Tuesday, 10 February 2015

How young adults deal with online abuse?

On Monday I wrote about an item on the BBC’s Breakfast show in which an interviewed child had some very good insights about privacy and protecting herself online.  This seems to be part of a poll conducted by the BBC on online abuse which is summarised here and discussed with a panel of 16 year olds here.  From the latter:

One of the key findings was that more than half of the people surveyed have felt peer pressure to pass on abusive messages or images.  What’s considered a peer group is interesting:

"There's been loads of times when there's been a picture trending of a person I may or may not know, and it's like 'pass it on!'" Memunatu says.

I’m speculating, but this sounds like someone who wants to fit in with a peer group that might be global.  The urge to join and be celebrated in that group apparently outweighs any empathy felt on behalf of victims, including victims not even known to the person passing on the abuse.  I’m not sure which (if either) is worse: abusing someone you know means witnessing and discounting at least some of their misery. Abusing a stranger means discounting them as people entirely and – from the victim’s point of view - a whole new and sadistically inventive group of people piling on the hate.Perhaps the appeal of fitting into a global peer group is even more attractive than appealing to a local one so people will go to even further lengths to be noticed.  And of course, peer-group membership is often a defence mechanism so this kind of behaviour can be self-reinforcing. Urgh.

A lot of this abuse concerns the circulating of embarrassing pictures circulated without the victim’s consent. I’ve written about this before: this kind of thing can change people’s online behaviour to the extent that they will publish embarrassing pictures of themselves first, so that they can control the conversation.  This can always backfire, of course.

"Those kind of pictures are referred to as "slips"... when you take a picture of someone, without their consent," [Memunatu] explains.

I haven’t come across that term before.  Makes it sound innocent, doesn’t it?

"They're usually posted on Facebook or Snapchat, and then people share them with their friends, and make fun of it."

Not so innocent, then.  These images are meant to humiliate and dehumanise.

Yaseen admits to sharing things he later thinks he shouldn't have.

"When I see other people joining in, if everyone in the class is picking on the same guy, I start feeling guilty because it could be me that posted the picture."

I think guilt is pretty natural, but it’s interesting that Yaseen seems to feel guilty only when he’s the instigator and apparently not when ‘only’ a participant.  Brayani thinks its a guy thing:

"I'm not saying all boys are like this but the majority do like involving themselves in negative behaviour like ganging up, or just huddling and beating up one guy."

Maybe, although I tend to think of this as the sort of self-reinforcing behaviour I mentioned above.  I don’t think it has to be inevitable behaviour, it’s a cycle I’m fairly sure we can break.  Yaseen thinks that girls behave in a similar way but with words on social media rather than fists outside school.

83% of those polled said that telling a trusted adult about online abuse helped to solve the problem.  This is disappointingly vague, I’m sure lots of people are working on understanding the details, so I hope the BBC will be as keen to report on that.  Adults need to get a lot better at this.

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