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Comment: The Anti-Social Network

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The Anti-Social Network on the BBC, presented by Richard Bacon, showed exactly the current extent of violent trolling on the web and how the Government and social networking sites fail to tackle the problem.

the anti social networkI myself have experienced this, as I once received threats and abuse via email from someone I knew when I was a teenager. The experience was upsetting and it took time to recover confidence and shake off fear when logging on. 

As I watched the program I felt that I partly understood what the bullied young people had gone through and I was surprised that it was so common.  Little did I know that at the time I was in the most common group to be victimised – teenage girls.

Bacon’s broadcast came after suffering abuse for two years from his very own ‘troll’ on twitter, and asked questions such as ‘Why do trolls bother?, What do they get out of this?. What motivates them?’, to try and understand the mentality of those causing such distress.

Distress like that felt by the families of those ‘trolling’ R.I.P pages on Facebook. The pain caused to families suffering from the loss of loved ones seems to be irrelevant to those posting.

Unfortunately no satisfactory answers are given. There seem to be many motivations - because its ‘funny’, to get attention, because it’s easy to do behind a computer screen in the safety of anonymity.     

Cyber bullying brings threat into areas of someone’s life where they felt safe.  Sitting in their bedroom at home is no longer safe but suddenly an invaded space.  Whoever coined the age old phrase, ‘Sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you’ couldn’t have got it more wrong. 

The opposite has been proven to an extraordinary degree in a technological society where instant communication is the norm. Cyber bullying is also dangerous because it can be so private; it isn’t a physical fight that can be seen by others, in some cases it is only seen by the recipient. 

It’s heart-breaking to hear of stories like that of the teenager Tom Mullaney who committed suicide because he was a victim of cyber bullying. The program documents his family struggling to deal with their grief in the face of disrespectful trolling of his R.I.P Facebook page. 

Another danger of this type of bullying is it can be easier to ignore or even laugh off a horrible message if the victim is confident enough to deal with it. Richard Bacon spent two years ignoring his troll, only to be told by experts that the troll was obsessive and probably dangerous.  

It is easy to press ‘Block’ on Facebook, or delete an inflammatory comment on YouTube, rather than taking the issue further.  And even if the issue is taken further, anonymity online makes it difficult for the police to find perpetrators.

Words are powerful, and words go deep.  What people say to us, or write about us can stick in our minds for years.

I’m not downplaying physical assault and face-to-face bullying at all.  However, The Anti-Social Network suggest that cyber bullying and trolling should not be side-lined as less important because it is more difficult to track down the culprits, or because Facebook can’t decide what is offensive. 

I’m pleased that this BBC program has shined a light on the true threat of trolling and cyber bullying and I hope that both the law and social networking sites will find ways to stop online abuse.




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