Social media is like a dream for nonprofits – it provides free, comprehensive communication directly to supporters. That’s pretty powerful stuff. HAVEN staff uses Facebook and LinkedIn pages, a Twitter stream, and a YouTube channel on behalf of the agency to spread factual information and to open dialogue with existing and potential supporters. After all, it is supposed to be a warm and fuzzy place for friends to connect, right?
But instead it seems news reports about cyber-bullying, cyber-stalking and downright mean virtual behavior is becoming commonplace in the social media world. What may seem to be harmless jokes can quickly escalate to widespread and damaging untruths, insults and mudslinging. From posting rude or inappropriate comments, pictures or videos to blasting out images of a crime in progress for entertainment purposes – social media can do more harm then good.
For whatever reason some people find satisfaction in hiding behind a profile for username and instigating conflict or shaming someone else from the safe distance that the Internet seems to allow. I find this type of behavior appalling. Purposely hurting someone or damaging his or her reputation. For what? Personal gain? To make someone laugh? To draw attention from your own shortcomings?
It’s wrong – plain and simple. It’s the same as purposely singling someone out in a group to insult or embarrass them and it can be even worse because it uses a far-reaching, powerful platform to amplify a harmful message. Virtual harassment, confrontation or victim-blaming do not get turned off when the computer is powered down. They affect peoples’ lives.
If you haven’t heard of Rehtaeh Parsons it’s not likely you will forget her after hearing how her life was affected. Not only did four boys sexually assault her (and have yet to be charged) in November 2011; one of the boys took a photo of the assault and shared it via text message. The image spread like wildfire around her entire school.
It wasn’t long before her so-called friends, acquaintances and even people who didn’t know her took to their social networks to mock her, pass judgment and make torturous statements about the already vulnerable 15-year-old. This intense bullying lasted for 17-months and resulted in Rehtaeh being taken off life support this past April after she hanged herself at her mother’s home.
What is wrong with our society when a girl is victimized and then SHE is shunned? Following an already life-altering incident, Rehtaeh’s classmates and peers, the very people that are supposed to have your back, ruthlessly tore her apart.
Now is the time that the “scourge of sexual assault” should no longer swept under the rug. If you are active on social media please harness the power of the medium that once devastated Rehtaeh to share her story. Help her legacy be one of awareness of and an eventual end to sexual assault and harassment.