In the wake of a number of tragic suicides in the UK that have been attributed to social media, the arguments for and against the likes of Ask.FM and Facebook’s responsibility towards users has been all over the place.
Here in the Money4Machines office, we’re made up of a pretty broad range of ages, sexes (just the two regular human ones, but, you know, there’s not loads of one sex and none of the other!) and interests. Current news and web chatter is something that always comes up while we’re testing trade in iPad Mini tablets and all the other stuff you send in to our sell for cash service.
Yesterday (yes, Sunday!) it was all about websites like Ask.FM and how anonymity shapes the way we use the internet. And today, we find out the poster child for web vitriol has made some much-publicised changes in how the website is used.
Since the suicide of Ask.FM user, Hannah Smith, 14, the site has come under a giant dogpile of pressure from every corner. As well as criticism from politicians and charities, advertisers have withdrawn from the website, including Specsavers, Vodafone, EDF Energy, Laura Ashley and Save the Children.
According to the BBC, the social networking site has answered the call to make online bullying less of an issue with a three-pronged approach.
- The REPORT button will more visible and will include specific categories for harassment and bullying alongside spam, hate speech and pornographic content.
- All reports triggered by the button WILL be reviewed within 24 hours of the user making the complaint. The website says it will hire more staff to cope with the extra demand for human resources. Experts say it’s this addition of manpower that could make the biggest difference.
- Users will be given the option to OPT-OUT of receiving anonymous answers to their Ask.FM questions. The option is actually already there, but it’s pretty hidden and many users don’t know about it. Internet safety organisations say making the options more prominent is a step in the right direction. Most urge users to opt-out.
Amazon hosts Ask.FM and has been inundated with questions about why the website hasn’t been taken down. It’s estimated Ask.FM makes about £5 million annually, the insinuation being that Amazon is only interested in the revenue the site brings and not the welfare of users. Amazon has declined to comment officially.
Turn Off, Tune Out, Solve the Problem?
But it always comes back to one thing – why not just turn off the computer if someone’s being an @rshole to you online? As adults, it tough to see what the attraction is to a website where users can anonymously say whatever they want to you.
The NSPCC says 1 in 5 11-16-year-olds have had an unsettling experience online that relates the cyberbullying or abuse.
But Netmums founder, Siobhan Freegard, says turning off the computer doesn’t solve the problem.
“If you unplug them, you’re unplugging them from their whole social scene. It’s like taking your child out of school if they’re being bullied – you’re then saying your child isn’t going to have the normal social life and friendships of their peers. Parents can feel powerless about internet bullying, but there are lots of things you can do if your child is being bullied – or is being a bully – online.”
So, as adults we can have a pretty full life without social media. We go to work, help you sell iPhones
, eat meatballs in Ikea, watch the telly, go for a run, walk the dog, paint the spare room, apply for new jobs, go for a pint, read a book, chat to mates on the phone, and so on. What Freegard appears to be saying is that today’s kids don’t have the luxury (or disability, as they may see it) of a real world life that’s free from the puppet strings of the internet.
Bottom line, being bullied online doesn’t usually stop having an impact when you turn off the computer. And it doesn’t seem like it’s the responsibility of one person or organisation to solve the issue. Better support networks for victims, more information for concerned parents (real information, not scare data!), more accountability for websites to ban anonymous posting and, ultimately, real consequences for bullies are all necessary steps in tackling an ugly part of online social interaction.
Having trouble online? Head over to Cybersmile
for information and help to deal with online bullying.