I’ve never been a huge fan of social media, but I am starting to feel really unsettled by the thought of young people accessing such sites.
Facebook, Twitter, Bebo, Tumblr (to name a few) pride themselves on being platforms for freedom of speech and expression.
But there is a fast-evolving dark side which chills me to the bone. Like the “nothingness” which destroys good in “The Neverending Story”, this sinister side to social networking is threatening all of us.
No longer is it a case of just using these sites to catch up with family and friends in far-flung parts of the world. Now it is a minefield of the darkest aspects of the human psyche; trolls, flamers, narcissists, paedophiles, fantascists and even murderers.
So, is it wise to let children use these sites? The family of Hannah Smith would still have their vivacious 14-year-old if she hadn’t been on social networks. She hanged herself after being taunted and riddiculed on the site Ask.fm.
But, if that wasn’t enough pain to bear, the family were then targeted by trolls (individuals who delight in posting offensive comments) who left abusive and vitriolic messages on a Facebook tribute page set up in Hannah’s memory in the days following her death.
Hannah’s suicide is not an isolated case. Lorraine Gallagher has lost both her daughters. Erin (13) and Shannon (16) hanged themselves within weeks of each other last year. They had both suffered abuse online.
Surely these needless deaths give weight to the argument there should be tougher regulation, including report abuse buttons and even age limits for such sites.
Teenagers can be extremely vulnerable and are acutely aware and sensitive to what their peers think of them. So, should they be put in a position where their insecurities can be exploited by the emotionally bankrupt? These parasites are often depressed and socially inadequate people who thrive on the genuine human reactions they provoke. Would they say such despicable things to the face of those heartbroken parents? No. Would they continue taunting a young girl with a noose around her neck? No. So why should they be allowed to skulk in the shadows of anonimity and purvey this evil?
It’s time social media stopped hiding behind their fallacy of free speech and started to make these forums safer and less open to abuse. And, if they won’t, we should start clicking off these pages...it might be the only way to get them to pay attention.