I made a post several months ago discussing the internet and the inherent joys & dangers of it. To reiterate, the internet can be an awful place. It can be a breeding ground for bullying, violence, drugs, terrorism, and more. But at the same time, if used correctly and wisely, it can be a place of great progress, imagination, inspiration, support, and wisdom.
A few days ago the issue of Cyber Bullying once again hit the media when tragedy struck in the UK. 14-year-old Hannah Smith took her life after being relentlessly bullied online*. The site in question is called Ask.Fm – a website designed so that people can get to know each other better. The premise is that you can send other members questions to be answered about themselves. These questions can be sent anonymously if you so desire. This is where the problem lies.
It has been well documented that anonymity is dangerous, especially in crowds. Individuals are much more likely to do cruel and downright evil things when their identity is being hidden. Anonymity is a huge factor in why riots break out, for example.
And with the internet, the crowd size is roughly 27 Million. That is a very large crowd, and a very powerful riot.
On the flip side, this is why the internet can be a powerful source of good. With 27 million individuals rallying towards equal rights, freedom of speech, and political responsibility, it is possible to make a positive impact in the world.
But what does this mean for you?
For you, teenager, this means that you must use caution when jumping online. Please understand that websites which allow anonymous questions/messages should be passed over. Do not set yourself up to fall. When using the internet, make sure the things you post are responsible and help build up others. Never ever succumb to “trolling” or “anon hate” – you are better then that. And remember that no one really has it all together, regardless of how it looks on facebook or twitter.
And for you, parent, this means that your children have a whole virtual world of good and evil in front of them. Make sure you are monitoring your children and you are teaching them how to responsibly use the internet. Have a conversation about what sorts of photos they can and cannot post, what sorts of messages they are sending, and how to deal with abuse from cyber bullies. Become familiar with their favorite websites and the parental/privacy controls available to use.
The internet can be a wonderful place; you just need to make sure it is being used correctly.
*Note: Suicide is never the result of one single variable. While studies show that bullying and suicide are correlated, that does not mean that bullying always results in a suicide. 90% of people that die by suicide have a diagnosable and treatable mental illness at the time of death – while bullying can contribute to someone’s likelihood of attempting or completing suicide, it is never the only factor.