Cyber-bullies have the power to end lives. That is what teenager Hannah Smith’s tragic suicide, coming after intense, often anonymous bullying on the website Ask.fm, teaches us about one of the great digital dangers we face as a society.
The United Kingdom is still reeling from Smith’s suicide, its people working to process not just the why but also the how. In the past few days, the BBC and other outlets have taken the time to write pieces explaining how Ask.fm works and how it could create such an intense, unforgiving atmosphere of social bullying that Smith would choose to end her life.
Here in the United States, we are learning the tragic consequences of cyber-bullying firsthand with every teen death that comes through the news. First it was college freshman Tyler Clementi, whose suicide shocked a country that still barely knew what cyber-bullying meant. Now, new horror stories are coming in practically every month: from Gabrielle Molina’s death in May in Queens, which hit very close to home for me in New York City, to Rehtaeh Parson’s suicide just last week.
Cyber-bullying is so dangerous because it can take so many different, equally insidious forms. Smith was attacked with vicious, often anonymous vitriol. Clementi was betrayed by his own roommate, who posted about his homosexual activities to classmates. And Parsons was the victim of underage pornography distribution. So, how do you combat a problem with so many faces?
Three ways: the law, communication with potential perpetrators, and technological enforcement. The law is already changing with tougher laws for everything from online bullying to underage picture sharing. Communication is also taking on a fresh new face, with organizations across the globe putting a face on the victims of dangerous digital activity. Just to name two notable examples: Textkills.org is putting a new face on the victims of texting while driving and Love is All You Need, a short film attacking homophobic cyber-bullying that has won accolades, was in part inspired by Clementi’s death and is now being developed into a full-length feature with international distribution. Clementi’s death also inspired the Tyler Clementi Foundation, which attacks both homophobia and cyber-bullying across the United States.
Technology enforcement is one key area where more adoption is needed to combat cyber-bullying. The solutions, particularly to block cyber-bullying over computers and android smartphones, are already available – but individuals and parents need to adopt them to protect their kids. On computers, use a combination of creating strict filters for your kids in your internet browse settings and a protection service such as Net Nanny. On smartphones, MMGuardian is the leading android protection software, particularly to stop cyber-bullying because it offers both text monitoring and alerts to the parent and the ability to block potentially misused apps like Facebook Messenger and Instagram