Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bullying and technology

In a previous post, I commented on the negative influence of technology on child psycho-sexual development. In another post, I commented on bullying. Cyber-bullying, the spreading of malicious content about a person over the Internet, is another one of the dark sides of technology.

Internet sites that operate on an ethic of anonymity make cyber-bullying easy. Anonymity encourages some individuals to behave in a morally reprehensible fashion, without regard for the dignity of others. Anonymity of this nature permits individuals to avoid responsibility for their words and actions.

The tragic suicide of Amanda Todd has thrust cyber-bullying into our consciousness.  Amanda's suicide has become so painfully public, in part, because of her YouTube video.  It is shocking that the bullying continued after her video was posted, and it is terribly sad that sufficient help was unavailable to this young woman in the weeks between the YouTube post and her suicide.

An Internet group, Anonymous, claims to have identified Amanda's tormentor. Trying to be helpful, others have threatened the man. This is another form of bullying.

While Anonymous and these individuals undoubtedly mean well, there are problems with vigilante justice. It presupposes guilt, and if an individual is wrongly accused, their reputation remains damaged. Perhaps even more importantly for some cases, it interferes with the legitimate investigation. In the Todd case, police have said that this is hampering and slowing the investigation.

I feel for the parents of Amanda. Grieving for their daughter, coping with the feelings of guilt that usually follows a suicide of a loved one, they are now subjected to media coverage of rumours and innuendo that are getting in the way of uncovering the perpetrator or perpetrators.  

Technology is a double edged sword; it is both a powerful tool for good, and a destructive weapon.  We have an individual and societal responsibility to ensure that technology is used for good.

Update: Since I posted this a few hours ago, BC Almanac on CBC Radio featured the story of another teen who was in a situation that mirrored Amanda's. The Restorative Justice program saved the day. I think this is a good example of the shared responsibility between society and individuals to correct wrongs, to make amends, and to extend the hand of forgiveness. 

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