Subtweeting, Vaguebooking, and Your Teens

Child checking the laptop

Teens today are very gifted at using social media to connect with others. They know all the ins and outs of posting, liking, sharing and commenting. And they can use social media in ways many adults simply do not grasp. But they also are skilled at using it for cyberbullying too.

Sometimes their cyberbullying is overt, obvious and painful. Teens post pictures and comments that shame and humiliate others. Other times, they are subtler in their bullying. To avoid detection, they cyberbully under the radar of parents, teachers, and administrators by using tactics like subtweeting and vaguebooking.

What Are Subtweeting and Vaguebooking?

Subtweeting and vaguebooking are the Internet equivalent of talking about people behind their backs on Twitter and on Facebook.

In this new type of cyberbullying, teens will reference a person or an issue without mentioning any names.

For instance, they might tweet something like, “Can you believe she wore that skanky outfit today?” Or, on Facebook if they are having a spat with a friend they might post a status that says: “I’m not even going to get mad anymore. I’m just going to learn to expect the lowest out of the people I think the highest of.” When this type of passive-aggressive communication occurs on Twitter, it is called subtweeting. On Facebook, it is called vaguebooking.

Why Subtweeting and Vaguebooking Are Dangerous Forms of Cyberbullying

Instead of being confrontational or direct with someone, subtweets and vaguebooking allow people to get their feelings out there in a sneakier way. Their tweets and posts online are like the whispers in the school hallways that make up the rumor mill. What’s more, even though anyone can engage in subtweeting and vaguebooking, these tactics are more common among teens and young Twitter users.

And what makes them so dangerous when it comes to cyberbullying is that to anyone outside of the school or a circle of friends would have no idea who the tweets and posts are about. But to everyone involved, they know exactly who the tweets and posts are referencing.

When confronted, the bullies can deny that the person being hurt was ever truly the recipient of the harsh words. After all, they never mentioned the person by name.

This fact makes disciplining the bullies extremely difficult. To do so, teachers, parents, and administrators need to have a very good handle on the school climate and culture. They need to be aware of the cliques and groups at the school as well as have an understanding of where the disagreements are occurring. 

Things to Remember About Teens and Social Media

The thing that parents need to remember is that teens do not always use social media in the ways in which it was intended. For instance, teens often use Twitter to chat with their friends much like they would with public instant messaging. They also are using it for gossiping and trash-talking. Some even use it to communicate their disappointment with friends rather than talking face to face. These types of communication are not what Twitter was created for.

Likewise, Snapchat creators were hoping to set up a fun way to send silly messages that would disappear in seconds. Instead, people are using the service for sexting. Meanwhile, others are using it to take screenshots of the embarrassing photos or messages. They then use these screenshots to embarrass, humiliate and cyberbully others.

The thing that parents need to remember is that the users control how social media is used more than the company that created it.

Anytime a company creates a platform where teens can express themselves freely, they are opening the possibility that they will find another use for it. As parents, you need to be on the lookout for those potential misuses. 

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By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.