Another Young life Wasted.
This week, a fourteen-year-old girl hanged herself after suffering online bullying on social networking site ask.fm. This is by no means the first such suicide, and I’m afraid to say it won’t be the last.
Why does it happen?
It’s easy to bully people online. You are largely anonymous and my experience of online bullying is that there is very little in the way of protection for people at the receiving end of bullying. You can report them and block them, but they can just start up a new account as it doesn’t appear that the social networking sites are doing sufficient to prevent this by blocking ip addresses. Of course the most determined can get away from this by using a proxy ip, but it would stop some. I could go on and call these crass bullies names but I suspect that that is what they want. Some call them trolls, but I think those that are small minded enough to hide behind an online identity to get some strange sort of kick from making someone else feel small will wear this as a badge of honour.
Bullying is something that most of us go through in different stages of our lives and it is an important part of our development how we deal with bullying. Most of us are able to shrug it off and move on. Others (me included) find this more of a struggle and take to heart what is said and this leads some to contemplate the distressing and desperate act of suicide and of suicidal feelings.
Some may feel that the act of suicide is too far a step to take in these circumstances, but it is a consequence of the oft given advice of ignoring abuse. We are constantly told by teachers and our peers to ignore it because then ‘it will go away’. Again for the majority this will hold true. But we are all individuals and some of us are more sensitive than others and will take the words to heart. For these people, the act of ignoring the bullying is NOT the correct action to take. It is of course inadviseable to respond to bullies as they get some satisfaction from this. In the absence of any meaningful deterrent for online bullying, however some either have to bottle up the negative feelings or react in order to try to defend themselves.
So is Twitter, Facebook, Bebo, ask.fm, et al doing enough to stop online bullying?
I genuinely believe there is more that they can do. Controversy creates traffic and traffic is how these websites sell their advertising and ‘sponsored’ pages/tweets/questions etc. So it might be considered against their interests for this to happen.
In the aftermath of the threats of rape and violence against two women involved in the campaign to get a female role model represented on a UK bank note, something that in 2013, I wouldn’t consider to be an extreme measure, Twitter has promised to put an alert button to protect women. It did this in response to the backlash that followed. I have not seen any evidence of these buttons on Twitter or Facebook. Will these buttons be enough?
Not on themselves I don’t believe. Reporting and banning is a step forward, but I don’t think it goes far enough. I think there needs to be links from the report button to online resources and counselling services for people on the receiving end of this bullying.
Ask.fm is a particular worry for me as I have seen how some people have used it when feeling depressed to ask their friends what they like about them. The issue comes when a bully comes along and tells the person – who is often feeling unloved and lonely, something that is so nasty that it just makes them feel worse.
We all feel in need of reassurance at times and we all react differently, but this is a pattern I have seen more than once. I am certainly glad that this service wasn’t available when I was in my teens, as I might have used this service myself in the search for something positive. When you are depressed and feeling like you are alone you search everywhere for reassurance and for something positive. When what you get is the opposite, far from making you feel full of reassurance, you fee l despair.
So why do people in this position feel the need to search for approval? They have parents, brothers, sisters etc that love them, so why do they feel like they are alone?
Brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers are meant to love you regardless, so to someone feeling at their lowest, this becomes somehow less relevant. You want to make a difference and be special to someone because they want that not because they ought to. When you don’t get the answers you want (and I asked children in school why they bullied me because I wanted to find a reason so I could do something about it) that increases the despair and you end up feeling that you are unlovable.
“But your mum loves you!” Comes the cry.
To a mind searching for positives and only getting negatives, the answer internally is:
“well, that’s only because she HAS to”
Anyone who has considered harming themselves or even ending their lives, they must have seen despair. There is no specified point where anyone reaches despair. We all reach it in different ways. It’s easy to dismiss the suicidal feelings saying that “we have been through this and never thought about ending it all”. This means that that person didn’t actually reach despair.
I have been there and know the feeling well. Every individual is different.
So if you are suffering from bullying in your online activities, what should you do?
- Use the privacy settings with care. Try not to make yourself too visible online to everyone. Control who can see your profiles.
- Think carefully about making your twitter etc account only viewable by those you know and those who won’t bully you.
- If you do suffer online bullying, try not to respond to them. It’s easier said than done, but often they are bullying for the reaction.
- Report bullies, but speak to someone about how the bullying makes you feel. Speak to a friend, relative, parent or contact one of the many anti-bullying charities that exist. It’s not weakness to ask for help. That’s a sign of strength.
- Don’t allow bullies to make you feel small. By bullying you, they are making up for something that is missing from their lives. They can try and make you feel small, but only you can allow them to succeed.
What about the social network sites? What should they do?
- Large easily selected report abuse buttons for all, not just those that are considered ‘vulnerable’.
- Link the report button to a support page so those that are on the receiving end can have immediate access to support if they need it.
- One of the most frustrating aspects of Facebook is their ability to change your privacy settings without consulting you, and leaving you open to the outside world when you have chosen to keep your profile private. This has happened to me several times on my personal account. Facebook – this isn’t good enough. I have talked about it on your page but received no response whatsoever.
- Consult anti-bullying charities to find out how much more they can do to support their users. Work hand in hand with them.
Much more needs to be done by the social networks to support the majority of their users who don’t use it maliciously. They may not be responsible for the abuse itself, but they do have a responsibility to protect their users.
Finally, if YOU are going through any kind of bullying, be it online or in real life, don’t suffer alone, get help from one of the following charities:
There are more out there, but these will be a great starting point. You aren’t the only one going through it. If you are struggling to deal with it, stop struggling and get help.