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Cyber-Bullying: The Dark Side of The Social Network

A recent survey has shown the true affects of cyber bullying. The Daily Shift’s Aoife Gray takes a look at the shocking statistics…

The survey released by Opinium Research found that Facebook is the worst social networking site for trolling, and that bullying is now more prevalent online than anywhere else. Nearly 90% of teenagers who reported themselves as victims of online abuse said that they were targeted on Facebook.

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Bullying is by no means a new phenomenon. It is an intrinsic part of society, stemming from our first social encounters outside the home as children in school all the way up to bullying within the work-place as adults. But what once took place in the school-yard and in the classroom now has a new medium, in the form of the internet and social networking sites such as Facebook, ask.com etc. What victims once had to endure during school-time has now infiltrated every aspect of their lives.

Cyber-bullying doesn’t end when the school bell rings at the end of the day; it is a form of 24/7 psychological torment and abuse. The real tragedy is that, according to the study, only 37% of those victims reported the abuse to the social networking site where it took place. The majority of victims choose to suffer in silence, sometimes until it is too late and they feel they have no other option but self –harm or suicide.

In the last year alone there have been three deaths by suicide in Ireland related to cyber bullying. Leitrim teenager Ciara Pugsley, aged fifteen, took her own life in September 2012 after weeks of online bullying on the social networking site Ask.com. Even more shocking still is the fact that she was a popular young girl with a large group of friends who was well regarded within her local community of Dromahair, Co. Leitrim. Just weeks later, Donegal teenager Erin Gallagher, aged thirteen, took her own life at home while she babysat her four year old brother. Her older sister, Shannon, took her own life just two months later on the 13th of December.

We will never fully understand what was going through these young girls’ minds in the days and hours before they chose to end their own lives, and we must acknowledge that there may have been other psychological issues leading them to such drastic measures. It is easy to see how an adolescent with an already fragile mental state would be driven over the edge by the torment of cyber bullying.

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald expressed concern about the difficulties in regulating sites such as these in the weeks following the suicides, given the “global and open nature of the internet”. The psychological issues behind bullying are complex for both the bully and the victim, and the effects of being bullied or bullying in childhood and adolescence can last well into adulthood. While bullying might end when the victim leaves school, the scars of the abuse can last well beyond graduation with individuals who were victims of bullying finding themselves much more susceptible to major anxiety, depression and panic disorders in later life.

Action is now being taken to end bullying, both here in Ireland and abroad. Just last week, BeLong To, an Irish organisation which supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teens launched their Stand Up! Campaign which calls on young people to end homophobic bullying, including homophobic bullying online. The Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) released a statement last year calling on the government to do more to end racially-motivated bullying. They said that these children from “visible minority groups” face racial slurs and physical abuse which are ignored by those in charge and justified with the line that “bullying happens to all children”. This in itself speaks volumes about our attitude towards bullying as a society. Bullying doesn’t happen to all children but, more importantly, it shouldn’t happen to any. If even one child in this country is driven to suicide as a result of any kind of bullying, that’s one too many.

A spokesperson for Facebook reacted to the release of the study.

“There is no place for harassment on Facebook. But, unfortunately, a small minority of malicious individuals exists online, just as they do offline”.

The sad truth of the matter is that these individuals existed long before Facebook. Until we truly try to look at the issues behind what motivates some children, teenagers and even adults into bullying, it is difficult to see how increased online regulation will end cyber bullying. Facebook is recommended for users over the age of thirteen and it does have certain safeguards against online bullying and harassment. However, there are other social networking sites out there, such as ask.com, which do not have these safeguards; therefore it is up to parents to monitor their child’s activity online and, more importantly, to talk to their children about how they feel in school. Anti-bullying education in schools and campaigns by groups such as BeLong To at least show that, as a society, we care about bringing an end to bullying.

We must acknowledge that bullying, regardless of whether it is homophobic, racist etc. does in fact take lives and cannot be seen as “acceptable” or “harmless” or “part of growing up” as there are teenagers out there such as Ciara and Erin who won’t get the chance to grow up as a result of bullying.

*lead image courtesy of colaistemhuirekk.ie
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One comment on “Cyber-Bullying: The Dark Side of The Social Network

  1. Bullying will never stop, it may be lessened but as I can see today, it just gets worse because of the new technology. Social networking sites have played a great role in bullying nowadays. Words still hurt.

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