There is a dark and dangerous element to the wondrous world of instant communication.
Our whole world has shrunk since the internet became so easily accessible and it’s hard to imagine a time when sites like Facebook and Twitter didn’t alert us to our friends’ relationship status or give us a way to connect with people almost effortlessly. It’s even harder to remember when people didn’t use mobile phones, let alone Skype.
But what about attacking our sexuality?
None of us would want to return to a time when you felt utterly alone. No one is arguing that the access gained via the internet to counselling, education and online support services is a bad thing, particularly for geographically isolated or closeted members of our community. But it’s important to remember that with all of these positives, there are very real negatives that are only starting to emerge if the worldwide It Gets Better project is anything to go by.
Imagine what it must be like to come out as a gay teenager these days. In the last year alone, several gay young people have taken their own lives because of bullying and intimidation – a travesty that happens in the real world, and is far too often backed up in cowardly ways online. Now we are subject to the (often anonymous) creation of a hate-filled Facebook group or the immediate outing of someone to an entire school via text message two minutes after they have confided in a so called friend or peer.
Sticks and stones will break my bones, so the old saying goes, but names can never hurt me. That may have been true in days gone by, before the trolls crawled out of the internet sewers where they lurk and from which they spew out their filth.
It’s no longer possible to control how personal information is used without serious effort, particularly when you’re talking about young people for whom important life lessons – like who is worthy of trust – simply haven’t been learned. The tragic suicide of American teenager, Jamey Rodemeyer, highlights the online bullying storm. He came face-to-face with his tormentors everyday at school and when he returned to the sanctuary of his own home, this constant harassment and denigration continued unmercifully on his Facebook page and blog. He put up a brave fight but ultimately Jamey felt that the only way out was to take his own life.
To young people coming out – fitting in, being accepted and ultimately just being liked is as important now as it ever was. Unfortunately it is now happening in an environment that is very public. Bullies can, and do, hide threats and malicious attacks behind hidden identities therefore allowing the anonymity of the internet to bring out their absolute worst.
New data from Ditch The Label shows that male trolls are more likely to use homophobic and transphobic insults. The Brighton based charity carried out the research after their 2016 survey revealed that 60% of young people have been bullied online with 20% experiencing cyberbullying daily.
But for every hater there are many more kind and genuine people – the internet can be an amazingly supportive place if you know where to look. Ironically the one place that is aiding and abetting the bullies is the very place that you may indeed find the help that you are looking for.