Cyberbullying: Who’s to blame? Us? The Government? The Social Networks?


I just saw a heartbreaking news bulletin about teen suicides as a result of cyber bullying on Ask.fm.

It got me thinking about the ongoing discussion on privacy, safety and security online. There seems to be three camps of opinions:

  1. The solution is in our own hands. Education and understanding of the media is the way forward.
  2. The government should create boundaries with legislation.
  3. The social networks themselves are responsible and should act accordingly.

I personally lean towards No. 1: Education

…but what we, as digital professionals, tend to forget is that the vast majority of the population are nowhere near our level of understanding of the digital world.

Educating the entire population will take time, a lot of time, possible a generation or two. It is not an instant solution.

What about No. 2: Government control?

I didn’t pass the bar, but  talking to people in the digital industry, my feeling is that laws  can do very little due to the international nature of the Internet and therefore the companies that operate within.

Besides, what can politicians, let alone lawyers, do with companies bigger than most countries?

No 3: The companies must sort out their act

Companies need to be responsible for their social networks, they need to act ethical, they need to prevent bad things from happening on their sites.

It sounds fair. However, this is based on the assumption that The companies have it within their power to do something. To this I will offer this somewhat scary alternative: What if they are powerless or don’t know what to do?

I do not think for a second that ask.fm wanted to create a social network that is a catalyst for teen suicides. And I am sure they are frantically trying to find a solution to this.

As a species we are adjusting to this new digital layer that has become such a big part of our environment so incredibly fast.

This is applies to us as users, customers, professionals and companies.

The scary truth is there is no instant solution, we all have to do what we can to adapt and hopefully help others along the way.

  • emilyobyrne

    I also lean towards No.1 Education. What I am not sure about is the idea that the digital realm is so vastly different to the physical world that normal rules of thumb about what might be interpreted as threatening or suspicious behaviour can’t be relevant, and therefore parents can’t possibly be expected to coach their children in navigating the web.

    When I heard this story on the radio, I was reminded of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. After a nasty case of bullying and manipulation by a demonic exercise book, Arthur Weasley tells his daughter “What have I always told you? Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain!”

    Where did we, as ‘digital natives’, or at least long-time digital residents, get our savvy from? Could it be we just took the common sense we learned in our every day life and applied it to the web?

  • Very true.

    I guess it is difficult to teach kids what is a threat online if you as a parent (or politician or company) can’t see it yourself.

  • theladysara

    I think it’s an education thing and an age thing.
    When I was younger, and very new to the net (when Facebook, Twitter etc didn’t exist and the net hasn’t had its boom yet), I had a blog and this girl had spread messages about me for no reason, saying I hacked her site. She even went as far as posting my name in a forum with a fake email that was apparently from me, and I had people swarm to my blog trying to attack me.

    It was only because I had a fansite back then, and she too and perhaps it was jealousy that weirdly drove her to do this.
    Needless to say after that, I had online pixel cliques and other groups turn me down because they had read that story, and friends of friends of friends of hers just spread this whole rumour across the internet that I was a “hacker”.

    But then again, she and I live in two different worlds. It’s weird here in this country but she went to a Chinese school and she was a really, really arrogant and had a strong character (just imagine communist China back then), whereas I was just an innocent girl on the net wanting to post happy things on my blog and juts discovering the internet.

    So yeah I did get cyber-bullied but who was to help me? No one, and I didn’t know the internet back then, I didn’t have an “army” believing untrue stories. I just left it but it has made me so private about my things these days.

  • Thanks for your comments, Sara.

    I think you are right. The problem is there aren’t enough to educate the rest as it is new to al and everybody.

    Sharing your own experiences with people is one way to “spread the word” and helps everybody.

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  • pkruger

    A simple solution has existed for over ten years on online forums: IPBAN. Why is it suddenly impossible for social networks to ban ipnumbers? Very strange *Edit: probably because multiple users would b affected in some cases: but at least the people around the offending person would b affected and maybe discuss this with the offender

  • Good point

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