Online Bullying

I talked about bullying and social media in an earlier post, but given the recent developments on Hollyoaks, I wanted to tackle DocYou again in a wider post about social media generally.

The story goes that Dylan, a new character in Hollyoaks who attends the sixth form, created a social media website for a documentary competition. Fascinated by what people chose to upload online, he felt the best way to aggregate the content was to have his friends upload content directly to his public site, DocYou.

Understandably a young and inexperienced web developer with a narrow focus, he didn’t build in any privacy controls and his site was open to abuse. At the beginning, his site became a platform for cyberbullying, however, following a tragic car crash, in which three of the characters lost their lives, it became a hotbed of rumour and gossip and became open to trolls and vile abuse.

A fictional site, entirely created by Hollyoaks, it does demonstrate some important lessons that many major sites and their users could learn from.

Such a public sphere is great for sharing content and exchanging banter but that same arena is also a very open window onto conversations between people. Should those conversations take a nasty turn, the victim is dealt a double blow, not only are they hurt from the initial comment, but there’s additional pain since friends, family and strangers can see it too. Both upset and embarrassed, the victim’s pain is there for the world to see.

Could Dylan have done more? Or is he also a victim? His site was built to collate his friends’ uploads, yet unraveled rapidly following some desperate events.

Personally I believe that while he may not have created a site to facilitate bullying, when that became its chief use he should have acted quicker and more decisively. As with any site there’s a responsibility on behalf of the creator to ensure the safety of its users.

I don’t want to go into it very much, but a few years ago, a friend of a friend was found dead in her flat in Manchester. She was the daughter of a high profile Manchester City player, and following her death, her friends created various groups on Facebook to remember her. Unfortunately, these groups became the target of trolls who preyed on peoples’ emotions, for their own kicks.

Facebook, with all its billions, should put more resources into removing flagged content, banning users and forwarding contact details of users reported for creating vile content twitter users should have the ability to “un@” themselves and delete the offending tweet from anything they consider inappropriate and the microblogging service should equally cooperate more readily with legal authorities in countries where crimes are committed.

DocYou’s triumph is that it will make users questions their online behavior, but sadly on its own this will not stop the majority of trolls and vile posters. This will not stop teens committing suicide, this is just the beginning of a very long road.