IMA 504 – Eirik Bjorno – Social Issues

Social Issues Online

As a parent, have you ever wondered if your child is being bullied? Have you ever wondered why he has less friends coming over to play flag-football on you lawn? Have you ever thought about why he spends so much time on the computer? As the new generation spends more and more time online, we know less about each other’s social skills, and therefor it’s harder to pick up the signals. Since the Internet was created around 40 years ago the ways we communicate has changed gradually as new technology has developed. What started out as a great asset to the educational system, with information available online at all times, has now grown into a major headache for educational institutions that don’t know how to use Internet in an effective way. The new generations social lives, and social interactions are based on online communication. Is the Internet serving its purpose, to connect and inform people, or has it grown out of control?

15-20 years ago professors mostly used Internet to access information and distributing it out to the students. That way Internet had great value for the educational system. They were able to limit and filter out bad information before communicating it to the receivers. Many old scholars claim that this period was the most accurate and effective use of the Internet.

When grew up I used Internet to update my self on news and sports results, and play simple Java games. As I grew up I realized the power of the Internet. In the early 2000’s I realized I could access a lot of educational material online, and I started to use it for my homework. Heading into the new millennium the Norwegian educational system realized the opportunities Internet offered and built large computer labs in almost all schools across the country. According to Bargh and McKenna over 600 million people worldwide had access to the Internet in 2002.

The access to the Internet grew fast, and we quickly surpassed our professors in knowledge. We played games. We studied. We could spend hours in front of the computer; and at that time there was no danger signs. You still had the 3-4 guys who got obsessed with computers and online activities, and isolated themselves from social interactions, but mainly the technology served its purpose. It prepared us for the new era, as we picked up basic technological knowledge. We took it home, and many young students had to teach their parents how to use the new computer when it arrived.

When Internet became a normal addition in homes around the world, the major threat was virus attacks, Trojan horses or different cyber crimes. Now we should be more concerned by our own social behavior patterns online as it reduces our social interactions. The growth of social networking cites and blogs had not only changed the methods of communication, it has also presented a lot of opportunities for people to reject their real social life.

All kids now have instant access to the social networking sites. Cellphones, tablets or laptops has made it hard for parents or other adults to control their kid’s online activities. When parents or other adults are not in a position to monitor kids activities, if often result in bullying. The word “Bully” can be dated all the way back to 1530s (Donegan), and bullying basically contains two parts: an intimidator and a victim. We can find evidence of bullying occurring on all levels in society hundreds of years back. Naturally this social problem carried on online, and has been enhanced the last 15 years. The term cyberbullying was introduced with the creation of the Internet, but the first concrete statistics surrounding the issue from Cyberbullying Research Center dates back to 2004. Is it a coincident that scholars showed interest in the topic the same year as Facebook was founded? Maybe, but you can still draw some interesting lines. In 2011 The Consumer Report published an article stating that One million children were harassed, threatened or subjected to other forms of cyberbullying on Facebook during the past year. We cannot blame Facebook for this, but the consequences can be fatal.

Looking at the numbers from Cyber Bullying Research Center we are moving in the wrong direction.  In 2004 20.1 percent of high school and middle school students reported that they had been cyber bullied at one point in their life. After 2004 the numbers have gone up. In 2010 Examiner.com published a survey from the National Crime Prevention Center, showing that 40 percent of teens with Internet access had been bullied online. The last statistics is from 2012, where the number had increased to 42 percent. (Murray)

Recently The Guardian wrote about Hannah Smith, a 14-year-old girl from Leicestershire, who killed her self after she had been taunted online for years. She even reached out on a public forum to get tips on how to go through with her suicide, and was told to “Drink bleach” from one the members. It is brutal. But unfortunately it is real. Not all stories of cyber bullying goes this far, but the phenomenon can change someone’s life forever. In this case we have two of the major social issues on the Internet. Cyberbullying being one, while you can claim that website should protect children from dangerous information. Filters or restrictions should apply. But as World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology states in one of their online journals:

“ …the blame for teenagers social and ethical misconducts  should not be put on the technology alone. He stresses the importance of other contributing factors to the problem, such as the upbringing and the environment. In addition, Moll questions parents’ “very little or no knowledge” about their children online activities. She also criticizes their lack of responsibilities in protecting their children from the Internet’s harmful possibilities…”

This leaves me to a small survey I did among my diverse group of friends; to get a better understanding of what measures parents takes to be involved in what their kids do online. Among my American friends the tone was similar. The family had one computer in one of the common rooms. This way the parents could control their kid’s activities. My Scandinavian friends on the other hand say this was far from their reality. The only people trying to set any regulations for our online activities were the IT guy working in our elementary schools. He blocked the most popular gaming sites and other inappropriate material. Because of the school system in Scandinavia, we were home alone from around 1 pm until our parents came from work at 4pm. So there was not much supervising when we played with the computer.

Now times have changed though. It is hard for parents to keep up with all the social media, and pay attention to their kid’s activities. For a while parents thought that to be ‘friends’ with your kids on Facebook, Instagram etc. would increase the control, but the new generation knows way more about technology than their parents, so therefor they can easily block them out of parts of their activities via privacy settings.

American Osteopathic Association published in 2011 an article stating that 85 % of parents report that their child has a social networking account. 54% of these parents are afraid that their kids are being bullied via social networking sites, while 16% know their child has been or are a victim of cyber bullying. This proves how real the problem is in nuclear families around the country.  What makes it an even more severe is the anonymity. Internet gives you the opportunity to mask you identity, and therefor impossible to trace the source of the bullying. 81 percent of the youths asked said it is easier to get away with bullying online than in person. (Murray) Neutralmagazine presents a valid point: “Victims are no longer able to pinpoint the source of their pain and as a result, the campaign of abuse becomes all encompassing, taking over the victim’s lives through fear of abuse at any time.” This is the fear that changes people lives for good. This is the fear that can break even the strongest guy.

Not only the anonymity differ from what we know as conventional bullying. The power dynamic can also be drastically changed. The bully is typically a stronger person, either physically or mentally. Through bullying online you can experience young unsecure kids attacking others in the same boat, to boost their self-confident. It’s ruthless and powerful. Gallagher point out what I consider the worst consequence of this form of online interaction: “Cyber bullies can act from the comforts of their own home, and in reverse, their victims are no longer safe in theirs. Messages and photos are able to be sent from morning to night and as they do so, the ways for the victims to escape are become increasingly limited.”

Despite all this serious issue with the Internet, Internet does not make its users any more depressed or lonely, rather the opposite. It offers a variety in communication that can help the user to develop as its social skills. What is important for us as future educators and parents is to try to educate the new generation in correct and safe use of Internet. We have a responsibility to create good habits among the new users.  For parents to be involved in their kid’s use of smartphones and laptops is key to limit the problem with cyberbullying. The main problem is that Internet, and technology is developing so fast that the new generations pick up on the changes faster than professors and parents.

Many organizations are working on raising awareness around cyberbullying. This work important, but even it’s the people you look up to who has the highest impact on you decisions; your brother, your cousin and you uncle. If we can implement a better attitude towards the issue at all level in our society, we will se the numbers go down.

Bibliography:

American Osteopathic Association. “Parents Fearful of Cyberbullying.” Parents Fearful of Cyberbullying. American Osteopathic Association, n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2013.

Bargh, John A., and Katelyn Y.A McKenna. “THE INTERNET AND SOCIAL LIFE.” (2004): n. pag. Yale University. Annual Reviews. Web. 3 Oct. 2013.

Consumer Reports. “That Facebook Friend Might Be 10 Years Old, and Other Troubling News.” Consumer Reports June 2011: n. pag. Consumer Reports. Consumer Union of US, June 2013. Web. 28 Oct. 2013.

Donegan, Richard. “Bullying and Cyberbullying: History, Statistics, Law, Prevention and Analysis.” Bullying and Cyberbullying 3.1 (2012): 33-42. Elon University. Elon University, Spring 2012. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.

Examiner.com. “From Cyber Bullying to Sexting (stats and Videos): What’s on Your Kids’ Cell?” Examiner.com. Clarity Digital Group, 29 Jan. 2010. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.

Gallagher, Tom. “The Highs of Social Networking and the Rise of Cyberbullying.” Neutral Magazine. Neutral Magazine, n.d. Web. 4 Oct. 2013.

Murray, Corey. “25 Eye-Opening Statistics About Cyberbullying [Infographic].” EdTech Magazine. CDW, 18 July 2012. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.

Press Association. “Teenager Hannah Smith Killed Herself Because of Online Bullying, Says Father.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 6 Aug. 2013. Web. 2 Nov. 2013.

Ramli, R. “The Internet, Its Social and Ethical Problem to the Young and How Curriculum Can Address the Issue.” World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology59.125 (2011): 645-48. Waset.org. 2011. Web. 29 Oct. 2013.

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