By John Dodge
Posting in Technology
How much responsibilty - if any - do social media sites like Facebook bear in what drove teenager Phoebe Prince to take her own life? What actions should they take?
In the wake of high school student Phoebe Prince's suicide, I have been thinking about the destructive side of Facebook, instant messaging, texting/cell phones, Twitter and other 7x24 social mediums. Prince was a 9th grader in South Hadley, Mass. who took her life after months of tormenting by classmates whose arrests this week have been big news.
What struck me is that there was no escape for Phoebe. Once, you could get harassed in school and take refuge at home. No more.
"Pupils said Phoebe was called "Irish slut" and "whore" on Twitter, Craigslist, Facebook and Formspring," according to a story at MailOnline.
So with Facebook and the others, there was no refuge for Phoebe unless she had uncommon willpower to avoid her cell phone and computer at home. No teenager and especially an emotionally-weakened one has that kind of willpower.
I suppose blaming social media is like blaming a telephone used to make threats or a gun in a shooting. After all, the gun doesn't shoot someone. A human has to pull the trigger. But a gun is dangerous and we have gun control, don't we?
We need to protect children from the dangers of social media. Just how is the challenge.
Indeed, Facebook's "Statement of Rights and Responsibilities" expressly states and I quote: "You will not bully, intimidate or harass any user." I can find no evidence that Facebook has pursued anybody for this egregious violation of its own terms of service in the case of Phoebe Prince.
Facebook did go after blogger and "Internet entrepreneur" Pete Warden after he apparently crawled 210 million public Facebook profiles, put them in a database and announced plans to sell the information, according to a story in NewScientist. Warden, fearing huge legal bills, destroyed the data after Facebook threatened to sue him on a terms of service violation.
So Facebook has gone after terms of service violators before. We'll see if it makes a move on the bullies that drove Phoebe over the edge. The Facebook accounts of a couple of suspects I checked on appear to have been removed (assuming they had them) although I found a "fan" site that villified one of them.
Should a teenager be required to get signed parental consent before using Facebook or other social mediums? Does my paying for unlimited texting for everyone in my family presume parental consent? Were teen suicides as common before Facebook?
Parents now have more motivation to oversee their children's activity on Facebook and other social mediums. But as a parent of two recovering teenagers - meaning they are safely in their 20s now and much more grown-up - no amount of vigilance can thwart a determined teenager.
Social media is all around our children. Their insecurities and overwhelming desire for acceptance feed into the allure of social media. What responsibility do the social media sites bear?
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Apr 1, 2010
Such hogwash! What is needed is parental attention. Far too many people have children and fall for the if I can buy them more I'll be a good parent so I guess I need another job. Which of course means less time with the children. Blaming any communication device or method provides another excuse for poor parenting. Teenages need help navigating society. No one is forced to look at any web site, or call someone, anymore than they are forced to shoot someone by the availability of a gun. Just because I see a rock do I have to throw it?
Cathy, Be vigilant. Make sure you have her login and password and that she friends you so you can monitor her activity...
As the daughter of a tweener just starting to use social media, this story scares me to death. I do think Facebook should do more to police its own website (for example, it's rules say you have to be at least 13 to use the site, but every 11 year old I know has an account). But I also think schools, starting in 5th grade, should educare kids about the dangers of social media, and step up punishments for those who abuse facebook, texting etc. Now they only seem to discipline students if a teacher's name is besmirched. My thoughts on the issue at Working Parents blog: http://www.businessweek.com/careers/workingparents/blog/archives/2010/01/kids_on_faceboo.html
Clearly social media intensifies the negative and harmful effects of bullying, but we're missing the boat here. Kids need to understand that hurting another, especially with words, not only hurts the victim but the bully as well. We know now from studies on former bullies that bullying leads to anger, sadness, depression, and loneliness. I tell kids in my program WWW.ITSGOOD2BGOOD.COM: If you want to be happy, healthy, and have high self-esteem use words to help others, not hurt them. On the other hand, if you want to be sad, lonely, depressed - well, I don't believe many kids would consciously choose that option. They hurt with words because they mistakenly believe they benefit in some way. They don't see it just leads to suffering. Everybody suffers when kids bully. That's the tragedy.
I caught your tweet this morning with led me to your blog post about the bullying incident in South Hadley that led to Phoebe's suicide. Working in social media, my immediate thought also went straight to how these new channels practically facilitates this behavior. As unfortunate as the case is, I'm looking forward to hearing what happens to the students and teachers next week. Seems like everyone in South Hadley is under fire - rightfully so.