Recently two of my friends and I set up a tinder social group, thinking the extent of this would involve a few light-hearted exchanges with those we matched with, and humouring the idea that something would eventuate from them. Unfortunately, the light-hearted nature of this experiment soon dissipated as one group, comprised of four charming young men, began to bombard my friends and I with unwarranted abuse.
At first I wasn’t hugely bothered by this because I suspect that between them they had an IQ of a twelve-year-old, but as the conversation progressed it became quite a confronting experience.
Some of their messages involved telling me that I needed to be beaten, that I needed a bullet, that I should have killed myself, that I must have been both unloved and molested as a child, that whatever I say or do is irrelevant, all because I’m a ‘dirty shit eating faggot’.
On top of this, they relentlessly objectified my two female friends, by telling them about the ‘length’ they would give them, and similarly romantic offers. However, when these weren’t met with the gratitude they so clearly deserved, they were then labelled as f*cking ugly 2.5/10s. Admittedly, in the heat of this we did bite back by making utterances about how they must have been the offspring of inbreeding, but by in large, it was a one-sided attack.
Thankfully my friends and I are quite resilient people, partly because being an openly gay guy, and two beautiful girls (one of which being Chinese), we are no strangers to such unwanted advances. Therefore, at the end of the day we all slept comfortably enough knowing that we were more worldly people than our new bigoted friends.
However, the following day I began to have a lot of ‘what if’ thoughts about the whole experience. What if we weren’t as confident, and were instead deeply self-conscious? What if we were already prone to suicidal thoughts, only to have someone telling us to kill ourselves? The list is endless. Fortunately, in this respective situation these were all ‘what ifs’, but the same can’t necessarily be said for others. And at a time when online abuse is so easily facilitated, there seems to be a direct link between the increase in cyber bullying, and the proliferation of depression, suicide and similarly unfortunate statistics.
Multiple studies have been conducted to prove this link, particularly in the context of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and unsurprisingly Ask.fm – which allowed users to ask each other questions anonymously, leading many to send hateful messages without being caught. Overwhelmingly these studies have found that cyberbullying and depression go hand in hand with one another, and to a more extreme extent, with suicide.
For instance, Michele Hamm, researcher in paediatrics at the University of Alberta, weeded through 36 studies that looked at the correlation between social media, cyberbullying, and mental health. She concluded that while only so much can be drawn from these studies, there was a definite link between exposure to cyberbullying and an increased likelihood of depression.
While many social media sites have made efforts to put an end to this abuse, it still evidently lives on. For instance, Facebook gives one the ability to report content if they find it offensive. But not only does this rely on the offended party reporting the content in the first place, but also on Facebook following this up. After reviewing the content alongside their ‘Community Standards’, they decide if it’s worth reprimanding or not. If so, then the guilty party gets a slap on the wrist with a formal warning, and if not, then the offended party was clearly overreacting – regardless, life goes on as usual.
This approach to cyber bullying is loosely taken by most social media sites, so I’m not exclusively critiquing Facebook. But in my opinion, it’s an approach that seems half hearted for two reasons. Firstly, because it provides no real consequence to the perpetrator, and it allows them to easily reoffend.
Secondly, it does nothing to reach out to the victim to see if they’re okay – which, particularly in extreme situations, could be an extremely beneficial feature. Whether it be a personalised message, or an automated one, it could make all the difference for the person on the receiving end. After all, if my friends and I had been harassed in person, as opposed to online, there would have been a greater focus on whether we were okay.
So, in a world where social media sites are considered as communities, why should online abuse be any different?
And while it’s all well and good to draw attention to an issue, it’s equally important to find a solution. Granted, I’m no expert in this field, but when contemplating about what more could be done, my aunty raised the valid point that many social media sites can track when particular words or sequences of words are used.
I think the origins of this lie with preventing terrorist attacks, but it could also serve to more closely monitor people’s behaviour, without something having to have been reported. In doing so, they could send out messages to both parties in a more efficient and effective manner.
In an ideal, and arguably utopian world, this wouldn’t be necessary as people would harmoniously live alongside one another. But sadly, in the wake of political upheaval, natural disaster, and other international crises, people seem more ready than ever to turn on one another – thus sparking the need for such discussion.
Author: Harry Reid
Hi – my name is Harry Reid. I’m eighteen years old, and I’m originally from Greytown in the Wairarapa – which is approximately an hour out of Wellington. I’m the youngest of three children, with a twenty-year old brother and a twenty-two-year old sister. After finishing Wellington High last year I’m now in my first year at the University of Otago, doing a double degree in Law and Arts, with my Arts Major either being Communications or Politics – and whichever one I decide against will become my Minor. Some of my interests outside of University include photography, socializing with friends and keeping up with current affairs– among other things. Over the coming weeks I’m going to share with you some of my experiences (both good and bad) in my weekly blog. Feel free to follow my Instagram @harrrryreid for a more personalized view of what I’m up to!