Daniel Keenan outlines the problem with the media’s current anti- cyber bullying crusade
Bullying has always been associated with the school yard, and despite bullying often persisting well past childhood and adolescence, it’s still very much a child’s game. It is far from restricted to the school playground however, as online bullying is now all too prevalent in society.
In the world of social media, everyone has a voice, an opinion and a forum to express it. It is, for for all intents and purposes, a bully’s paradise, a place where they can say what they want about anyone, with little or no repercussions. It is the equivalent of passing a sinister note about somebody, except it can reach a much wider audience.
News of tragic suicides due to online bullying are now becoming commonplace, and while highlighting the issue is important in trying to prevent online bullying, publicity of these suicides is becoming problem in itself. Amanda Todd, a 15 year old Canadian girl, and Erin Gallagher, a 13 year old girl from Donegal, both took their own lives as a result of cyber bullying, and it has been heavily covered in the media recently.
Almost every story written about the cases has been and is going to be sympathetic to the victim of bullying, as it’s near impossible not to be. Reporting on the stories seems a simple process: you have an innocent young person, and a bully or bullies. You have the victim and their tormentors. You have a good guy, and a bad guy. And that’s exactly where the problem starts.
There is enormous danger in casting heroes and villains in these cases. There are likely many teenagers being bullied, whether online, verbally or physically, who may be severely depressed and even contemplating suicide. They can relate to these cases. Reading the story, where the victim is revered while their tormentors are nationally despised, almost creates a positive advertisement for suicide.
Mass reporting of teenage suicide unfortunately can unintentionally glamorise it. The only reason it’s being reported on, the only reason that the bullies are brought to justice, the only reason the nation can sympathise with an innocent victim of bullying, is because of suicide.
The unfortunate fact is that there are many cases of internet bullying in Ireland that few people know about, meaning there are people out there contemplating suicide due to the abuse. The fact is that the only reason that Erin Gallagher and Amanda Todd’s tormentors have been outed is because of their suicides. Having their bullies feel the wrath of their actions is an obvious desire of a person being bullied, and the way to do that on a large scale, while also being seen as a heroic martyr for cyber bullying, is to take their own life. Suicide can become viewed as a way not only to escape the bullying, but to take revenge. However you may feel regarding bullies ‘deserving’ it, being blamed publicly for someone’s death is likely to have a profound and possibly traumatising effect on those targeted. The media is presenting to very vulnerable young people the idea that they can ruin the bully’s life forever by taking their own, an extremely appealing idea for a desperate teen.
No media outlet is saying suicide is a solution, they are all saying the opposite in fact, but the heavy reporting on the issue manages to present it as the only viable option, suggesting that the world will only care about their case if it involves suicide. It’s a chance to garner the sympathy of the nation and finally turn the tables of those abusing you.
The spotlight has to be taken off the victim. Having a face for a campaign is sometimes not the important issue. The two cases need to be dealt with separately. We can’t just tackle cyber bullying as a result of people taking their own life, as it starts a vicious cycle. Cyber bullying is an issue which badly needs resolving, but all the while kept separate from the issue of suicide.
In football, a two-footed tackle warrants a red card, as it has the potential to break somebody’s leg. Yet many players make two-footed tackle without breaking somebody’s leg, and are still sent off. The degree of the actual action shouldn’t matter; cyber bullying shouldn’t only matter because it has caused suicides, just like a two footed tackle shouldn’t only matter if it breaks somebody’s leg.
Suicide has always been a huge issue, and it is something that always needs to be talked openly about, but in the right way. The real tragedy in the cases of Amanda Todd and Erin Gallagher is not that they committed suicide because of cyber bullying, but just that they committed suicide. That teenage girls decided to end their lives instead of reaching out to the right channels for help is the issue; the causes of their suicide is, and should be, a separate issue.
Lumping these two important issues together, as has been done over the last few months, takes away from their importance as individual problems in society. By tracking the smoke, instead of finding the fire, we now have a case where the best, and seemingly only way to bring cyber bullying to national attention, is by suicide.