Cyberbullying: an unknown shore

1 Sep

I was horrified, then saddened, then angered by the horrible and so sad death of Hannah Smith, the teenager who killed herself at the very start of the school holidays because of vile, relentless taunting on the social media site ask.fm. It seems that this beautiful, lively, normal teenage girl, doing just what other teenage girls do, joining the crowd on that site, found herself experiencing the worst that it could possibly serve up. Which is people able to hide behind its anonymity, allowing the sick side of their nature to run riot, indulge all the cruelty they could dredge up from their excuse of a soul, pursuing this girl like a pack of wolves until they caused her death as surely in my mind as if they’d wielded a weapon themselves and struck a tangible blow.

Bullies, in my day – and like so many of us I experienced them, in my case at my first school, fortunately only for a single year, but a year where the experiences burnt indelibly into my history and beyond doubt fashioned some of who I am today – didn’t have quite such a comfortable dark refuge in which to hide. Bullying didn’t usually take place in plain sight, admittedly – but it did take place in real life, face to face, person to person; and I think as a result bullies who couldn’t hide so much in the darkness didn’t generate quite the levels of mass and unrelenting vitriol that viciousness can rise to – or is that sink to? – when the victim is unknown.

And while classic ‘old school’ bullies do always bring out the herd mentality in people – those joining in because they are relieved not to be on the receiving end; online it’s much easier for the herd to join in and behave in a way that they would not consider behaving face to face, when people know exactly who they are and what they’re made of; where they experience directly the distress they cause their victim; and maybe where they will experience some residual human-nature rising distaste for their actions.

As I was navigating the treacherous waters of my own adolescence and how others’ adolescent behaviour impacted on my peace of mind, there certainly wasn’t a website where people can act out angry unnerving fantasies of faceless cruelty, unknown, and I believe, in some ways at least, protected. Protected, because where were ask.fm’s ‘terms of service’ when amoral filth was being posted on that poor girl’s profile?

Here you see is what terrifies me about cyberbullying when I consider my children, growing up. I feel I am equipped to help them navigate around any future cruelty of their peers as they struggle from growing-up stage to growing-up stage to adulthood; but I feel relatively helpless in how it would feel to be bombarded by comments from people you don’t know, which surely must lead to a bleak and terrible sense that the whole world is against you, rather than a known and select group in your immediate environment. The latter leaves some hope that there will be a future beyond where you are today; new people, new chance, new start. But if you feel that everywhere you turn and move to in later life those you meet could be the people telling you via your ask.fm profile that you don’t deserve to be alive, it must be hard to believe that there is anywhere to go where things could be different.

The internet has done so very much good, enriching education and experience immeasurably, but it does have some dark and dangerous shadows.

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One Response to “Cyberbullying: an unknown shore”

  1. RoseofKesha September 2, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

    amen!!! experienced something somewhat similar and shared my story too, understand completely what you mean!

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