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Subtweeting: Inside the Harmful New Social Media Trend

June 13, 2014 at 11:36 AM

subtweetingOne of the more insidious digital trends for tweens and teens has been the development of subtweeting. While this may sound like an innocent social media fad, this impression could not be further from the truth. Among digital trends for tweens, this is one of the worst because it is a form of cyberbullying that can be difficult to pin down and combat.

What is Subtweeting?

Subtweeting consists of using social media (Twitter being one example that inspired the name) to talk negatively about or gossip about a person without naming that individual specifically. All that people involved have to do is use descriptions, characterization or some sort of code to discuss the person with impunity. In some cases, this happens without the participants even realizing what they are doing.

Subtweeting is a way to escape responsibility because it can be hard to figure out who the perpetrators are discussing. In some cases, people become de facto contributors through seeing what is happening on their social media channel of choice and making the occasional offhand comment about it. Among digital trends for tweens, this is harmful because it is hard to blame any one person and the target can be difficult to identify. 

Is It Okay for Your Child to Practice This?

As one of the digital crazes for tweens that has dramatically grown in popularity, subtweeting is something you are most likely going to have to deal with at some point. When a person subtweets, they are essentially bullying the person being talked about. While this may not result in any kind of direct physical assault on the target, the emotional fallout can be significant.

How do you feel when people talk badly about you behind your back? How much worse do you feel when they use a description that could be you but might not, just so they can avoid taking any kind of responsibility for it? Even with adult level coping skills, this kind of behavior hurts the victim. 

If such a thing was happening to your child, it could bring on depression and a traumatic level of social isolation. If the idea of having your child's social circle subtweeting harsh things about them bothers you, it is your responsibility to keep this from happening as much as you can.

Fighting Back -- Monitor the Social Circle

One of the worst things about social media is that, much like within a small town environment, almost everyone can know just about everything about virtually everyone. Among digital trends for tweens is the tendency to be extremely communicative in an equally open channel. This means that you can use your interpretive skills and begin to spot patterns if you look closely. Are you noticing that a lot of negative posts have similar descriptions or euphemisms? 

Communicate With Your Child's Friends and Their Parents

While you may only notice one part of a subtweeting incident, other parents and their children may be noticing other components that you can piece together. This is something that many tweens will not want to share because "snitching" is considered bad form, so you will have to draw it out in order to learn anything of substance.

Encourage Your Child to Talk About Subtweeting

Talking about the issue at hand can bring it out into the open. If your child has been subtweeting, it is important to learn about this immediately so that you can work on getting it to stop. If your child is being subtweeted about in his or her social circle, it is important to learn about this so you can bring it up with other parents, teachers or coaches. The sooner your child reports this type of behavior, the sooner it can end.

Talk About Why This Behavior is Wrong

In our article 8 Online Etiquette Rules Every Tween Should Know, Common Sense Media's Parenting Editor Caroline Knorr discussed how the phenomenon of subtweeting often leaves people acting as bystanders. While your child may not be a primary perpetrator of subtweeting, participating in it is a problem that you can address immediately. Work to make your child understand that this hurts people. If they have a real problem with a peer, they should consider approaching them directly on the matter and they should never use social media as an outlet for their frustrations.

Subtweeting is a growing problem in youth culture, but as a parent you can do something about it. Parents must vigilant, understanding, and unafraid to dig a little deeper to discover the truth about a situation. Keep tabs on kids' social media activities in order to prevent yourself from being in the dark about subtweeting and other harmful digital trends.

                      how social media can help your teen or tween flourish                

Steven Woda

Posted by Steven Woda

Steve Woda is the co-founder and CEO of uKnow, and a leader in the Internet safety and security field for over 15 years. He frequently speaks on the topics of Internet and mobile security, ecommerce and information economics. You can follow Steve on Twitter or on his blog.

Topics: cyberbullying, Parental Intelligence, Internet Safety, social media cyberbullying, digital trends, Social Trends, netiquette, child app

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