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Young Readers’ Edition: Social networks embrace the dark side of human kind

12:30 30 January 2014

Jessie Smith believes websites like Facebook can be a platform for causing anxiety

Jessie Smith believes websites like Facebook can be a platform for causing anxiety

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Young journalist Jessie Smith on why websites like Facebook can be a platform for causing anxiety.

As age boundaries of social network users melt away, should we be worried about cyberbullying? Picture: PA/Chris IsonAs age boundaries of social network users melt away, should we be worried about cyberbullying? Picture: PA/Chris Ison

Have you ever lied about your age? Have you ever chatted and given information to strangers or people you barely know? Have you ever seen photos depicting self-harm or eating disorders? For most members of the internet generation, the answer to all of those questions will most likely be ‘yes’.

As age boundaries of social network users melt away, shouldn’t we be worried about how common cyberbullying has become? Depression and anxiety in teens has never been higher and I believe that it is due to the amount of social pressure that the internet puts on us.

In a hypothetical situation, a girl signs up for Facebook aged 11. She is still quite young and makes simple posts that describe something funny that her cat did or every single event that happened during her day. What she will begin to realise is that those who are older than her are judging her for making those ‘silly’ and ‘immature’ posts. So, after a while, she will find herself no longer doing so.

Her profile picture starts off as an ordinary photo of herself but over time she will begin to notice how other people’s profile pictures are glamorously edited, receiving ‘likes’ galore. Then she will edit her appearance, make herself ‘prettier’ – then ‘sexier’ – and whenever a photo doesn’t get any likes, she will delete it.

As she grows up, she will go out to more social events and will be involuntarily tagged in photos online, some of which may not be perceived as attractive. For that reason, she could remove that tag, ask for the photo to be deleted or report the image; yet, aged 14, her Facebook profile is no longer her own.

Facebook just isn’t real. It allows this girl to be untrue to herself because she knows how quick and easy it is to be judged online. But do we really blame Facebook? Or is it just human nature to degrade yourself and others so that everyone, within reason, fits in?

Meanwhile, micro-blogging network Twitter has been host to some of the worst cases of cyberbullying that have yet to be seen. Allowing complete strangers to communicate and using ‘hashtags’ to make slogans viral, millions of teenagers use the website to try and get in closer contact with their favourite celebrities.

The problem is that users can cluster into fanbases, such as the ‘Beliebers’ and ‘Directioners’ which often encourage extreme behaviour. They attack people who criticise their beloved celebrity with brutal force and pick fights with other fanbases. For example, when Tom Daley won a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympic Games, a group of Britons reacted by labelling him a ‘disgrace’ to the country.

Of course, Twitter hate can also occur between both schoolmates and complete strangers, and it even happens amongst adults. Just recently two people pleaded guilty to sending menacing tweets to the journalist Caroline Criado-Perez over her feminist views, including death and rape threats. According to reports, the incident has left Ms Criado-Perez suffering from life-changing psychological effects.

Sadder still, there have been cases of teenagers being been gripped by online blogs about suicide on social networks like Tumblr with dreadful consequences. Perhaps these websites have romanticised mental illness, bombarding people with pictures of self-harm and pro-anorexia propaganda all over the Internet.

A young boy or girl might consider these acts to be the standard reactions to a feeling of sadness, whilst others will see multiple photographs of thigh gaps and unnaturally protruding bones and think that is what everyone considers beautiful. We assume that young people are made of stone, but the truth is that there are too many young people unable to determine right from wrong.

However, it might well be that this is the fault of the people who post the disturbing content, rather than solely the responsibility of social networks. Websites like Facebook and Twitter can also be a wonder of modern communications: talking to people near and far has become fast, free and easy.

Through them we have seen widespread tributes to fallen heroes, and we see thousands of people getting together for protests or charitable causes. Despite being very addictive, no one can say that a social network is completely bad and in my opinion the darker side is the fault of the people who make the choice to judge others, to bully and to give dark causes publicity. To put an end to poor internet etiquette, we need to try and find a way to change, or at least moderate, human nature.

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