There has been a lot of talk in the run up to this election about how the incoming government should readdress the way they fund and treat mental health and wellbeing, particularly among young people. But how about protecting people from some of the factors which can be so damaging in the first place?
The Internet can do some incredible things. Unlimited information at your fingertips, a means of communication, and connecting people across the globe. Yet this phenomenal, world-changing tool has also highlighted an uglier side to society – through trolling, victim shaming and cyberbullying.
Last month, I sat and watched a TED talk by Monica Lewinsky, a former intern at the White House who became infamous overnight as a result of her relationship with then president, Bill Clinton. In an honest and thought-provoking talk, Monica claims that she was ‘patient zero’ of online bullying – the public abuse that was unleashed through news outlets and websites was both unprecedented and relentless. It is only now, as a 41-year-old woman, that she feels strong enough to talk about her experiences as a prolific campaigner against cyberbullying.
Social Media didn’t exist back then. A world without Social Media is almost unthinkable now.
According to recent stats from digital agency Montford, 75% of social media users in the UK are young people aged 16-24. You only need to tally up the number of times that One Direction trend on Twitter to realise how much of a social presence this young demographic have.
Yet the lack of regulation across online platforms allows bullies to hide behind their computer screens to attack others – those who are vulnerable, those who don’t fit a stereotype, those who don’t conform. And the effect this can have on the mental wellbeing of these people can be catastrophic.
Take Hannah Smith. She was an active member of controversial networking site Ask FM, whereby users ask questions and members of the network reply. Simple, right? But for Hannah, this opened her up to the most personal of attacks which affected her to the point where she took her own life. And tragically, Hannah’s is just one of many stories like this.
So what should the government be doing about it?
As with so many social issues, the priority needs to be eradicating the cause rather than dealing with the effects. Sure, we can report abusive users online, but what is to stop them from setting up another account and doing it again? Prosecution of online offenders has also come into effect, but is this really the best way to tackle this rising issue?
We need to educate and empower people to use it for social good, and change online behaviour for the better. This needs to be part of the public agenda to protect vulnerable people from being attacked.
Social media is part of our lives now, for better or worse. Cyberbullying shouldn’t be.
By Katie Steingold, part of the action/2015 Youth Panel network.
For more information on the action/2015 campaign and youth click here. The action/2015 Youth Panel is co-facilitated by British Youth Council, BOND, Islamic Relief, Progressio and Restless Development and Y Care International.