The tragic death of Molly Russell is really putting the toxicity and danger of social media into the spotlight.
I wrote a little bit about my concerns around this the other day but I’d like to revisit it in light of this case. Social media is now an everyday part of society – there are not that many people who don’t have an account on one or more social media apps. We now take it as the norm if somebody decides to take a picture of their food before they eat it. For those people that go to the gym, it’s normal to take a selfie in there just to post online to show everyone. Are you really on holiday if you haven’t taken a picture of your feet lying on a sun lounger with the sea or a pool in the distance?
For many people selfies are just an everyday occurrence – whether they’re happy or sad out comes the camera phone, and the next thing all their followers know how they’re feeling. I mean we could spend the time working out why we’ve become so fixated on sharing every part of our lives with strangers, or we can just accept that this is now the norm.
What shouldn’t be the norm though is the “photoshopped” lens that we automatically go for. Hell, even on a zoom call you can “enhance” your image? Seriously – just think about that for a moment. Zoom is invariably a work tool, and you’re actively presenting a false image of yourself. Of course, it’s down to feeling crap about your own self-image, but the very fact that the thing that you click says “enhance” only exacerbates your feeling of “not good enough”.
Our smartphones have become our lifelines, but they are also dangerous. The Whatsapp group that keeps you connected can also be the group that amplifies the bullying that you’re subjected to every day in the school playground. A bitchy comment from the cool kids which was once only heard by “the gang” can now be heard by everybody as soon as you press send.
I was speaking to a parent of a primary school child the other day who had been bullied online and it sounded torturous. That “lifeline” that you keep referring back to is now bullying you at all hours even in your own home. Those “words that’ll never hurt me” do. . . they act like shrapnel that stays with you as you navigate your childhood friendships. It doesn’t matter how silly the insult is – it hurts. What’s so bad about this though is that it’s not monitored. In the school playground, the teachers can get involved, online it’s all down to the parents, but in reality, some parents don’t understand how dangerous this online bullying is either. Or they’re so defensive about their own “precious child” that they’ve failed to see that all of our children have the potential to inflict harm on others.
As children move into teens finding their “tribes” in social media lists or through hashtags and chat rooms, we need to understand that some of those tribes are unhelpful. Finding your eating disorder tribe means that you’ve found a place to normalise your poor relationship with food, and for an illness that is competitive, it literally is the hunger games. Or what about the group that’s talking about self-harm or even suicide – they’re not run by people actively trying to stop you from harming yourself, you’re basically in a self-help group to self-destruct.
Or what about the rise in boys and men joining the groups quickly being identified as “Incel”, or the lads following (pre-de-platformed) the likes of Andrew Tate. For sure people are finding “their tribes”, but are they tribes that should even exist in a civilised society? Oops – the “freedom of speech” people will quickly jump up at this and demand that all tribes have their online space – queue all the misinformation groups that pop up regularly.
Whilst it’s looking like the online safety bill will finally put some restrictions in place, in reality, this stuff needs to be policed at home by parents, but I don’t think that most parents truly understand the dangers of online life, and that’s because they are playfully photographing their food and sharing their holiday snaps with us all.
How many parents really know what their children are watching or doing online. It’s like having predators coming through every screen in your house, but you’re only monitoring the door. Every time your child goes online they are at risk – the ‘new friend’ that wants to know more information, the ‘real life friend’ that is bullying you, the tribe that you connect with, but who are as damaged or as ill as you and therefore can’t hold your hand and take you out of your dark place, as they’re too busy tying a rope around you to drag you down with them.
Schools need to be educating parents on the dangers and only when parents understand how this stuff that they perceive to be harmless is really dangerous will we start to see the solution. You add a “harmless filter” to your child’s picture and subconsciously you are already telling your child that they’re not good enough. . . and the real sucker punch is that most people are doing it as they’re passing on their own insecurities to their children.
So next time you take a picture of your food ask yourself why you’re needing to share that moment with strangers. Next time you add a “fun filter” to your selfie, ask yourself what work you need to put into your own self-image to know that you are enough, and next time you see your child online – check what they’re doing, engage with them. We all need “our tribe”, but we all need parenting more.