A New Book Probes the Dark Side of Digital

An explosive new book explores how teenage girls must cope with harassment, cyberbullying and slut shaming online.

Photo Courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf

Riley, a 13-year-old girl from Montclair, has dealt with harassment, cyberbullying and so-called slut shaming—all after rumors of an alleged sexual encounter with an ex-boyfriend spread across social media.

Her disturbing story is one of many true tales in American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, an explosive new book by Nancy Jo Sales due from Knopf on February 23.

Sales, a Vanity Fair columnist and author of The Bling Ring: How a Gang of Fame-Obsessed Teens Ripped Off Hollywood and Shocked the World (It Books/HarperCollins, 2013), interviewed 200 teenage girls from 10 states—including six from New Jersey—over a 2½-year period to examine how social media is transforming their experience of adolescence, influencing their sexuality and affecting their self-esteem.

In the digitally dominated world explored by Sales, teen girls are coerced to share nude photos; included on “slut pages” where they are bullied and harassed for their real or rumored intimate acts; and pressured to be “hot” in order to be liked on social media. Sales says these new social and sexual norms, fueled by the “pornification of American life,” are reinforced through the use of popular apps like Instagram, Snapchat and Yik Yak.

Sales hopes her book inspires a conversation about social media, which she says has spawned an underworld that, unbeknownst to parents, tech moguls and teens themselves, is rife with misogyny and exploitation.

“The sexualization of women is a problem; the sexualization of girls is really an even bigger problem because it’s potentially even more damaging to their psyches, their self esteem and their sense of well-being,” says Sales. “[It’s] something that stems from a real, systemic problem in our culture that involves sexism.”

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