Monday, October 29, 2012

Cyber Space where a facade isn’t just for Halloween!

‘By not tweeting, you’re tweeting. You’re sending a message’
And at the risk of not conforming it seems that the youth of today scramble to sign up to all available social media outlets; Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Blogs, Ask fm, My Space.
Personally speaking,  I am a social media junkie; it’s difficult to remember a time when the ‘hash tag’ wasn’t of any salience, when 140 characters wasn’t  all you had to express your thoughts, and when you couldn’t virtually check in and tag your friends at social occasions – allowing both a physical and virtual presence. Social media has allowed the world to be at our finger tips – from connecting with friends on Facebook, to following celebrities on Twitter, to posting music videos on You Tube, creating a blogs, commenting in public forums on a plethora of topics, promoting a start up business, a new career perhaps, or simply keeping abreast of global events.
The immediacy, brevity, reach and the social connections it offers has compelled millions of users to join various social media networking sites. It is slowly replacing traditional media outlets as a ‘breaking news source’; Twitter itself broke the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death. Companies can now forget about the massive marketing budget and turn instead to social networking sites to create brand awareness, build an online reputation, utilise it for recruiting and to connect with customers.  We now get a glimpse into the lives of celebrities as glamorous as they may be – through the likes of Twitter and Facebook    . It’s all very exciting when Bressie tweets a twitpic, and relatively less so when the likes of Piers Morgan does the same, each to their own I suppose.
But alas, despite the many benefits of social media, we have seen an increase in the misuse of social media by individual patrons. Individual patrons who hide behind their social media accounts by utilising different aliases, so that they can engage in cyber bullying are mere cowards. Yes, everyone is entitle to their opinions, but utilising social media sites for bullying purposes is leading to drastic outcomes; namely the untimely and tragic deaths of young people who find the public degradation on these sites too difficult to deal with.
On a very personal note, I took part in an in conversation interview with a national paper in which my name was utilised, my views on the topic of emigration given, and a photo attached. I was extremely proud to share my views with the nation, but somewhat unprepared for the backlash.  It almost felt like a personal attack, and despite the many supportive comments it was the negative comments which ultimately played out in my mind for a number of hours after it had been published. Thankfully, I’m not a naive young lady, I’d consider myself strong, comfortable in my own skin, self assured and well aware that not everyone in this world has to agree with me, nor do they have to like me – I am an acquired taste after all! But that said, I’m 24 years old – if I had received them at the age of 13 would my reaction be different – quite simply, yes!
I awoke this morning to the news of Erin Gallagher’s death, another young girl of 13 years who met her untimely death at the hands of online bullies. It appears that a number of youths had been bullying her via Ask fm, a social networking site. Her death comes a mere six weeks after Ciara Pugsley aged 15 took her own life after receiving vicious messages on the same social networking site.
Comments on the Ask Fm site suggest that Erin was subjected to physical and virtual bullying. She responded to her tormentors warning them that she would take her own life because of being subjected to the online bullying. Unfortunately, 24 hours later, she did.
Ask Fm is a site where comments can be posted anonymously, whilst sites like this shouldn’t exist; it is possible to access other accounts under a pseudonym. The young Donegal girl’s elder sister, Shannon, took to Facebook last night, paying tribute to her saying ‘No one deserved what you went through. I’m sorry that I couldn’t prevent it. Love you with all my heart”.
That’s the thing, cyber bullying is much harder to track, and often the words utilised hurt more than any physical scars bullies will leave. They are left on a public forum forever, and seen by many, your peers, your fellow students and your friends. Everyone can be very quickly alerted to these online attacks, and witness them, and utilise them as a source of entertainment forgetting that despite it being a virtual forum, there is a physical human being being ridiculed. That human being can’t switch their feelings off like you can a laptop; they too have a heart, and in most instances are young teenagers – where fitting in, being ‘cool’ and having a huge number of virtual friends is of great importance to them. Teenagers, are in the process of moulding themselves into young adults, finding out who they really are, and getting to a place in which they are truly happy with being that person – being you! The pressures on young people these days to mould themselves into a certain stereotype which the media (and photo shop!) has created makes being young extremely difficult. Add the pressure of an online forum and you can see where the pressure can sometimes become too great. That is ultimately what happened to Erin, a young girl, with a life of opportunities ahead of her, cut short because the taunts and jibes of cowards cut deeper creating wounds she could not heal.
This weekend, we were all donning masks and guises for Halloween, for one night only, yet we fail to remember that everyday there are cowards in this world that will don a mask, via a social media account, under a false alias, and torment, hurt and bully others.
These cowards prefer to hide behind the mask of the social media account, to hide behind the computer screen, and sit safely in their own homes not realising the ruination their actions can cause. I urge you all to recognise that this is the second time in the past two months a young person has been subjected to such torment, this cannot continue – if you’re not brave enough to say something face to face, don’t hide behind the facade of a social media site, instead, don’t say anything at all. 
The Forgotten Irish Graduate, 29th October 2012