Being at the top of the food chain brings with it great responsibility and privilege; like intelligent thought for instance. And although we are still very much prone to compulsive behavior, we have the ability to take responsibility for not only the consequences but the changing of that behavior, if need be. It is ultimately the individual’s responsibility for their actions, but there are external factors that present options that may not otherwise exist. So, in this era of social media where there is more networking, connecting and sharing; do the agents of social media share in the responsibility for what the individual does?
I don't think anyone could deny that social media has many positives. It has made communication not only easier but accessible, as families and friends can share across the country or the world. Sharing content and views with likeminded people does not have to be confined to your hometown any longer. With ease, you can find information on just about anything, or anyone. Great for bloggers and researchers alike. However, as a parent of children about to reach the age of social media accounts, I worry about the negative aspects of this widespread sharing. The statistics are clear, the question is no longer IF adolescents and adults are being bullied through social media, one studying showing 23% of all teen social media users reporting cyberbullying, and 15% of them reporting having bullied others (1). FACEBOOK alone having 87% of its teen users reporting cyberbullying, with most of those being teenage males, and TWITTER having one-fifth of its young users reporting cyberbullying (2). I won’t list all the statistics here as there are many articles out there that cover this. The two links used above can be found in the resources section of the webpage and are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to data and opinion on the subject. I encourage you to read them as it is disturbing to see how prevalent this really is. Instead I would like to focus on who is responsible for controlling this medium for bullies. In our society when you commit a crime you are personally held responsible for your actions, with perhaps the exception of psychological reasons. So why would bullying be any different? Is anyone but the bully themselves responsible for their behavior?
Many people feel that social media itself holds some responsibility for what occurs on their platform, I therefore decided to research how two of the biggest social media sites (FACEBOOK and TWITTER) handle it. Neither take full responsibility for the issue but both address it as an issue on their sites. FACEBOOK appears to have a better hold on the issue having even teamed up with anti-bullying campaigns. They have a comprehensive reporting policy and blocking options that allow a victim to put distance between themselves and the bully. Facebook says that it’s their “mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” (3) and to facilitate this they have set out a “Community Standard” (3) which can be found as the third link on the resources page of the website. It is here that you will see their process for reporting abuse. Although this process doesn’t’ signal out bullying, if you did a little deeper on the FACEBOOK website you will come across my next link, which specifically geared towards it. “[T]he Bullying Prevention Hub is a resource for teens, parents and educators seeking support and help for issues related to bullying and other conflicts. It offers step-by-step plans, including guidance on how to start some important conversations for people being bullied, parents who have had a child being bullied or accused of bullying, and educators who have had students involved with bullying.” (4) Among other things the hub gives teens and parents the tools to recognize bullying and how to best react to being bullied or having a friend who is bullied. The hub is in conjunction with Yale. But is it enough. Does this help to prevent, deter or address existing bullying? Should FACEBOOK be held accountable when a person goes to the extreme of taking their own life because of the cyberbullying they receive online? TWITTER does not presently have these options and is in the process of developing better reporting. They in fact admit that they are lacking in dealing with the problem (5). One issue that both sites have is that of hacked or fake accounts. Let’s face it, creating an account is not a hard task and can be done with anyone that has an email account; neither of which has to be made in your real name. So how can these sites protect us from would-be predators, and should they have to?
Personally, I am a big believer in personal accountability. However, in a society of the size of the online community there are bound to be those who need more reminding of good humanly behavior. Still would we hold the business owner who has a bulletin board in his shop responsible for a hateful message left on the board? Well actually yes. Most of us would rally to have the owner take down the message in the interest of all those viewing the board. But what if there are millions of messages, how do you filter them then? And what if some find the message distasteful or hateful and others agree with it or find it funny? Freedom of speech is a right that is unique to only some of this worlds countries and although it is a shame that some choose to use this right as a means to hurt others, what do we lose by breaking down that freedom? One cannot condone however a purposeful act to hurt another fellow human being. We lose far more by this than any other action or non-action. So as a community of people should we not all take on the onus of looking out for one another? Or has social media become too big of a beast to control now, leaving it up to the individual to be responsible for their own welfare?