Neptune Navigate Blog

Tips for online safety, security, and responsible digital citizenship for parents, kids, and families.

When Going Viral Goes Bad

June 25, 2021

Growing up, when I heard the word “viral” the first thing I thought about was some horrible illness that would spread through the entire school at lightning speed. Today, thanks to social media, “viral” means something a bit different.  When something “goes viral” on social media, content is shared rampantly, garnering widespread attention. Going viral has become a goal for some teens, with the hope that they might become an internet sensation overnight.  But what do you do if your child’s social media activity goes viral for all the wrong reasons?  Maybe they send an inappropriate photo to another student, and it’s passed around the school, or post a video of themselves participating in illegal activity, or make threats against an opposing team on social media?  With the average student spending up to six hours a day online, the question becomes “when” and not “if” your child runs into some complicated situations that may require your attention. The most prevalent issue facing students and schools today is cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is when someone uses digital  technology to PURPOSEFULLY and REPEATEDLY upset or torment another person. This includes, but is not limited to, sexual harassment, spreading rumors about someone online to damage their reputation, threats of bodily harm, or pretending to be someone else in order to send hurtful messages. A cyberbully may also target a person’s race, disability, color, gender or religion. For kids over the age of 13, the most common place for cyberbullying to occur is social media. For younger kids, it’s through online gaming. Social media and online gaming platforms can embolden students to do or say things that they would never consider when face to face. And in case you may be thinking this is just innocent or immature behavior, there are legal implications for online harassment in many states.  In 2019, a teenager was convicted of manslaughter after cyberbullying her boyfriend into committing suicide. After the Parkland High School mass shooting in Florida, a law was passed stating that any threats made electronically or through social media posts would be considered a felony. Your child’s school has a parent/student handbook detailing policies and procedures addressing online student behavior such as sexting, use of school issued technology, harassment, etc. Many of these policies address off-campus behavior as well, so it’s a good idea for you and your student to know what those guidelines are.