There literally is not a day that goes by without something on my Facebook news feed angering me, and I bet a lot of you feel the same way. The internet is now arguably the biggest form of communication for people my age, which also means that it is the biggest platform for expressing opinions. I don't have an issue with that when opinions are expressed respectfully, but here's why I had an issue tonight...
A 'friend' (by which I mean somebody who I am 'friends' with only in order to be polite) liked a photo that was a screenshot of a conversation between two people. One of them had posted it in order to humiliate the other, an objective that she mainly achieved. Over 400 people also liked this photo and joined in with the denigration of a school girl. Granted, the school girl had made a comment on something else that the poster had taken offensively, but that isn't the point. If somebody offends or upsets you, you have two choices: you can act like a grown-up, or you can act like a small child. Too many people opt for the latter choice, it seems. But we'll come back to that.
According to Beatbullying, in 2006 69% of children in the UK reported being bullied, 87% of parents reported that their child had been bullied in the past 12 months, 20% reported bullying others, and 85% had witnessed bullying (with 82% trying to intervene). Just imagine how much those figures could have risen between then and now. Twitter, Tumblr and other sites (e.g. Formspring) have become much more popular, bringing with them a whole host of new problems. Furthermore, according to the Telegraph in November last year, a third of teenagers have now been affected by cyber-bullying.
It's a third too many.
I think it's fair to say that most of the people joining in with the bullying of this girl via a Facebook photo did not comment with the intention of being labelled as bullies. I genuinely don't think that the majority of bullying occurs because people want to earn that label. Call me naïve, but I can't help but lean towards the "these statistics wouldn't be so high if social networking sites took responsibility for keeping their users safe" side of the fence. In fact, I'm almost entirely sitting on that side of the fence.
Last year (I believe), Facebook announced changes to their reporting system in order to make it easier to report things like cyber-bullying, offensive groups etc. Has it done much? No, I don't believe so. Even a 10-section guide on 'how to stop bullying on Facebook' (link: here) ends by saying "it is unfortunate that Facebook does not take their own abuse policy seriously". This is the grim truth that Facebook users have to face if they find themselves in the awful position of being bullied.
The thing is, while Facebook should absolutely give more of a damn about its users, its users should also realise that everything they type and publish on that site, whether by comment, status update or private message, belongs to them. They own those words, however unpleasant they may be.
Would you want to own a an expensive, broken phone full of important work contacts? No, you'd replace it or fix it. What about a broken fridge full of rotting food? No, you'd probably start by throwing away the food and then get it fixed. I doubt you'd also want to own hideous insults and disgusting comments about a complete stranger, the life, struggles and feelings of whom you are oblivious to. It's the same principle. Surely the people we are and our values and behaviour are worth the most of all, and certainly much more than the few seconds we may feel from putting others down.
So, back to acting like a grown-up or a small child. In brief, grown-up = ignoring, reporting, blocking/deleting, telling an appropriate adult/teacher/the police (in extreme cases, of course) or messaging the person who has offended you to try and resolve the issue; small child = posting photos, status updates, comments, tweets, etc etc with the obvious intention of humiliating a person (who is clearly identified), deliberately continuing something that should have been resolved very quickly and simply, creating 'hate' groups, 'bantering' (by which I mean comments that are purely offensive, as opposed to sarcastic comments between people who know and actually like each other) about a person you don't know or only vaguely know through somebody else. My list could go on, but I'm sure you understand what I mean.
Wouldn't you rather own your own respectful, level-headed words than the words of someone filled with misplaced anger and hatred? I know I would.
What are your thoughts on cyber-bullying and Facebook? Do you think it should do more or do you believe the individual is always responsible? Let me know in the comments below (respectful comments only though, please - all opinions are always welcome as long as they're stated respectfully :)).
Thanks for taking the time to read,