Social Media Affordances and Cyberbullying

You may think that affordances will be a boring topic, but you’d be wrong.

Affordances are everything.

A formal definition would be: “an action possibility available in the environment to an individual, independent of the individual’s ability to perceive this possibility” (McGrenere & Ho, 2000)

Here are some examples to help you understand.

On Twitter, tweets can be retweeted and as long as the original tweet is not deleted, it “persists” on the site. On Snapchat, “snaps” only last a maximum of ten seconds unless users choose to record them and share them on other sites. This is known as persistence vs. ephemerality (Ellison & Vitak, 2015, p. 206).

On Tumblr, users can choose to identify themselves with an anonymous pseudonym, or they can choose to use their real identities (especially for photographers). This is known as anonymous vs. identified. Either way, content can be “re-blogged”, and unlike Twitter, re-blogs on other users’ blogs will not be automatically deleted when the original post is removed.

On some of these social network sites, posts can be hidden from certain connections so only a curated audience sees them. This allows for “more asymmetrical disclosure of information” (Ellison & boyd, 2013, p. 7). However, they can still be misinterpreted because there is no user-friendly way to identify specific audiences especially if an user has followers in the millions. This is known as context collapse (Ellison & Vitak, 2015, p. 217–218).

Now, let’s relate affordances to a very serious topic.

Cyberbullying is a huge issue that has existed since the birth of SNSs. One prominent example is Amanda Todd, a teenager from British Columbia, Canada who made one mistake that eventually caused her life (Wikipedia, Suicide of Amanda Todd).

In 2009, Todd began to video chat with strangers on a webcam site after people complimented her on her looks. Eventually, she was convinced to reveal her breasts, which a stranger captured in a screenshot of and began to share it with others. Despite informing the police, the perpetrator reappeared on Facebook and continued to circulate the image online and to Todd’s classmates.

After a failed suicide attempt, the perpetrator continued to stalk and blackmail Todd online using fake Facebook accounts. All of this forced her to self-mutilate and take severe depression drugs.

In September of 2012, she posted a video detailing her experience of being bullied.

On October 6th, she was found dead at her home.

This is one extreme case of several affordances, including anonymity and persistence. This example perfectly encapsulates how easy it is to proliferate information on SNSs that can have heartbreaking consequences.

When people reveal their real identities online, there will always be some who are interested in “trolling” them, especially if they are seen as vulnerable. A few clicks and an inappropriate photo of you is shared to 1,000 people. Those people can just remake accounts under fake names because there is no barrier to entry to doing so.

Most people see SNSs as platforms for relationship maintenance and information dissemination.

But with anything, when there is a good side, there is always a bad side.

Just remember that.


Ellison, N.B. & Vitak, J (2015). Social Network Site Affordances and Their Relationship to Social Capital Processes. In Sunday, S.S. (Ed.), The Handbook of the Psychology of Communication Technology, 205–227.

Suicide of Amanda Todd (2016). . In Wikipedia. Retrieved from

TheSomebodytoknow (2012, September 7). My story: Struggling, bullying, suicide, self harm Retrieved from

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