Facebook has become a positive part of many of our lives, but there is a darker side of Facebook that all parents and educators need to be aware of: cyber-bullying. It is inevitable that bullies will try to use social networking sites as a tool. It gives them a platform to humiliate their victims not just in front of a schoolyard full of kids but potentially a global audience, with little chance of being held accountable.
The problem has grown so great that dealing with the fallout has become a major part of many school counsellors’ jobs. The Adelaide Advertiser reported that at Blackwood High School, counsellors “spend all day Monday and sometimes longer dealing with the issues that are generated on Facebook and by text messages over the weekend”.
Kids are also using Facebook to harass teachers. In Australia recently, students have posted messages on Facebook threatening a teacher with being “massacred by chainsaws”, targeting a female teacher with sexually offensive material and falsely alleging that another was a gay paedophile.
Bullies are renowned for being blind to the feelings of others, and when they take their bullying campaigns to the internet, a terrible thing appears to happen: that lack of empathy spreads like a virus. The victims become depersonalised, just images on a screen rather than real people with real feelings, and it is all too easy for others to join in the mocking. Recently, 60 students at an Adelaide high school were involved in bullying a fellow student on Facebook, according to The Advertiser.
This phenomenon in evident on a very disturbing misogynistic Facebook page that Melinda Tankard Reist blogged about. It is a page on which members can post pictures of women or girls they deem to be “sluts”. These ordinary young women are left completely vulnerable to appalling taunts and insults by people all over the globe. She wrote:
Some images are clearly posted for revenge. Often full names are used. What means do these women and girls have to defend themselves? How do they deal with it? What does it mean for them in their daily lives at school or work or at home or anywhere, to be identified to the whole world as a slut?
By allowing this site, Facebook is a conduit for bullying, harassment and abuse.
There are a number of pages on Facebook that are, to use Melinda’s words, “temples to human cruelty”.
I was mystified when a 14-year-old girl at a school I worked with recently told me she had joined a Facebook page for fans of Eminem, named after a line in his song Superman: “I do know one thing though, bitches, they come they go’s.”
The Eminem song is that of a battle-scarred adult, full of twisted hurt at failed relationships, and full of vitriol and hate against all women. The profile picture? A beautiful but scared-looking young woman with her mouth taped shut, her hands presumably bound. What a bully’s fantasy that is. I think it’s important to be aware that we live in a world where 14-year-old girls can be drawn to, and get involved with, such a seemingly incongruous message and online community.
But as I have written before in this blog, the worst thing we can do is have a knee-jerk reaction and try to stop girls from using Facebook. Not only would it be impossible, it would be a bad idea. Maintaining connections and mastering technology are vital for girls’ development. All young people need to not only be able to read and write in print media, but to be ‘multi-literate’, competent in the full range of media.
It is important not to lose perspective: most of what happens on Facebook is fine, and social networking sites can be a great way to get girls engaged in technology. Enlighten Education has its own Facebook page where positivity reigns supreme and the empowerment of girls is the ultimate goal. We post articles and videos to inspire girls and get them thinking, and we provide a safe and affirming forum for them to express themselves.
What we all need to do is get involved with our teen girls and give them the support and skills they need to use technology safely. At Enlighten, we run “digital citizenship” workshops for teens and parents, because it is crucial for teens to learn to navigate the social world of the internet, in the same way that it has always been crucial for them to learn to navigate the social world of the schoolyard.
Bullying must never be ignored, whether it’s taking place face-to-face, on the internet or via text messaging. As adults we need to take responsibility for bullying, and give teens the support they need to deal with it.
- Sometimes girls hold back from telling adults about cyber-bullying because they fear they will be banned from using the internet. Rather than making threats, keep the lines of communication open and establish trust.
- Make yourself familiar with Facebook so you know what your daughter may encounter while using it.
- Some adults become their daughter’s Facebook friend so they can monitor her. I think it’s more beneficial to work on a trusting relationship with your daughter so she knows she can come to you if she has a problem.
- If you suspect your daughter might be a victim, don’t ignore it. Ask her sensitively about your concerns.
- Parents should alert their daughter’s school to cyber-bullying. The only way to solve the problem is for parents and school staff to work together.
- Encourage girls to think before they accept a Facebook friend request. Is this a person they would be friends with in the real world?
- Emphasise the importance of girls setting their Facebook privacy to the highest level so only their friends have access to their page.