As a huge child internet safety scandal comes to light following the tragic suicide of a number of teenagers, I query whether internet agencies are being used as a scapegoat for the failings of vital care systems.

The harrowing suicide of 14 year old Hannah Smith has highlighted a dark online culture which pursues children anonymously on ask.fm, and bulldozes them with horrendous abuse, supposedly leading a proportion of these children to take their own lives. Various media covered this affair with great sincerity and mourning in a tremendous attempt to cover their rampant journalistic excitement, quickly providing an arguably distasteful outlet for Hannah Smith’s grieving family to protest about the dangers of ask.fm. As public opinion is exposed to all sides of the argument, one must take a reflective step back and question how far the internet as a networking tool is really responsible for this complex tragedy.

The death of these teenagers has sparked a passionate debate: does anonymity on social networking sites enable young people to use freedom of speech, or does it merely encourage vicious bullying amongst young people? Despite the absolute relevance of this, I think that there is a more imminent question to be asked: why was suicide the only foreseeable outcome for these teenagers?

To be facing the decision to end your life must be an incredibly lonely, incomprehensible experience. Despite this, one must query how exactly does a child with suicidal intentions go under the radar of educational and medical agencies? It is difficult to believe that these children kept everybody unaware of the extent of the anonymous online bullying they were dealing with. If this was the case, then one must evaluate what existing outlets there are for victims of online bullying and whether they are effective. There seem to be policies on most social networking sites against the bullying of other users, however more people are concerned that sites such as ask.fm which has a majority following of young people allow internet users to ask questions anonymously without having even made an account with the social networking site. This allowance of complete anonymity provides children with the opportunity to abuse, pass on information, confess love, and spread rumours, but does it really educate them in their freedom of speech?

There is a lacking in formal sanction for the people whom use social networking sites to abuse others; sites have the right to disable users who are responsible for repeated complaints by other users, however the freedom of the wonderful internet allows these bored teens to create new accounts and continue their bullying rampage with little consequence bestowed upon them. The paradox created by this is a large part of the problem for the victims of the abuse; the endurance they face as the abusers cannot be absolutely stopped without legal sanction.

Of course, as many have questioned since the suicides, why did the victims of this abuse not remove themselves from ask.fm? Theoretically speaking this may have been the most effective outcome- depriving the bullies of the victim and taking the victim away from the unrepentant abuse. However, in reality these are young people, and there is a prominent culture which assumes that young people whom willfully use the internet and technology so effectively, they can deal with all of the moral troubles coupled with it. This is not always the case; to be bullied is a most crippling experience and to expect children to be capable of dealing with such responsibility is unrealistic. Many children believe that the best way to approach the mammoth task of bullying is to project a strong front, appear as uncaring as possible, always replying to the abusive messages, always putting up a fight against the abuser. This psychology is sometimes responsible for providing an outlet to bully, most dishearteningly, I think some responsibility for the tragic outcome of this most recent scandal falls upon the education system for its ignorance to ‘the bully versus the bullied’ psychology.

Moreover, the internet is a phenomenal tool, which aids and develops human livelihood everyday, like most things though, one may find it to be a help or a hindrance. In a culture where internet technology is introduced to a child practically before the alphabet, it is definitely the responsibility of a parent to ensure that children are safe and informed about the internet and more specifically the dangers and advantages of social networking. I certainly know of many parents who are completely ignorant to the vulnerability of young people on the internet, and view their failing knowledge of the internet as reason enough to allow children to go into the world of social networking without nurture. This is unacceptable in a modern society, and only puts more space between parent and child. To allow a child online with no clarified knowledge of what is happening during their internet usage is equally as irresponsible as letting a child loose in a medicine cabinet.

As young people become aware that the internet is a tool and not a toy, one can hope that legislation will change too, and the law will come down far harder on anonymous cowards who currently present themselves as an inevitable nightmare to every powerless internet user in the country. Until then, one can only hope that parents arm themselves with all of the information available in order to make their children safe and capable users of our fantastic modern technology.

(Picture courtesy of  madamepsychosis)