• Social Media: Where do you draw the line between freedom of speech and cyberbullying?


    Social media. Is it a form of communication, a way to advertise, or just a way to troll and an avenue for cyberbullying? (Written by Hannah Giblin)

    Increasingly we are hearing stories of death threats and campaigns of cyberbullying dominating the news, with victims seemingly getting younger and younger. New social media platforms have paved the way for anonymous harassment, whether its private messages on Facebook, nameless cruel questions on AskFM, or nasty remarks in under 140 characters on Twitter. With the introduction of social media came the voice the younger generation had waited for and this, combined with a platform which allows pretty much anybody to anonymously share their opinions has opened up the floodgates for a torrent of unregulated, thoughtless abuse. It is now far too easy for a person to accidentally offend, Tweeting or Facebooking, without first thinking of the consequences of your messages. For example, Paris Brown the first Youth Crime Tzar, hired by the Kent Police Commissioner in order to appeal to a younger generation unreached by the usual Policing methods. Paris stepped down from her position after homophobic and racist tweets sent from her between the ages of 14-16 became public. In any other role this may have been considered as a careless mistake, someone too young to understand the consequences of these throw away comments at the time. However, with social media becoming increasingly tensioned over cyberbullying and hate campaigns, it is a highly sensitive time and it becomes all the more important to think about the person we become on social media.

    This was certainly true for Paul Chambers, who sent this now infamous tweet:



    Unfortunately for Chambers, his Tweet was seen as a potential threat and he was charged with ‘menacing electronic communication’. After 4 appeals and countless support from celebrities such as avid tweeter Stephen Fry, his conviction was overturned, but it was a massive price to pay for one simple rant.

    Twitter is an interesting social platform because it is easy to find any celebrity and follow what they do, send direct messages to them and on the odd occasion even receive recognition from them. With celebrities such as Justin Bieber reaching 42,712,970 followers, it is easy to see how fans can be attracted to twitter.  The past week however, has seen Twitter suffering  a massive backlash over their abuse reporting policies and the protection of users with a U.K campaigner suffering countless rape and death threats. Feminist Caroline Criado-Perez began a campaign that saw the success of iconic writer Jane Austen becoming the face of the new British £10 note. What followed was a barrage of misogynistic tweets directed at Criado-Perez and countless threats to the journalist at the head of the campaign.


    In an attempt to protest trolls and to force Twitter to take responsibility for not doing enough to stop cyberbullying, people began to boycott the site. Celebrities such as Gok Wan and Kristy Allsop joined the silence protest and the hashtag #twittersilence began trending.  In response Criado-Perez tweeted that she would not join #twittersilence, that instead she would #shoutback. She wrote that she would not allow narrow minded individuals to antagonise her and would stand against the cyberbullying. Twitter has now promised to launch a new ‘report abuse’ button, a feature that sites such as Facebook have incorporated for many years now.

    The devastating effects of cyberbullying.

    Cyberbullying is a serious issue and is growing alongside the popularity of these social media platforms. More recently, website AskFM, where users can ask each other questions anonymously, has been criticised for its allowance of teens aged 13 and onwards to speak anonymously on its website. This comes after 14 year old Hannah Smith from Leicestershire committed suicide after suffering cyber bullying on the website. Hannah had received threats and nasty abuse over the site and her father has called for the site to be regulated to stop any further cyberbullying from occurring. Ask.fm does have a privacy setting which allows you to choose whether you receive anonymous questions or whether you only receive them from people you know. However, many argue this is not something that users are made fully aware of and they do not know how to use it.

    Politicians, celebrities and the general public are calling for more regulated social media spaces in attempts to stop cyberbullying and to allow these media platforms to be used for what they were intended, as a form of communication only.

    Here at Birmingham Counselling Services we offer a selection of counsellors who specialise in working with teens and will be able to offer help and support if you are suffering from any form of bullying. We have Male and Female counsellors available dependent on your needs and are able to work to your schedule.

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