The fight against trolls and the bystander effect

Social media isn’t all lolcats and Farmville. On Wednesday a Melbourne teenager posted a suicide note on Tumblr and her followers sprung into action. Using their social media stalking powers for good, several Melbourne and Sydney based tweeps found links to other social accounts and therefore relatives who could help the girl. Names of relatives were identified and contact was made through Facebook and Victorian Police. Radio station 3AW also picked up the cause. The teen was found conscious and taken to hospital. Later that night she updated her Tumblr from hospital with an image of the equipment monitoring her life.

While the Twitter crew were unrelenting in their mission to make her safe, her update highlighted the cruel taunts of online trolls:
So I’m alive.
I’m in hospital.
The police came to my house and found me.. well,
lets just say it wasn’t a pretty scene.
so yeah, I’m so sorry to the people I worried.
and thankyou to the people telling me to hurry up and kill myself already.
It’s really just what I needed right now.
I’ll keep you updated.
 The guilt and pain was clearly top of mind; as an after-thought she posted again:
Also, thank you so much to everyone who sent me a message.
You have no idea how much it means to me.
I wish I could respond to all of them but there’s 1000+
and I wouldn’t know where to begin.
But seriously, from the bottom of my heart,
thank you. 
The incident highlights a growing concern – as younger generations use social networks as an extension of regular communication, their online relationships can be influenced by a new enemy. Multiple enemies. The troll who provokes and attacks out of a sick desire for conflict. The cyberbully whose taunts are unrelenting and further reaching than a note passed in class or graffiti on a bathroom wall. The overexposed bystander who decides this isn’t their fight, there’s nothing they can do, or that this is just a selfish generation’s exhaustive and empty cry for help.
I am ridiculously proud of friends involved in finding the teen’s family so they could get police to her before it was too late. I’m grateful that the issue came to the attention of those people, and not an apathetic group of bystanders unwilling to recognise or accept the severity of the situation. I am impressed with the duty of care shown by 3AW by not just reporting the story as breaking news and taking the responsibility to remove tweets after hearing of her safety (also encouraging the same for others) to avoid confusion. I am sickened that bullying and apathy have found this common breeding ground that can be even more damaging than ever before and have spent many an hour trying to find the beginnings of an idea that’s going to stop it. I’m a little lost. Despite the fact that there’s still a long road ahead for the teen, yesterday’s outcome – and the fact that she has an opportunity to walk that road – I have hope that it’ll be found and an understanding that it will take a lot of effort.

~ by mandi bateson on January 19, 2012.

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