Audrie Pott loved to sing and play music. Last fall, on September 10th, 2012 she committed suicide at the young age of fifteen. Over the course of the previous eight days, the Saratoga California local lived her life in utter humiliation. Eight days prior to her premature death, she was sexually assaulted by three teenage boys and there were pictures taken of the incident that went “viral” throughout the internet. She was not only a target of assault, but rather the victim of cyber bullying; a primary reason she took her own life. This cyber-attack was committed when the disgraceful pictures were uploaded; spreading like a wildfire with heartless disregard that only pushed her to the breaking point. In the past month, the accused teenage boys have been arrested for the sexual assault (“Audrie Pott: Sexual Assault, Cyber bullying and Suicide”). Unfortunately, these accusations did not include the cyber-attacks that were responsible for Audrie’s short life. Many wonder, including family and friends, if her death could’ve been prevented in some way. Unfortunately, cyber bullying has grown into a worldwide epidemic with the end result ranging from degradation to suicide. The liabilities of parents and increased school policies have become areas of interest in this controversial topic. However, shouldn’t the focal point involve these services that harbor this type of activity? With laws in effect that prevent online social networks from being held liable for their user’s actions, shouldn’t these services do more to help prevent cyber bullying? Without a shadow of doubt they should; by integrating filtering systems within the sites framework to prevent cyber bullying. These sites should implement this, not only for Audrie and her families’ sake, also the countless worldwide who have fallen victim to this immoral behavior.
Bullying has been around for many centuries, but in today’s technological era, it has manifested into something worse with far greater consequences. Cyber bullying has many faces; whether sending cruel messages or threats through email or cellphone to spreading rumors online and terror through text messages. The statistics of cyber bullying have grown into almost uncontrollable numbers. According to a recent study, it was revealed that over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same numbers have engaged in a form cyber bullying. Similarly, these statistics are alike with youth never revealing this activity to parents or authorities (bullyingstatistics.org). This is a frightening example of the behavior that youth have evolved into. From the days of “kiss and tell” to the modern age of degrading photos and teenage suicide, this new breed of cyber-attack began with the inception of these internet social platforms.
Online social networks such as Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, and Twitter have become an atmosphere for this cyber abuse, creating an avenue for “posts” of embarrassment, threatening messages, and psychological suffering. As the “Grand Daddy” of networks, Facebook began in 2004 as a Harvard University social platform. Its popularity rapidly spread to other universities then quickly became open for public use with “intended” of those ages 13 and older (“The Ultimate History of Facebook Controversies”). Users must register before using the site, after which they may create a personal profile (wall page), add other users as friends, exchange messages, photos, and “status” updates. You can also communicate directly with messages and photos onto others profile pages as well. As of September 2012, Facebook has over one billion active users, of which 8.7% are fake profiles. According to a May 2011 Consumer Reports survey, there are 7.5 million children under 13 with accounts and 5 million under 10, violating the site’s terms of service (consumerreports.org).
The users of these social networks, such as Facebook, can create their page as a form of “image”; mirroring that of real life. In an article entitled “You Are Being Gamed”, Wired magazine writer Dan Ariely writes about the manipulation and perception of these sites, adding: “We want our walls to reflect ourselves. Users want to display a self that is somewhere between their real self and how they would like to be perceived, which creates a constant motivation for monitoring and upkeep of the wall” (139). Consequently, users can create false profiles and manipulate these networks to spread images and messages that can be very harmful. These potential cyber bullies use this as a form of “mask” to hide behind, allowing them to communicate with complete disregard for others. “It’s not just the plain, old, horrible crime of rape,” said Aftab, an Internet privacy and security expert. “The cyber world has a different reality as far as kids are concerned. It’s not real life. For them, it’s a show and not a rape of someone their own age. It’s almost as if entertainment has taken over their humanity” (“Saratoga girl’s suicide fuels cyber bullying debate”). People have become enthralled to live their lives through electronic devices, completely unprepared to deal with the sometimes harsh consequences of their actions.
Many believe that these social networking sites desensitize the emotional growing process within adolescence. More and more young adults become confined to the internet and its endless virtual reality. Parental guidance and school teachings provide a sense of nurturing that cannot be matched digitally. Continued interaction on these social sites only separates them further from the beneficial factors of face-to-face interpersonal relationships. Accordingly, Claude Knights, director of the children’s charity Kidscape, adds: “We speak to a lot of parents who say that the whole balance of their children’s lives has gone. They’ve lost the ability to operate in a healthy way. When you talk online, there’s no eye contact – you can’t see someone’s body language or hear the nuances in their voice. These are things we use to establish empathy with other people and they are being undermined” (qtd. in “The fake world of Facebook and Bebo: How suicide and cyber bullying lurk behind the facade of harmless fun”).
Furthermore, it is these online social networks that have unnoticeable gathered their ranks in their cyber bully armies. Clearing the way; supplying ammunition to fire upon the innocent victims in these unfortunate circumstances. Facebook has policies regarding such activity; however it is not enough to deter the hatred among their site. Any person who wishes to join Facebook must first consent to Facebook’s “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities,” which states, in part:
3. Safety: We do our best to keep Facebook safe, but we cannot guarantee it. We need your help to do that, which includes the following commitments: 6) You will not bully, intimidate, or harass any user. 7) You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence. 10) You will not use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious, or discriminatory.
Facebook stands firm behind their guidelines, though not taking measures to prevent this activity before it is initiated. They do provide buttons to click and report; “this post is a problem”, which notifies Facebook representatives of harmful materials. The posts are evaluated and determined if they violate their policies. Posts that are deemed in violation will be removed or blocked; sending a virtual “clean-up crew” to attempt to extinguish the fires that have already been felt psychologically. This reaction by Facebook only amplifies the actions of its cyber bully users. According to Steven White in his article “Social Networks Adapt to Prevent Cyber Bullying”, he argues: “The current solution for monitoring the problem now relies heavily on human moderation. But given the millions of uploads to social networks on a daily basis, this approach is neither feasible nor cost efficient” (1). Facebook’s response to sensitive material is not matched with the overwhelming spread of cyber bullying. They rely on safety as a primary concern, not accomplishing this through the use of prevention. When degrading photos, malicious threats, and hatred have been shared, the damage quickly develops into a snow-ball type of effect on one’s psyche. Once the spreading begins, the victim relives the experience through every share, every comment; being emotionally victimized over and over again. Sadly, this is the case with young Audrie Pott. Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital, concurs: “The rape was repeated every time someone passed those photos on. It sure sounds like that’s what led her to feel her life was worthless, not the rape itself” (qtd. in “Saratoga Girl’s Suicide Fuels Cyber Bullying Debate”).
Online social networks have provided an outlet for numerous cyber related attacks; ranging from the cowardly lone wolf to structured hate groups that have fully organized cyber assaults. There are entire pages dedicated to a horrific message. This continues on many sites with little involvement of the host to prevent this from happening. Their contribution to remain a safe environment for users relies solely on an “after-the-fact” level. Sub sequentially; their efforts to minimize cyber-attack outcomes have often appeared transparent, not taking any action what so ever. The revulsion(s) were deemed not in violation of companies’ respective policies. The reported material continues unrecognized by those who have the power to stop it.
Facebook is just one of many online social networks to allow this type of behavior to continue, responding to the material at a snail’s pace. In 2010, 15-year-old high school freshman Phoebe Prince committed suicide because she was the victim of cyber bullying and physical attacks at school. In response to Ms. Prince’s death, unbeknownst Facebook users created two Phoebe Prince “fan pages” to honor her in death. Within days, those pages transformed from a place for Facebook users to praise her into an asylum of cruelty. People left despicable comments and photos about Ms. Prince (“Phoebe Prince, South Hadley High School’s ‘new girl,’ driven to suicide by teenage cyber bullies”). According to Tamara N. Holder; Attorney, Legal Analyst and Contributor for the Fox News Channel in her article “Inside Facebook’s Dark and Violent Alleys”, she reported: “Facebook ignored the countless pleas for help, maybe because Facebook knew that Ms. Prince’s heirs had no legal cause of action for defamation of her character. But then the arrows of hate directed at Ms. Prince turned on those who defended her, within a matter of days, hundreds of threats filled the pages” (1). Uncountable attempts were made asking Facebook representatives for assistance to remove this activity. Eventually it was removed, but only after increased media attention, and 8 months of agony for family and friends. Then, with some sense of normalcy and the fading of the national spotlight, Facebook handed the pages back over to the cyber bullies. This is a prime example of hate; even in death, it has no boundaries.
In relation, throughout Facebook and other social networking sites, there have been many pages depicting various forms of pro-rape, “rape jokes”, pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia, bigotry, racism, anti-sexuality, and violence against both genders. This graphic and disturbing behavior coincides with the activity of cyber bullying; another facet in its already unfortunate shape. While representatives of Facebook have “done their best” to eliminate these pages, it continues without inhibiting them to be posted. There are many protesters and activist groups who have joined together to demand a response from the networking site. In a recent radio interview, Q with Jian Ghomeshi on CBC radio, Laura Bates, founder of the site Everyday Sexism (a site dedicated to women to write openly about circumstances of violence and sexism), spoke about her online campaign with the groups Women, Action and the Media (WAM!), V-DAY, and the White Ribbon Society; supported by over 57,000 tweets and more than 4,900 emails. The advocacy groups wrote a letter to Facebook; asking the site for the removal of pages that support and portray violence and rape of women, “rape jokes”, and extreme gender based humor. Within this charge, advertising was targeted; questioned why they allowed their products to be viewed next to violent images of women. One such company, Dove (skin care for women), would not remove their advertising, but would work closely with Facebook to address the issue. Bates added how Facebook has a long history of censoring images deemed offensive such as women breastfeeding, artistic images of the female body, and using the female body for political protest. Facebook’s policies of “hatespeech” did reflect those with gender based humor; sparking these groups efforts against the social platform. Facebook’s immediate response: “…we occasionally see people post rude and distasteful images and crude attempts at humor, while it may be vulgar and offensive, distasteful content on its own does not violate our Facebook policies” (qtd. from Q with Jian Ghomeshi). Following this campaign, Facebook agreed to update its policy on hatespeech. The movements’ success created outcomes such as the withdrawal of advertising from Facebook by 15 companies, including Nissan UK, House of Burlesque and Nationwide UK. The social media website ultimately responded; agreeing to take action on May 29, 2013 after it had “become clear that our systems to identify and remove hate speech have failed to work as effectively as we would like, particularly around issues of gender-based hate” (qtd. from Facebook Vows To Crack Down On Rape Joke Pages After Successful Protest, Boycott). These ongoing movements and campaigns towards change within online social networks are a positive direction in the fight against cyber bullying. They provide awareness, structure and adaption to this never-ending ordeal. However, taking action on the outcomes of this activity and behavior ease the enduring pain, but do not fulfill the need to prevent it from happening.
The prevention of cyber bullying has been addressed by many. Some have questioned the responsibility as parent(s) of the teenage cyber bullies, its victims, and school board officials towards this problem. Some think it is an easy fix; just stop using these online social networks. While these studies and opinions examine development, they don’t take into account the strong cultural change within today’s technology and the fact that victims face their peers on a daily basis. As a parent it is an obligation to communicate effectively, practice awareness, and teach through structural guidance. Nevertheless, with society’s adaption to digital media and its resources, families are becoming pulled apart from lack of communication. Your role as a parent, and the safety and security of your children are being questioned, because of access to the destruction not prevented by these online social media networks. Parents and school officials can only do so much in this battle. With youth today, manipulation and hatred is a tool exposed within social atmospheres, not from parenting and teaching at school. Legal matters regarding cyber bullying and schools have raised many conversations; creating chaos even outside the classroom. Nancy Willard; a lawyer and the Executive Director of the Eugene, Or.-based Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use adds: “The legal standards are unclear, and if (school leaders) don’t have a policy that addresses cyber bullying, they end up getting an argument with the parents” (4). In almost every case, Teachers and parents are unconditional towards the safety of their student and child. These social platforms are blind to this; ignoring the prevention of safety, security, and pain among these digital worlds. Wouldn’t you feel safe, as a parent or teacher, knowing children are on social site(s) that have security and filters in place that prevent the spread of cyber bullying? I would, and billions of others should too.
Amongst the dark online world among us, there are bright industries leading the way towards security and filtering. Many organizations have developed new up in coming technologies to improve in the prevention of disruptive images, messages, and activity. However, the most widely used social platforms have yet incorporated these throughout their available services. Some of the software currently available is EyeGuardian by ImageVision, PureSight Owl, WatchGuard (XCS), and NetNanny. Each one using respective measures to monitor, filter, and control inappropriate or objective content. Features that include the ability to block or flag cyber bullying, slander and comments related to depression and suicide through traditional email, and internet sites including Facebook. EyeGuardian’s ImageWatch technology actually understands if a photo or video contains nudity. While some these security implements are currently used by private and IT networks, why can’t they be used among larger social media sites within the structured framework? EyeGuardian’s technology has been used by Apple, Yahoo!, and PhotoBucket (eyegaurdian.com). With money being a financial concern of most social media sites, opportunity for a safer environment is often ignored. Parents, schools, industries, and communities have each engaged in on-going prevention of cyber bullying. Unfortunately, these cyber havens that these actions and consequences take place in have not.
Online social networks have corrupted our next generation’s ability to understand “right from wrong”. The fact that these networking sites do nothing to prevent cyber bullying only contributes to this behavior. Moral standards, once a firm virtue, now have become twisted from manipulation, acceptance, and exploitation. Change is inevitable, however, not deservingly in the face of negativity. Online social networks provide a path, ammunition, and a place to hide to terrorize others. They are aware it is a problem, “help” after the damage has been done, yet not the services to prevent it. They opened their portal, adapting to societies ever-changing need, failing to take responsibility. Now by doing so, they have allowed others to suffer for their free services. People have a right to live and learn in a positive environment, ones that are provided by social networks throughout the internet. The thoughts behind cyber bullying are a complex issue. However, there are simple ideas that can be enforced that would greatly heal this epidemic. Filtering and content scanning would significantly reduce the occurrences of cyber bullying, even more so than parental guidance and awareness to school policies. Legality would damper the outcomes of unfortunate situations, only after instances have occurred. Prevention should be the priority in this crisis and should be aimed at those who provide for cyber bullies. How many more cyber related attacks; leading to stress, harassment, defamation, social anxiety, depression and death, need to occur before these online social media networks “step-up” to the plate? Enough is enough and they need to prevent these cyber bullies from manipulating our culture and destroying the lives of many. Freedom of speech should be expressed by all. However, this “freedom” has been twisted, manipulated, and abused.In the form of hate, we deserve the right not to listen.
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