For some reason, I am not a terrific fan of social media. Of course it has huge benefits but I have also found that it has its incredibly dangerous downsides including cyber bullying.
My children who are all social media savvy believe that this distance I have kept from social media is more as a result of my generational inadequacy than it is with the dangers inherent in the business of social media but then that is a story for another day.
Today I wish to comment on one of the more dangerous areas of social media problems which is cyber bullying. This is the use of the internet to visit the social media platforms of persons and bullying them online. This has led to emotional harassment, abuses, threats and ultimately unbearable abuse leading some of the victims to such painful decisions as suicide. While this has been going on for so long now, the latest victim Sam Abel, 14 years who threw himself off a supermarket parking lot leading to his death has again received media attention and saddened me deeply. His heartbroken parents are even more devastated because the police say the snapchat messages which led to Sam’s suicide are encrypted and cannot be retrieved by the police. This means that they will never know the words spewed forth by stupid and uncaring teenagers who got a kick from making another teenager unhappy through their mindless bullying. The story is told of how the prize winning Sam was bullied physically and online because of jealousy by his schoolmates because he was a brilliant student. I did not know that among students this can be something to taunt someone with so bad it leads to a suicide. Poor Sam had been physically bullied since he was six years old but this became more extreme as a teenager from his mates at the Tudor Grange academy school in England. Pranks, physical abuse, and cruel messages were sent to him via snapchat and his Facebook messenger on a daily basis. The pressure of the cyber bullying was so much on the young teenager that he began to tell people that he wanted to die to prove a point. Even when he reported to the school authorities, he was called a snitch by these tribe of mean teenagers. In addition to wildly thrashing hormones, teenagers are so addicted to their phones. They are under enormous peer pressure and are particularly interested in being liked and validated by others. They go online to see how many likes they have had and seem to be having an emotional breakdown if their phones are missing or even they can’t find their phones even momentarily. While technology has provided us with a device and processes that enables us to communicate to a large number of persons across large geographical divides, we have seen the dangerous trends with social media applications which tend to paralyses parents and which seems to be claiming youngsters from their families, their books and from leading a normal life.
Phones, androids, I pads are invasive today while data purchase can easily be ranked as one of the money spinning businesses in the Telco bundles. Teenagers are particularly prone to putting money in this business because they believe data is one of the most precious lifesaving kits any teenager ought to have. For a long time, I thought it was bizarre that teenagers will suddenly be out of sorts if they cannot find their phones and literally begin to panic until I understood it for what it is… an addiction. I recently read in an international magazine that Instagram is more addictive than cigarettes. I was truly beside myself in shock. So you see we are playing with fire and a lot of the telecommunication companies are smiling all the way to the bank at the expense of many teenagers who are far gone in this addiction and cannot function appropriately within a social space.
Let us return to Sam and the tragedy of his suicide.
How will those who go online to hate, destroy and dismember others live with themselves? What do you gain when you collectively, knowingly abuse someone online? What do you gain by leading someone to commit suicide by your contribution online? I have thought very hard about this and it is simply a validation of why as a person, I just find something wrong with people who are following each other online and who get upset when they do not have enough likes or for that matter if they are “unliked“ or if not enough people are commenting on their social media sites. The pressure, the distraction is unimaginable. I understand branding, public relations and publicity as why people do it for books, projects and businesses. I understand that. What I do not understand is when it becomes dangerous like threats, online abuse and stalking.
Here a few tips about cyber bullying; Encourage children to tell parents, teachers etc. if they are being bullied on-line, block the bully, stop telling people where you are through long chats on your device, report to the site owners, change contact information, don’t respond and save all bullying content for information, report to police.
Always know what your kids are up to online, hard as this may seem and set boundaries for how far they can go on their device. Our hearts are with Sam’s parents at this time.