Tributes are pouring in for Amanda Todd, a teenager who committed suicide after posting the video above describing how she was tormented by bullies and struggling with depression. Amanda’s story was told little by little via post-it notes and it full detail about the extent of the bullying and torment and just how this poor 15-year old girl had experienced her version of hell on earth.
The story isn’t a typical one, but one that exist in a nuance variety even in Malaysia. Amanda was tricked into exposing herself in front of a webcam by an unknown person. Soon she was blackmailed and finally, photos or her were circulated to her entire school. What followed next was every bit as predictable as it is sad, she was ostracized by her friends and tormented by bullies, she even tells of how she switch schools–multiple times–even moving to a school in a different city!!
Yet, the bullies and torments followed here (aided and enabled by social networks), and Amanda must have reached her limit and at some point she eventually chose to take her own life.
Youtube has taken down the videos, but I felt Amanda’s story should be left for the world to see, as a stark reminder to all of us to look after our children, and I just hope you get to watch the embedded video before even this gets removed. I believe out of respect for Amanda–we should listen to the story she so desperately wanted to tell.
Cyberbullying is different
Bullying isn’t new, it’s been around for a while. What is new –is cyberbullying. As in Amanda’s case (and like so many other cases), Facebook and other social networks enabled the bullies to continue harassing Amanda even after she switched schools to a different city. Under normal circumstances, switching schools would have put some distance between the bullies and Amanda and allowed Amanda to start afresh.
However, in the realm of the hyper-connected teenagers, switching schools did very little in putting any distance between them. An important difference between ‘normal’ bullying and cyber-bullying it seems is that cyber-bullying knows no boundaries, Amanda could have moved to a different country for that matter–yet she’d still be contactable via Facebook.
Another fundamental difference in cyber-bullying is it’s persistence. A malicious post, or a bad comment on a facebook page can linger on–forever. It’s not like you can forget it or erase it, when anyone who does a Google search on you ends up on a bunch of photos of you flashing.
Cyberbullying is more than ‘regular’ bullying. It’s both pervasive (across cities and schools), and it’s persistent (it’s online forever). I for one think that this distinction makes the ‘regular’ coping mechanisms to bullying we normally prescribe quite irrelevant.
Cyberbullying in Malaysia
While Malaysians seem completely engrossed with the new Education Blueprint (which will probably fail anyway), no one seems to be taking an interest in the situation of bullying our schools. Don’t pretend you don’t know–there’s a wide variety of bullying video clips that were circulating online, including this one I just found where a boy is forced to utter racial slurs on camera. This clip is probably going to remain online for a long time, and moving a new school probably isn’t going to put any distance between the bullies and him:
Since Cyberbullying is pervasive and persistence, that offers at least a glimmer of hope. The same pervasiveness and persistence that make cyberbullying that much harder to cope with, also make it that much more detectable.
Social networks keep things online nearly forever, and if you’re a childs ‘friend’ or have access to your childs facebook profile, that at least offers an early detection system. A stranger harassing them and threatening messages can lead you on. That being said, I also strongly believe that parents shouldn’t be friends with their children on facebook–you need to let your children grow on their own.
A good alternative was offered by the Unicef, as part of their safe school initiatives Unicef was training children on the effects of bullying and how to identify them. The video actually has a success story of a head-prefect detecting bullying on a social network. Since the bullying is pervasive, anyone from the school would have been able to report the bullying–since almost everyone in the school knows about it.
Any student in a school would in one way or another be connected to the other students in the school, and this hyper-connectivity allows for almost any student to know if one of their peers was being bullied and by whom. The persistent nature of the social networks, also aids in finding the culprit. Of course, in Amandas case it was someone anonymous, I believe with some police work it’s only a matter of time before we find the culprits.
However, it makes no sense for the bullying to be easily detectable if the ‘detectors’ aren’t in place, and it’s difficult to be a tattle-tale in school. It’s not an easy task, but not one we should give up on easily. My biggest worry however, is the generational gap between parents and their children, particularly with regards to their use of social networks.
Generational Gap on Social Networks
Any 14 year old today was born in a world where computers and social networks make up a part of their daily life, where data is perpetually capture and perpetually stored, it’s hard for them to imagine a world with no internet, no digital camera, no facebook or no smartphone. These things made up their daily life just like indoor plumbing and electricity made up yours.
Yet, most parents probably still don’t even have Facebook accounts or don’t understand how their children use them–the parents and children share different values when it comes to personal privacy and information sharing. Your child is use to having cameras all around, taking photos on a moments notice and sharing them with the world–usually forever. Most parents don’t even know how to turn on the camera on their iPhone properly, and have even less knowledge on how to transfer the photos to a social network like Facebook.\
Researches have established that your age roughly determines how many friends you have on facebook with:
… those aged 13 to 16, have an average of 450 friends on social networks, with girls having slightly more friends that boys. People in their thirties tend to have between 100 and 200 friends, while those in their forties have between 50 and 100.
This all just leads me to believe different age groups have adapted to using the same social network (in this case Facebook) very differently, and it is in this generational gap that I fear parents may fail to understand their children’s needs and values and most importantly their children’s fears. Parents use to be able to help their children because they themselves were bullied or understood bullying, however cyberbullying is vastly different from what parents these days have experienced and I just fear parents will only understand once it’s too late.
I don’t have an answer for this one, but unless we seriously look at data on bullying rather than the usual ‘soul searching’ that accompanies these sad events–we’ll never resolve the issue.