censor out the specific word(s). I see this as a great starting point to filtering out negativity online. However people can work around this if they are desperate to spread a hurtful comment.

          Education on these sorts of things are so important! Nothing is better than self-love. Learning resilience skills at a young age can definitely assist with this. As you have said, criticism and bullying are absolutely not the same thing. However it must go both ways. Teaching those to act kindly online will go far. Not only teaching this at a young age would be extremely beneficial but also carrying out into the world after primary and secondary education. Teaching people in their workplaces would be a fantastic idea too.

          The article is called “Applying Natural Language Processing to Evaluate News Media Coverage of Bullying and Cyberbullying”. I’m sorry you couldn’t access it!


  8. Hi Lauren,

    I find the notion you put forward in the Lil Miquela case very interesting. It seems such an irony to think that this person was bullied for presenting herself in such a way as to have no flaws, where classically, bullying was targeted at bringing people down through the highlighting of their flaws.
    I feel that we can not consider ourselves to have progressed if we can say that we no longer bully those for their flaws but instead bully for their lack of them. It seems we have almost come full circle and the only constant that has managed to remain is the bullying itself.

    Thanks for your paper, I really enjoyed reading it. I would have liked to have seen more direct evidence to the argument of normalisation, but this is obviously hard to come by considering the intangible nature of ‘normalisation’ and how difficult it would be to pin down a metric and gauge this.

    Thanks again!

    1. Hi Jordan, thank you for your comment.

      Your perspective is very interesting and I do agree. It does seem to be a circle full of repetitive criticism; bullied for having flaws and bullied for having none.

      I appreciate your feedback, it is somewhat difficult to find articles, on specific examples but there are multiple great sources on the concepts as a whole.
      This is an article touching on online authenticity and ‘fake’ beauty, focusing on Lil Miquela, which I believe can fall under the anonymity category.

      I would love to know your thoughts on anonymity itself; when entering the online world, should people know who we are or should all users who aren’t big influencers keep to themselves?


      1. Thanks for the response Lauren,

        I think anonymity online is a tricky one. Though, I do believe in general that anybody put in the position to share any kind of opinion publicly, should ALWAYS be held accountable for that opinion.
        At the same time though, there are situations where this might not necessarily be the best avenue. For example, those who wish to speak up against the majority might not want to if their identity is associated with it because that opens the door for them to be harassed as well and they might not believe it to be worth it.
        In the Lil Miquela case for example, perhaps if more were to speak up against those doing the bullying, the bullying might have been quelled somewhat. Though, perhaps a lot of people did want to speak up against it but were too afraid to go against the snowball of hatred as again, this would make them vulnerable to harassment.

        What do you think?


        1. Hi Jordan,

          That is a very interesting perspective and I do agree. Everything you put online has consequences and will always be able to be traced somehow. On the other hand, yes, if someone is choosing to share something extremely personal that will benefit others then anonymity is the safest option. A perfect example would be the ‘Me Too’ movement which was a social movement against sexual harassment where many share their personal experience. After a lot of people had spoken up and shared their stories, some received with comments saying that they are making things up or completely invalidating their feelings which is highly toxic. Some people went as far to find the person’s personal information and use it against them which should never happen.

          I’m very glad that you brought in this perspective. It simply creates the discussion of what should we share online? It is very sad to have people sharing their stories feel like there’s no point as they’ll only be invalidated. Anonymity is very tricky as there never seems to be a correct choice of how one should go about things. Being kind to those around us is something that is easier said than done but it highlights the point in my paper of how bullying is so normalised as it makes its way into every corner on the online world.


          1. Hi Lauren,

            Exactly right. The Me Too movement is a perfect example of the power people can have when they are brave enough to shed their anonymity and stand up for a cause.

            This is a testament to how important it is to surpass the fears of online bullying that, as you’ve stated, has become so normalised in today’s society when given the opportunity to stand up for something you believe in or for the defense of somebody you think is being mistreated.

            Thanks again for the thought provoking dialogue on the matter, this has given me a lot to think about.


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