In The Beginning…
Back in my teenaged days (about a million light years ago) if someone had something bad to say about you or wanted to spread a rumour about you it was written on a bathroom stall at school, often followed by your phone number and the words “for a good time call…” A day or two later the custodian would scrub that message away and perhaps only a dozen or two of your friends saw it, and once erased from the walls it was often forgotten about. And then a few days later something else would pop up about another classmate or friend.
Well in today’s equivalent that bathroom stall is social media, however it is not just a matter of simply washing it away from both the wall and peoples memories. The residual impact of cruel social media is alarming and has caused a landslide of news reports and stories of teens forever impacted by cruel social media. In a 2013 Study conducted by MediaSmarts it showed that social networking has increased in popularity with 7 of the top 10 favourite websites for young people being those that allow a user to post or share content or comment on posts (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Minecraft and Hotmail.). The same study showed that 99% of all students have access to the internet outside of school and 54% of teens have cell phones and are therefore mobile (In fact in Canada young people aged 13-24 are the largest group of wireless phone users.) A third of these kids admit to sleeping with their cellphones! And while the majority of these teens say that they were aware of the risks and dangers involved in online activities many admit to not having too many rules in place about their use, and have limited parental supervision.
Oh How We’ve Changed
So in these days of increased use and decreased supervision the instances of cyberbullying are alarming and on the rise. Sadly, 1 in 4 Canadian teens have witnessed cyber bulling, which is defined as using cellphones, instant messaging, e-mail, chat rooms or social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to harass, threaten or intimidate someone. Even more concerning is that 51% of teenagers have indicated that they have had a negative experience with social networking. Teenagers think nothing of participating in public humiliation, particularly if it means the target is on someone else and their peers are not focused on themselves. Many social media applications have a minimum age for users; for most it is 13, and yet more than half of our children have used online social networking by the age of 10. Many are too young to understand the lasting and long term consequences of participating in online bullying and Social Media applications are making these activities too easy by providing anonymity. Take Yik Yak for example. This free
Example of a Yik Yak threat
application allows for anyone to post anonymous public posts without having to login – a user does not require a profile or a password. The application is different from most as it is location based so that posts are targeted to those residing within a 2.5 km radius. It claims to allow you to “discover and connect with your community”, and while it does have positive uses such as sharing questions regarding homework or something going on in the local community, the potential negative impact of the application is growing. In January of 2015 an Ottawa high school was forced into a lock down after a Yik Yak post indicated there was a firearm on the property. There have also been several instances of false prank fire alarms in schools that have been attributed to the app and has caused the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board to ban the use of the app due to bullying and threats of violence, along with other schools and boards around the world.
Another worrisome App is Snapchat where users can post photos, videos, texts and drawings to a list of recipients and set a time frame where these “snaps” can be viewed, after which it is “deleted from the SnapChat Server. According to Snapchat 7 billion snaps are sent everyday. The premise that these pictures and texts disappear practically encourages teens to participate in behaviors that they may come to regret. The idea that these pictures self-destruct makes a teen think they do not need to worry about what they are posting since it will be gone in a matter of seconds. And while the belief is that this pictures disappear, the company itself has indicated that they cannot guarantee that all messages are deleted. The ease at which information can be shared and the false assumption that these posts will be invisible after only a few seconds, has caused an increase in “sexting”, in fact 1 in 5 teens have said they have participated in sexting – either sending, receiving or forwarding sexually explicit content. A disturbing 1 in 10 have said they have sent a sext to someone they didn’t know!
The True Price of Shame
Now you might say that these are relatively mild instances and just a prank or “kids being kids”. But consider the story of Todd Loik, a 15 year old who committed suicide after receiving pages and pages 0f taunts and abuse. His mother even said the attacks escalated to non stop cyberbulling. Or Amanda Todd a young girl who made a mistake and sent a topless photo to a stranger and those
pictures were sent out and went viral, creating an onslaught of bullying and teasing. She was beaten up, had no friends, forced to change schools many times and even tried drinking bleach. She went on to commit suicide and sadly the bullying continued after her death – her suicide being ridiculed, with people saying she deserved what happened. Or the very well known story of Rehtaeh Parsons, a young Nova Scotia girl who tried to hang herself (She was removed from life support 3 days later) after photos showing her being gang raped by four boys were circulated widely within her community and the subsequent harassment she received via text and Facebook messages. Or Jamie Hubley, the 15 year old Ottawa Boy who committed suicide after being relentlessly taunted for being openly gay. He even documented his suicidal thoughts in a blog, much like this one.
It is alarming the number of cases you can find on the internet about teens who are unable to deal with the consequences of cyber bullying and chose to end their lives rather than to face the ongoing shame and humiliation. Apps like Ask.fm (an anonymous question and answer site), SnapChat, and Facebook allow for easy online stalking, flaming and outing. Phenomenons such as swatting and Neknominations are increasing and as soon as one craze is shut down another takes its place. Increased media attention to the epidemic that is cyberbulling, is causing governments around the world to stand up and take notice and begin to implement legislation to tackle the rising problem of Cyberbulling. Bill C-13, Canada’s Anti-cyberbulling legislation and it came into effect in 2015. This bill is designated to tackle online harassment by making it illegal to distribute intimate photos of a person without their expressed consent. Quebec and Ontario have tabled proposed legislation in the areas of cyberbulling while other provinces have mended their education acts to address cyberbullying.
In this world where social media is adapting and changing faster than we, as parents, can keep up with we know that we have to be vigilant. We have to know what our kids are doing and what their online activities are. WE have to keep open lines of communication with our kids so that they come to us if they are experiencing anything unpleasant online, For every story of dangerous social media behaviour that we hear of, there are dozens that we don’t find out about. As a mother of 2 teen aged boys I am terrified. Terrified that they may one day fall victim to an online attack, and that I may not know about it.
I will leave you with a very powerful TED talk by someone who is very familiar with the consequences of public shaming and humiliation. Monica Lewinsky outlines the growing danger and impact of cyberbulling and online shaming.
The Price of Shame