Social media: the virtual hand grenade

The main purpose of the Internet has shifted from a communication and information channel to a deplorable entertainment channel, and it does not appear to be turning back, at least not in Canada.

The main use for the Internet in Canada is for entertainment purposes, according to a report posted in the Huffington Post last year. A 2014 ComScore study of global Internet users placed Canadians at the top of the list of nations worldwide who spend over 36 hours each month. Canadians mainly use Internet messaging and social media, two common vehicles for sharing infamous online videos that often include content that is used to shame or bully anonymous people and are viewed from anywhere in the world.

The death of Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons awakened the country to the growing problem of cyber bullying and the social media platform. Parsons was reportedly raped at a party in 2011. Footage of the incident was recorded and shared online. Seventeen months after the incident, Parsons attempted suicide and was later taken off life support. While the virtual distribution of humiliating footage may not seem to have any immediate or concrete ramifications, the consequences of cyber bulling are very real. Not everyone will handle this type of public shaming in the same way. But it causes one to wonder who takes pleasure in seeing the misfortune of others they otherwise would not know existed if it weren’t for the Internet.

Because of Rehtaeh Parsons, many Canadians are working to bring cyber bullying laws into effect. Currently, consent laws don’t apply to filming in public places with personal smart phones.

In recent years, cyber bullying has left the classroom and entered the home. Countless parents have exposed their children’s wrong doings on social media as a form of punishment. Parents have shared videos of their children’s dirty bedrooms as punishment for not keeping a clean space. Others have caught the attention of the media by having their children carry signs on street corners that list their offences. Some of the most popular transgressions include disrespecting parents and teachers, lying and fighting with peers.

Some may argue that the virtual tar and feathering of impressionable adolescents does wonders for a budding character, but influence is often the biggest teacher. Dr. Carl E. Pickhardt PhD wrote an article for Psychology Today on adolescence and parental influence. He says children observe parents behaviour more intently than parents often realize and the relationship between parents and children changes as children age. While young children tend to glorify parents, adolescents become critical of parenting skills. In adulthood, Pickhardt says the child will attempt to rationalize their parents methods of childrearing. As the first generation to receive this type of punishment approaches adulthood, we will have to wait and see whether this cyber discipline shapes the adults of tomorrow positively or negatively.

People have proven that their self-respect, dignity and safety is expendable. In the past few years alone, trends and challenges far more dangerous than dumping ice water on your head have millions of teens rushing to upload videos and attract attention at any cost. Not only are people being served up on a virtual platter by others they are also doing it to themselves.

Those who want to enjoy the benefits the Internet and avoid the social carnage are best to brace for the worst and muddle through until the day developers can restore the Internet’s reputation by creating a filter and sending all cyber bullying junk to the search engine spam folder.