The Dark Side of Teens Online

The internet is more than 20 years old, and yet it remains a “wild west” of unregulated activity and dangerous frontiers.

Of particular concern, is how easy it is for teens and children to access disturbing corners of the internet. Content that no thirteen-year old should witness is readily available. Unsurprisingly, twenty percent of 9 to 12 year olds in Britain have a Facebook account, despite the social media site limiting its users to 13 years of age and older.

Anyone can set up a social media profile. For Facebook, the only thing needed to prove your age is basic maths, and then your account is one click away.

Twitter, the social networking site where people can follow their idols and tweet about everything and anything, does not even require a minimum age to sign up. Once logged on to either of these sites, you can come across multiple topics of both personal interest and non-interest.

A video called Challange: [sic] Anybody Can Watch this Video? cropped up on Facebook last year, showing a drug cartel beheading a Mexican woman, whose identity is still unknown. Not only could the person who uploaded this monstrosity of a video not spell, but they apparently did not care if the content offended anyone, which it most certainly did.

It prompted Facebook to begin adding warning messages to videos of an offensive nature. So, in other words, a website with over 500 million users, some of whom are as young as eight or nine, does not remove violent and offensive videos, but instead just posts a ‘Warning’ notice on them.

It took an outraged comment from David Cameron for Facebook to finally remove the video one day later. But, more recently, its video filter has appeared to be somewhat more relaxed, letting disturbing media appear in newsfeeds.

Furthermore, it is now seemingly an everyday occurrence to come across online bullying. The Cyberbullying Research Center conducted a series of surveys that concluded cyber bullying victims are more likely to have low self esteem and consider suicide. There have been an increasing number of cases in which the person subject to online persecution has chosen to end his or her life.

Take, for instance, the cases of Megan Meir, the 13-year-old girl who hanged herself after being bullied on the popular website MySpace, and Tallulah Wilson, 15 who took her own life after swapping self-harm pictures on Tumblr.

The social networking website ask.fm has been linked to no fewer than nine teenage suicides in the last year. With 65 million users, the site allows people to anonymously post questions, answers and messages, leading to running arguments and gang–like posturing. Users can quickly find themselves dealing with anonymous, hurtful messages, called trolling.

After an online campaign to demand change and threats from advertisers, the company ultimately responded by introducing an easy-to-see button to report bullying and saying it would hire more moderators.

Radical moves have been taken to handle the issue and to try and prevent similar tragedies unfolding again in the future.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller challenged social media companies to keep watch on their sites and remove abusive and threatening material.
The American state of Florida has gone further and passed a law that makes online bullying a felony offense.

Sarah Dinley, Youth Worker at St. Peters Church, said: “Cyber-bullying is really difficult to control, because no one can monitor everything that young people do online, nor can they see everything that it being said. “Often, cyber-bullying happens through private messaging, so it’s not in the public eye.”

To prevent bullying, Sarah urges people to take the “appropriate action; block people and sort out your security so that they can’t get in contact with you”.

The most practical advice that she has to give, perhaps, is to talk about it. However, it can be difficult for young people to admit to personal problems, and to talk about them with peers, teachers or parents.

One local source for advice and support for any young person in Oundle is CHAT, a confidential phone counselling service with offices at The Courthouse.

CHAT is a youth counselling and information agency for 11 to 25 year olds. It is a completely confidential service and offers advice on any issues. CHAT has been in operation for over 12 years, and offers professional, completely free, one-to-one, confidential counselling.

By George Carmichael