SAFE & SOUND: THE DANGERS OF THE ONLINE PLAYGROUND
Union College’s response to cyberbullying’s chilling effects
During my elementary years I wasn’t the nicest kid. Wedgies were a regular handout on the playground. One time I even scared a fart out of a kid. I was a little bit of a bully, and I’m not proud of it. My friends and I enjoyed doing what we could to upset the other kids because we got a laugh out of it. Never did I put myself in their shoes or imagine how bullying must have affected them.
The internet is kind of like a massive, infinite playground. If you want it, you can find it. There are countless ways to spend your time and amuse your interests. If you want to cruise along the streets of a town you’ve never visited, you can do it. If you want a wife, you can order one from Ukraine. You can even order a barrel of lube, you can. The best part about it is that you can do all this without ever having to leave the comfort of your crumb-filled bed. Except to go to the door to pay for the pizza you ordered—from the internet.
And it’s addicting. It can require a large amount of willpower to walk away from that game or actually stop Netflix from playing that next episode. “We occasionally have students that have a problem that they can’t leave the internet alone and need assistance.” Richard Henriques, Director of Information Systems says, unsurprisingly.
The internet is a place for fun and an incredible tool that has undoubtedly accelerated human progress in ways that are difficult to grasp. However, like any tool, it can be and often is abused. You can use a hammer to punish a child for spilling the milk, or you can use it to aid in constructing a house. You can use a spoon for cooking heroin, or you can lend it to that little boy who just spilled the milk so he can finally eat his cereal. At every playground you can find a kind of nerdy group of inclusive kids as well as the annoying ones who just like to bother everyone around them.
The internet’s incredible accessibility is also its curse. On the playground, you can see the irritating brats that are throwing cheerio-sized pebbles at girls from on top of the monkey bars. On the internet, you can not. Those kids throw metaphorical cheerio-sized pebbles across states, countries, and campuses. This can be done instantly from the convenience of the classroom, the bedroom, and even the restroom. Unfortunately, those rocks can seem the size of mountains, and have the potential to really ruin someone’s day—or career.
Here at Union, this phenomenon was most recently evidenced and exploited by last semester’s Yik Yak attack. Behind the veil of anonymity, students were able to call each other out and make personal attacks without ever having to worry about being identified in the process. Some people were blasted pretty seriously, and took home wounds. It is difficult to see the damage you are doing when you’re blind to the reaction on your target’s face.
The problem is the same with classic bullying. We love to get our big ego pants on and say some things on the internet that will get a reaction, things we would never say in person. We put others down to climb on them and boost ourselves. The internet, especially when accompanied with anonymity, provides the perfect vehicle for making ourselves appear or at least feel more important.
Sophomore International Rescue and Relief major Rudy Rodriguez, a common target on Yik Yak drops a truth bomb. “It really showed how cowardly people are on our campus . . . We hide behind our keyboards,” says Rodriguez. Fortunately, Rodriguez possesses the fortitude of a jaguar, and didn’t dwell on the negativity directed toward him on the social media platform. He only wishes the people saying those things had the gonads to say them to his face.
When the internet is abused in a way that hurts other people we perpetuate an unnecessary cycle that also hurts ourselves. We should be working towards building each other up—not tearing each other down.
The problem is the internet is hijacking the way we communicate, and kids are growing up with less and less face-to-face human interaction than ever before. It’s dangerous, and can be damaging to the development of social skills if not properly managed. Henriques says, “It doesn’t work well for social interaction, so you end up with an individual that’s not a whole person. They’re kind of stunted. If how you learn to deal with problems is how you deal with them in World of Warcraft of Grand Theft Auto you’re probably not a pleasant person.”
I leave it up to us, Union College. What are we going to do with Cyberbullying?
Roderick Stickle is a senior studying International Rescue and Relief.
STICKS, STONES AND WORDS: THESE CAN ALL HURT ME
How we can prevent future “Yik Yak Attacks"
“Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology such as cell phones, computers, and tablets as well as social media sites, text messages, chat and websites. Examples of cyberbullying include mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites or fake profiles.”
The above quote was taken from a new entry that was added to our student handbook last school year, entitled “Cyberbullying”. This policy is new because education systems in the past haven’t needed to deal with this.
Cyberbullying is a twenty-first century problem.
Although these new waves of technology have provided us with infinitely more opportunities, as Rod mentioned in his article, the threats we now face have compounded axponentially. While bullying used to be a schoolyard fight or a spitball in the hair, the Internet and its broad accessibility now allows individuals to be bombarded in nearly every aspect of life.
Our mentors haven’t prepared us for this. They didn’t have to deal with these threats growing up. Because of the Internet being new and their subsequent lack of experience, we in turn are unprepared, going into a blind fight.
What are we going to do?
I was able to sit down and discuss this topic with one of the busiest people on campus: Linda Becker. We discussed practices she believed could help alleviate cyberbullying. Ultimately—it all came down to education.
“Education is a huge piece,” said Dr. Becker. “We need to educate students on how they affect people personally. We need to educate on the use of social media.”
Junior theology major, Kyle Smith, had similar feelings on the subject. “In some of my classes, we learn how not to be an idiot,” he said. “We learn tact. We learn the time and place for when to say things to people. I believe it’s something that should be talked about more. We could definitely learn better etiquette for social media.”
We also need to educate ourselves on the legal ramifications of things we say.
A highschool student in Michigan once posted a comment on Facebook about blowing up a school. It wasn’t meant seriously, but the student ultimately faced felony charges “. . . of making a threat or false report of an explosive or harmful device substance or material.” Although sites like Yik Yak promise anonymity, a line can always be crossed. There have been several suicides due to comments on Yik Yak and lawsuits as a result. Yik Yak was mandated in each instance to reveal the identities of the “Yakkers”.
But does it matter? You shouldn’t feel threatened just knowing your name is attached to the things you say. If you feel threatened, you shouldn’t say it. It’s plain and simple. The simple fact is when you let the words out, you can’t get them back. Even if you ignore them, the effects last.
We need to remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you”. Instead of feeling freed by anonymity and the invisible cloak provided by the Internet to say hurtful things, we should take advantage of the Internet’s reach. We should create rich relationships that allow both individuals to grow, not just the one spreading rumors to feel better about himself.
Television host and comedic genius, Ellen DeGeneres, said it best: “If we’re destroying our trees and destroying our environment and hurting animals and hurting one another and all that stuff, there’s got to be a very powerful energy to fight that. I think we need more love in the world. We need more kindness, more compassion, more joy, more laughter. I definitely want to contribute to that.”
Katie is a junior studying business administration.