The internet can be a wonderful thing. We have websites like Facebook, Skype, Twitter, WordPress, Blogger, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, Wikipedia… The list is practically endless. These sites all have their positives – yep you heard right. They are an amazing way to connect with people, share pictures, videos, find and share information – all for free! The BBC and ITV have had iPlayer and ITVPlayer respectively, for quite some time, allowing people to legally watch TV online. Brilliant! The internet has also created millions of jobs! Think of all the extra posts in journalism, web-development and design, programming and media (To name but a few sectors) that have seen massive increases in jobs since the internet has exploded! But there’s a catch right?
The Office for National Statistics estimated that in the UK 33 million adults used the internet almost every day, during 2012 (Double the figure of 2006). They also found that 87% of 16-24 year olds used social networking sites during that year. So the internet, and social networking sites, are a pretty big deal – as if you didn’t know that already.
However, for a long while now, the ramifications of the misuse of social networking have been brewing:
The latest ramification is the suicide of Hannah Smith, a 14 year old from Leicestershire, following abuse on Ask.Fm. It broke my heart when I heard this. That one person/people could be so horrid, that they have driven someone to take their own life. Due to the selfishness and cruelty of others, and nothing more, the world has lost yet another precious life. As in the list above, another life was lost, in that of 15 year old Joshua Unsworth earlier in 2013. Surely, social networking has become completely out of hand when lives start being lost as a result of it’s use?
And in the midst of all this, Facebook said in June that it was considering allowing users under the current minimum age of 13, to join it’s site. Are they stupid!? On top of this, prosecutors published new guidelines for the treatment of offensive online posts, stating that prosecution was “unlikely” when offenders “expressed genuine remorse”. From a judicial and public welfare perspective, this is a move in the wrong direction surely!?
The Diana Award found that 38% of young people have been affected by cyber-bullying, with 26% of those receiving abusive emails. It was found that 28% of children did not report their abuse. These stats are too high. Way too high.
My mum is the only person I know who said at the beginning of the eruption of social networking that it “would all result in tears“. At the time, many would have laughed at her for saying that. I didn’t laugh as I could see her point, but I didn’t see things getting to the extent of how they are now. Well, Mum was right. It has all resulted in tears. Tears for the sufferers of online abuse. Tears for the families who have lost their loved ones.
Social networking, on the whole is safe. Many use it wisely and safely, without abusing others and without being abused themselves. However for those who do receive abuse, very little is there to safeguard and protect them. The Communications Act 2003 is there, but seems somewhat ineffective when the abusers of Hannah Smith are almost definitely going to be anonymous users of the site Ask.Fm, and so bringing them to any kind of mediocre justice looks quite unlikely.
Ultimately I think the responsibility lies with both the websites themselves, and the law. I don’t know much about how all these things work, but surely some of these are achievable to ensure user safety:
- Greater communications between the law and the sites
- More effective methods of reporting abuse and blocking abusers
- Tighter terms and conditions of use need to be agreed with users when signing up to these sites
- Greater monitoring of communications between users
- Tougher jail sentences for bullies who drive victims to self harm, or suicide (Successful or attempted)
However feasible these ideas are or aren’t, if the boffins at Facebook and Twitter can create their websites, then they must be able to regulate them too. Otherwise it’s like making a Ferrari without any brakes – one day it will crash.
Social networking has become out of hand, and it needs to be restrained.
Thanks for reading
If you are being bullied, in any shape or form there are a number of places you can receive help, if you feel unable to talk to your parents/family members, teachers or friends. Click on the name to go to the website, and the helpline is there with opening hours if appropriate.
BullyingUK – 0808 800 2222 (7am-midnight. All other calls are forwarded to Samaritans) They also offer an online chat facility. See the website.
ChildLine - 0800 1111
Beatbullying don’t have a number. But an online chat facility. Click the link to see more.
The Cybersmile Foundation - 0845 688 7277