Social media has had both powerfully positive and negative impacts on the everyday lives of people all over the world. The negative impact is often only briefly examined, but there are many ways that active social media users can suffer from the interactions they have.
In recent news, 15-year-old Tovonna Holton, a Florida resident, committed suicide after a video of her in the shower was taken from Snapchat and shared on Twitter by her ex-boyfriend. This was a directed attempt to humiliate Holton, and is emblematic of cyberbullying and the wider problems that social media websites like Facebook and Twitter have enabled.
Tovonna’s is not the only story to end in tragedy. Shania Sechrist, also 15, was bullied over Facebook and through text, ultimately leading to her suicide. The stories go on and on, with names like Amanda Todd and Tyler Clementi being better-known examples of bullying involving the internet ending in suicide.
Too often, young women share photos of a sexual manner only to have that used against them. Revenge porn has ruined careers, families, and ended lives, yet it exists as a thriving industry online. Pictures are shared with intent to humiliate and punish, often for rejection or as part of an already abusive relationship. In more than one case, such images have made it back to the individual’s employer and the victim has lost their job, in addition to the emotional pain of having an intimate image shared.
Similar to revenge porn are the celebrity iCloud leaks. In August 2014, photos from the phones of many celebrities, the majority female, were first shared on 4chan and Reddit and then to other social media sites. People were quick to point fingers, stating that if the women didn’t want th
e photos to be shared, they shouldn’t have taken them. The University of Strathclyde went as far as to run an ad campaign encouraging students to educate themselves about online security, with the tagline “Bet Jennifer Lawrence wishes she’d used a STr0nG_Pas5w0Rd%”. It later apologised and withdrew the campaign.
In both of these cases of revenge porn and image hacking, victim blaming has been too common. However, the tide has turned, and from 13 April 2015, revenge porn was explicitly made illegal in the UK and it now carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison. Although this cannot provide total solace for those affected, it does provide some comfort that the perpetrator’s actions will not go unpunished.
Overwhelmingly, the people targeted by abuse online are women, and the misogyny isn’t only limited to when women can be seen naked. In some areas of the internet, women and nonbinary people are seen as outsiders and invaders, and men can go to extraordinary efforts to keep them out of their communities.
There is a movement known as ‘#Gamergate’, a community which primarily organises itself on Reddit and acts to address what it sees as inequalities in gaming and games journalism. Its first target, in its infancy, was game designer Zoe Quinn. Quinn was forced out of her home after an ex-boyfriend alleged she cheated on him with a reviewer in order to get a good review for her game, “Depression Quest”. Eron Gjoni posted a blog about his relationship with Zoe Quinn which quickly went viral, and lead to various social media identities and her home address being spread on 4chan and other websites. Since then, she has been sent death threats, rape threats, and has not returned home.
Eventually, those targeting Zoe Quinn formed a community and named themselves ‘#GamerGate’, and started targeting other women in the games industry, such as Anita Sarkeesian, who posts YouTube videos criticising sexism in video games. More and more women have faced the ire of this group, suffering death threats and rape threats, along with allegations that they themselves are abusers. An event Sarkeesian was due to speak at was cancelled as an anonymous threat was mailed, threatening to shoot Sarkeesian and anyone who attended the talk.
Of course, gaming isn’t the only time when people are targeted by an online mob, though it doesn’t often translate into real life abuse. It can still have real psychological effects, though, like any kind of cyberbullying.
Only recently has Twitter acknowledged that it makes it unusually simple for people to be subject to abuse. A user can create an account within moments and immediately spam another user with insults, taunts, and threats. A joke comment about a celebrity can lead to a full twenty-four hours of abuse, something I discovered when I replied to a friend’s tweet about a member of One Direction.
Just saw @Louis_Tomlinson on the slopes ✌🏼️
— James Carter (@James95Carter) January 5, 2016
Our chat in the replies about his appearance, if he had groupies, drew the ire of Tomlinson’s fans, and for a day, I was inundated with comments about my appearance, my age, and my ignorance. For the most part, they were harmless, but as in any mob, there were one or two who took it too far and encouraged suicide or self-harm.
Eventually, the mob moved on, as it always does. But sometimes, as in the cases of #GamerGate and Tovonna Holton, it can ruin or even end lives. I got off easy in my scrape with the dark side of social media. Not everyone does.