The media-stoked moral panic over Ask.fm suicides and Twitter hate
TROLLING is big news. The latest story is that young people using the site Ask.fm are dying. This follows news that women are being subjected to vile abuse on Twitter. But only women to whom the mass media is sympathetic are featured as victims. And that is odd.
The Daily Mail delivers the case for the prosecution in bullet points.
When children die rational debate is not easy to maintain. The loss of a child is horrendous.
The Mail says:
Hannah Smith hanged herself on Friday after anonymous trolls urged her to ‘drink bleach’, ‘get cancer’ and ‘go die’, and her father Dave Smith has now begged the Prime Minister to have the social network banned.
Last autumn two Irish schoolgirls – Ciara Pugsley, 15, from Leitrim, and Erin Gallagher, 13, from Donegal – took their own lives after being subjected to anonymous bullying on the site.
Her father Jonathan said today: ‘It’s just awful. I know first-hand exactly what they’re going through.’
Erin Gallagher had warned users who had sent her abuse that she would kill herself days before her death. Her sister Shannon Gallagher, 15, was found dead eight weeks later in another suicide.
In April schoolboy Josh Unsworth, 15, was found hanged in his parents’ garden in Lancashire and had complained of cyber-bullying on the notorious social networking site.
He had endured months of abusive messages on his profile, including posts like: ‘You’re a ‘f****** n*****d. Honestly no one cares for you even your parents don’t want you, there (sic) gunna put you in care’.
Is there a clear link between the abuse and the deaths? Is it simple cause and effect? They all used the website but we don’t know what else was being said and going on in other parts of their lives. All we know for certain is that people say stupid and horrible things on the web and teenagers can be thoughtless and irrational. This from the Mail in 2012:
Russian teen leaps from apartment block after seeing his favourite Japanese cartoon character die on television
Was the death of a cartoon character what rove him to it? We don’t know for sure. His father said: “I always told him he spent too much time watching the TV – he didn’t know what was reality and what was fiction anymore.”
The Mail then explained:
Psychiatrists and health experts in Russia blame alcohol abuse, domestic violence, rigid rules and high expectations from parents.
But not trolls.
The Mail was, of course, on the receiving end of claims that its comments on a transexual called Lucy Meadows led to her death. But there was no clear link – indeed any link – between what Richard Littlejohn wrote and the death of Lucy Meadows.
Did the Mail’s Jan Moir make gays feel “unnatural“?
As for being called fat leading to suicide, the Mail reported on One Changtelle Houghton:
Mail readers responded. All these comments were approved by the Mail’s moderators:
And the Mail’s troller Samantha Brick had a view-to-deadline on Mary Beard:
The plain truth is that Ms Beard is too ugly for TV.
In today’s Mail, we read of a so-called troll:
Hannah, 14, was taunted on Ask.fm over her weight, the death of an uncle and an apparent propensity to self-harm. Under the header R.I.P. Hannah Smith, American Toby Swaggins Tarrant said: ‘Its (sic) her own fault for taking her own life. its (sic) cowardice. and instead of opening our eyes to the dead we should open our ears to the living’.
After loved-ones confronted him and called him ‘sick’ he said: ‘Oh for f**** sake bullying on the internet is soo f****** easy to avoid just turn off your f****** computer!’.
That makes him vile. Over in the Mirror you can read below the story of awoman who killed herself:
i don’t get it why do people take their own lives
no matter how bad or dire your life is you need to say to yourself its going to get better
my heart goes out to the family
im sorry, i have been severely depressed and considered suicide myself, but i would never have dreamed of doing so in a way that others are involved. i cant bring myself to feel sorry for the woman, who would put people in that situation to have to witness that??? what about the poor kids that would have been subjected to that??? or the poor people she may have took out with her??? sorry to her family, but im terribly sorry, she not getting my simpathy vote
And here’s the Mail’s Richard Littlejohn from 2010:
Fourteen workers at the Chinese factory that makes iPhones have committed suicide.
In Britain, elf ’n’ safety would have closed the plant for years while the windows were hermetically sealed; every employee would be given compulsory counselling and issued with hard-hats and hi-viz protective clothing. Blame Direct would be pumping out claims for com-pen-say-shun.
The Chinese have come up with a simpler solution, which keeps the production lines running. They have rigged up giant nets to stop workers jumping to their deaths.
Back of the net!
The Mirror goes further. It says that the online abusers can hunt you in the real world:
The Sun gives the site’s owners a nickname. They are the Troll Kings.
The site is run by Russian brothers Mark and Ilja Terebin, who are worth millions. It raked in £6million a year from advertising when it began – and that is now thought to have trebled.
Astonishingly Ilja blames parents for the outbreak of trolling. In an interview in May he said: “Kids lack attention, mainly because parents are doing other things such as watching TV, drinking beer and reading the tabloids.
“When kids come to sites like these, they start trolling themselves so their peers start protecting them. In this absurd way, they get the attention.”
Asked why his site had been accused of being rife with cyber-bullying, he said: “Well, the truth is that parents do not know where kids socialise.”
But he added: “We have a ‘report abuse’ feature and any user can use that. All reports are looked through. At the moment we have 50 moderators.”
It all begins to smell of moral panic.
We hark back to Stanley Cohen’s 1972 book, Folk Devils and Moral Panics.
Moral panics are expressions of disapproval, condemnation, or criticism, that arise every now and then to phenomenon, which could be defined as deviant. The example I took was the perceived misbehavior, which we would now call “anti-social behavior”, of teenagers which was really exaggerated, and out of proportion to the original events.
The moral part is the condemnation and social disapproval, and the panic is the element of hysteria and over reaction. Which subsequently can be applied to all sorts of waves of phenomenon. It is largely created by the media: no media – no moral panic. The media are carriers of moral panics, which they either initiate themselves, or they carry the message of other groups. We see things about unmarried mothers, failing schools, the current crisis about children in care. These are all distinguishable moral panics, and the argument is that the reaction to deviance inflates and increases these groups.
Brendan O’Neil summarises:
Cohen said that once a folk devil has been fingered as a source of social and moral rot, it isn’t long before the experts are out in force to pontificate about this new deviant sickness at the heart of society and to suggest some social remedies for it, normally some variant of the ‘control culture’, as Cohen called it. ‘Socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions’, he said. And then, he said, the ‘moral barricades’ – that is, the allegedly flimsy barrier between these devilish deviants and the decent society they long to pollute – come to be ‘manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people’.
Such are the facts…