Friday, October 1, 2010

The Dangers of Social Media

I admit I cannot for the life of me remember where I heard this comment, but I'm pretty sure it was on CNN or HLN. The discussion surrounded the awful story of the college student who took his life after other students filmed his sex act and streamed it online. I am NOT dismissing this horrible, awful event. I cannot imagine what his family and friends are going through and I feel terrible for him. There are gay men in my family and we have also dealt with teen suicide, so those topics are very close to my heart.

However what I heard on the news was a comment about how 'this shows the dangers of Social Media'. It's a shot at chat rooms, webcams, Facebook, and so on because of other stories that have been in the news over the years as well. Okay -- but many people are acting like this is the only time things like this have gone on. No, it's been going on for a very long long time. Bullying, personal attacks, and other forms of 'media' have been used since long before the birth of the internet. Sure, it reaches more people now, but as a teen would you be concerned if someone on the other side of the world saw your sex vid? Or would you be concerned with the people you have to face every day - fellow students, teachers, parents, friends, the lady at the corner store, etc? I would imagine it's the latter.

Now I will take a trip down memory lane to my own teen years in the mid to late 80s. Bathroom walls were a common place to read up on rumors and gossip. It was always fun to walk into a bathroom and have everyone start giggling and then rush out without meeting your eyes.... you step into a stall to have a tinkle and there is your name scratched across the paint or printed in black indelible marker, proclaiming you to be a SLUT WHORE C*NT etc. Or perhaps your locker... I remember walking to my locker and finding black marker scrawling words about me being pregnant but having an abortion with a coat hanger, and a coat hanger was dangling from my lock. Not that you care - but I was still a virgin at that time and had not had sex let alone been pregnant or having a termination. I have no idea where that rumor came from, possibly some dude I turned down and he lied about our encounter, who knows. But my point is, back before the internet was 'so big' and before 'social media' groups like facebook, youtube, etc came along, teens faced awful crap.

I remember one halloween when I discovered that someone has spray painted the whole back of my family's fence with a derrogatory nickname that I had been given. I can't write it here or it could give away my anonymity (for my childrens' safety-sake), but it was just a stupid nickname that happened to rhyme with my surname, and it was a not-nice-word for part of the female anatomy. So yeah, that was embarrassing - for all my neighbours and MY DAD to see. How fun. I was pissed off and humiliated.

Or notes were passed in class. Or you would arrive in English class to find that someone scribbled that you were a whore right across your desk and your teacher made you clean it off. All that fun stuff. And yet - it happened without the aid of Facebook. Imagine that!

Sure - you can reach millions of people now instead of a few hundred or thousand in your local school - but gossip spread like wildfire nonetheless and you would soon find that kids in the high school across the city also heard about your exploits. Imagine my surprise when a guy from the local catholic school, whom I had only seen once in my life, knocked on my bedroom window at 3am when I was about 17 and told me he heard that I had been with his friend and wondered if I wanted to be with him too. Oh boy I felt special that night!

But seriously - is it the 'danger' of Social Media? Or is it the irresponsibilty and plain old fashioned nastiness inherent in so many people that causes the actual problem? I know of girls I went to school with who had photos taken of them without their knowledge - like a frat boy's buddy hiding in the closet to use the old clunky video camera to film a sex scene and show it to everyone at the next party. Or polaroids taken of a drunken passed out girl who was stripped naked and placed in strange positions and spread around the school via the ancient photocopier machines. Or phone calls in the dead of night to a girl's parents telling them that their little girl is a skanky whore (no that didn't happen to me, nor the photos and video [that i know of!], but to people I know)... Where was Facebook's involvement in that? Where was the live video stream?

It's the kids. The people who watch it. The people who troll the net looking for smut like this. THE PEOPLE, not the media. Perhaps we should not have cameras, video cameras, televisions, computers, paper, pens, polaroids, tape recorders, etc at all. But even that won't stop gossip. All you need to have is a big mouth and a listener with an equally big mouth and you're off to the races.

Why do we keep blaming the means rather than the perpetrators? I told my 13 yr old son a bit about the most recent suicide story this morning, without going into too many details, but told him that what the other students did was video a very personal moment and show it online to tons of people, and how the guy was so upset he jumped off a bridge on  purpose and died. I took this moment to tell him that how he treats other people could have a serious effect on them, especially if they are a person dealing with self esteem issues in the first place. I cannot imagine my son doing anything like that to someone but isn't that what all parents say? So instead of assuming he will always be the golden child, I reminded him that if I EVER hear of him traumatizing someone, bullying, harrassing or tormenting someone else, he will regret every single second of it when I am through with him. I have told him this in the past based on events that cropped up with friends, and I will continue to remind him periodically through these trying years. I have told him about times where I made fun of someone with a disability (when i was only 11) and how all these years later it makes me ache in the pit of my stomach from sheer torturous guilt and I don't want him to feel like that one day.

I would hope that if he was involved in something hateful, I would not turn around and blame Facebook or some online spot for running streaming video, or some other 'dangerous' social media spot. Last time  I checked, it's each individual who logs in and types. FB isn't forcing them to make groups that are hateful to others. youtube is not forcing them to upload vids of a student being trampled on in a fight. The kids are doing it and no one is trying to stop them - instead they are villifying the media sites and it's getting REALLY old. It's like they think there was no bullying until the net came along or something.

Maybe they could tell that to my brother, who 20 years ago had a big group of boys pushing him hard into his locker every day, or pushing him down to tie their shoes and spitting on his head when he would not comply. Or maybe they could tell me that it didn't really happen that a male classmate used to follow me into the washroom and tower over me in the corner, scaring the living crap out of me. Or that no one hung a coat hanger on my locker and said I used it for an abortion. Or it didnt happen that my brother's shop teacher told him he knew his sister and that 'she had slept with more than 20 guys'. etc. That's just not possible because the dangerous social media did not exist back then!

Get a grip of your kids people. The schools could try harder too - oh except for the fact they aren't allowed to really do anything anymore so I'm not really sure WHAT they can do beyond constantly suspending kids and then getting accused of not allowing them to have their right to an education......


  1. Excellent post! People need to take responsibility for their actions.

  2. The left like to blame inanimate objects as they don't like the emotional conflict of thinking that people could be bad. It is all those nasty objects that are to blame, those guns and cars, that should be banned or have yet more legislation passed about them. Then, of course, people will behave perfectly.

    The right, neo-cons, would like to ban social media as they dislike its ability to let people communicate without their controlling permission, and worse without them making a profit.

    Just an opinion. If it ain't right for you hang around, there'll be another one along in a minute or two.

    (PS Glad you helped J out, I like TUAK.)

  3. Social Media could be classed as an inanimate object too and with such ideas as the Fairness Doctrine always making a rumbling on both sides of the political spectrum, I would suggest to add that to the left list of guns, cars, etc.

    I had to look up TUAK becuase I had no idea what you were talking about and still don't really LOL. I see TUAK as an Indonesian drink?

  4. Sorry about the TUAK (The Ultimate Answer To Kings) bit. I had you mixed up with another female Canadian blogger who follows your blog.

    She made a donation to help out another blogger with a small financial problem - I didn't meant to confuse you.

    As for 'fairness' most people only favour it when it benefits them, they scream blue murder if someone else is getting the benefit.

    The egotistical insanity of humanity. It's like free speech. If your saying something they agree with they're all for it. If they disagree with you it's bring on the cruise missiles time.

  5. Today the nastiness is similar, but the consequences are worse. Your nickname was on a back fence for a few locals to see -- this video was broadcast to the world. The victim might not know the myriad of people who might view the video, but the feeling of humiliation because of world-wide exposure would be overwhelming.

  6. Yes I agree that it would be, but is that the social media's fault, or the people uploading/streaming the video for all to see? That is what I am exploring here. I happen to love sites like Facebook because almost my entire family lives on the eastern side of Canada and I am out west. I have not seen most of them for over 20 years. It was getting expensive to send all my aunts and uncles photos of my kids every Christmas, even cards and letters to 200+ people.... So when Facebook came along, email, etc I was thrilled to pieces. I can upload a video and send the link out, and whoever in my family and friends wants to peek can go for it. It's awesome.

    But because of a group of people who misuse it in a myriad of ways, these forms of social media are being villified. Take Craigs List for example - some people were hurt or killed after posting personal ads there. However, it has also been done with newspaper ads over many many decades and there was no IP address trail to follow. You could walk in with cash, give a fake name, and place an ad and draw women in and hurt them. But newspapers are still around... while others are attacking social networks online instead. Why is that exactly?

    The people who streamed that video are to blame. They took a wonderful tool, internet, and used it to harrass a fellow student, and then he took his life. If the internet was not around those same students may have taken still photos or regular old digital video, or tape recorded the sounds of two males in an intimate encounter and spread it around the school. We cannot predict if the student would have reacted the same way with his personal life being spread around on a smaller scale, but surely he would have been just as upset and humiliated.

    Is the 'social media' to blame? The people who are going after myspace, facebook, bebo, youtube, etc are asking those groups to better monitor activity. To do that, you would probably need to hire a LOT of moderators and that will cost a LOT of money, so these great services will no longer be free to the vast majority of people who do NOT use it for bad reasons. Is that fair?

    The students who did this need to have something happen to THEM, but I don't see how applying more rules to everyone else is going to solve this type of thing because it has been going on for eons and will continue in some form or another. Working on the people who would stoop to such lows is the only way to reduce occurences. How that can be done effectively, I do not know. Some people are just plain cruel and don't give a rat's behind about how they make another person feel.



These are my views and opinions. If you don't agree or think I am sadly misguided, that is your view. Feel free to share your thoughts but I also reserve my right to moderate content (IE foul language, excessive flaming, etc).