As I’ve become more and more weighed down with college work, I’ve found myself pretty much under house arrest. When I’m not in college, I’m at home thinking about college. My only wind-down time is what I can salvage from the internet – usually in the form of a movie, spending too much time on YouTube or catching up on my favourite series’.
The role that the internet and social media plays should never be underestimated. The way information can spread so speedily and effectively is simply amazing to note. Opinions, ideas, news, stories and music, among countless other things, can be shared worldwide with minimum effort. It has the ability to enhance our lifestyle, making the transfer of ideas and research easily accessible at our fingertips. We can keep in contact with family and friends on the other side of the world from the comfort of our own homes. But what truly amazes me about the internet is how its most prominent positives oftentimes double up to be its striking negatives.
Without the internet – specifically social media like Facebook – I wouldn’t have heard about the accomplishment of Felix Baumgartner and the Red Bull Stratos jump. My friends’ statuses introduced me to what was happening in the first place (having not heard a thing about it before hand), and kept me up to date with how the plunge progressed. Images were uploaded and shared online and live coverage was available throughout the world via the Internet. It is quite amazing to watch something as it unfolds in real time; an event that not only takes place outside your city, country, or continent – but one that takes place outside of your planet. The jump not only promoted the benefits of social media and the Internet, but is hoped to open doors to scientific and medical advancements. Technology and the internet have the ability to give us so much more. On the flip side, it, too, holds the ability to take things away.
In the last few weeks, true stories of cyber bullying have become prominent not only on our computer screens but our TV screens as it becomes a more worrying part of our reality. Within the space of weeks, two teenage girls’ stories, in particular, have become of mass interest on the Internet, and featured on national news programmes throughout the world. Fifteen-year-old Ciara Pugsley, from Leitrim, took her own life in mid-September which then sparked detective investigations into claims that she was bullied on a website, ask.fm, which allows users to ask questions anonymously to anyone who has an account. Facebook pages of support have been set up but insulting comments are still circulating on her ask.fm account.
More recently, the story of a fifteen-year-old Canadian girl, Amanda Todd, has been shared with millions of people around the world through the Internet. In September, Amanda Todd, uploaded a black and white video on YouTube, and through a series of flash cards told her tragic story of “struggling, bullying, suicide and self-harm”. Just over a month after uploading the video (which according to her description was intended to help and to offer hope to others experiencing bullying both on and offline), Amanda Todd took her life. Since then her video has circulated throughout the Internet and on national and international news.
The stories of these two girls are tragic and with further research, it’s clear that their stories are two of many tragic stories of cyber-bullying around the world. It’s a sobering thought that the same thing that contributed to both teenage girls’ depression and eventual death is the same medium through which I learned of their tragic stories. The internet is a potent resource that can enhance each of our lives; share stories and connect with each other more easily but it can – and is being – misused. Something as amazing as the internet should never be underestimated. Use it for research, Tumblr or looking at funny videos of mischievous cats, documenting your record-breaking attempt – whatever you like! But always be conscious of the fact that nothing you say or do online is overlooked. So use it wisely.