One of the events contributing to the current media and political fury over the evils of social networks and internet trolls has been the death of Hannah Smith, a Leicester teenager who committed suicide after apparently being bullied on Ask.fm.
However, it has subsequently turned out that 98% of the anonymous bullying messages Hannah received may have been posted by herself using other accounts.
If true, this backs up my point in a previous article that blaming these phenomena on the social networks themselves is dangerously missing the point.
If someone’s mentally unstable enough to kill themselves because of online harassment, then there’s a deeper problem with that person that isn’t going to be solved by changing Ask.fm or any other website.
The current media scaremongering about the evils of social networks is drawing attention away from the real issues – like media scaremongering always has, does and will.
The moral panic whipped up by traditional media over an issue like this forms a nexus of self-serving interests:
The relatives of a victim seek something external to blame, to avoid examining their own failures of responsibility.
Newspapers and broadcasters, desperate for an easy story to sell, latch onto the simplistic narrative which points the finger at a single cause, rather than wrestle with deep and complex social issues. The less people generally know and understand about the putative scapegoat, the better.
The public happily give in to their baser instincts of fearing the unknown, the outsider, the other. They, too, would rather not have to look too closely at their own culpability; they, too, would rather avoid the harder work of properly understanding the issue in all its complexity. Instead, they get their satisfaction by demanding something is done about it, whatever it is.
Finally, the politicians fall over themselves to show that they will indeed do something about it: usually by passing hasty, poorly-written legislation; certainly never by tackling the really difficult underlying causes.
It’s why people obsess over serial killers and fear their children will be molested by predatory strangers, when the vast majority of murders and sexual abuse are committed by friends and relatives of the victims.
And it’s the reason social networks based in Latvia and the USA are currently under fire for crimes committed by UK citizens against other UK citizens while the UK police did nothing, and for not preventing the suicide of a UK teenager, whose own family hadn’t noticed her vulnerability, even while she apparently spent hours posting abuse to herself online.