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Online Abuse & the Domino Effect

Sending a message, writing a comment or posting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, gaming sites, online newspaper articles and the like can be done in an instant, and today we have ways of doing this from wherever we are in the world. The ease of communicating with other people is incredible, however it seems that we have relaxed our language online and are no longer determining whether what we write is acceptable or not before the ‘send’, ‘post’ or ‘reply’ button is clicked. Our trigger-instinct to press send has reached an all time high – we type and post without consideration for how our words may affect others because nothing calls us to take responsibility for what we type, and because the receivers reaction is hidden we often forget that our words are having a large impact.

As a result of this, we are now seeing cyber abuse; online harassment, hate speech, stalking, revenge pornography, and so forth occur more and more through social media and across the Internet. ‘ALL RISE Say No to Cyber Abuse’ conducted a research study into the matter and found that 67% of people have witnessed derogatory comments online, which is an extraordinarily high proportion of our society. Examples of derogatory comments range from, ‘you’re ugly’ to severe threats or menacing remarks about rape, death, extreme racism and so forth. It is arguable that calling someone ugly is ‘not the same’ or ‘as severe’ as telling them they should kill themselves or threatening them, however what needs to be understood is that the former comment should never be treated as a joke, banter or even less severe as all comments alike add to the global library of cyber abuse, and add to the developing attitude that being abusive online is different to offline, and that it is acceptable. Also there is no way to know how any abusive comment will be taken by the person on the other end of the stick, and what we think it just ‘banter’ could be seriously detrimental to the receiver’s mental health.

What is obvious in children from a young age is that they pick up on what happens around them, and from the behaviours they observe, they learn and develop a way of being themselves. It seems that this continues all through life, and as we grow older into adults we still do the same – what we see around us heavily impacts the way we choose to act ourselves. With over 3 billion Internet users and 67% of people viewing derogatory comments online, the epidemic of cyber abuse is in danger of spreading far and wide, as it has started to. One look at the comments below popular YouTube videos is enough to see how hate is contagious on the Internet and that a chain of abuse can begin when people join in or copy what they see others post.

So what’s our role here? We like to follow in the footsteps of others, and similar to children we all have a tendency to shape our behaviours on what we see others do, so it’s very possible that what WE choose to write online could be seen and copied a thousand times over by friends, family or passer-by readers. However, there is also the possibility that others may amplify and take it one step further, and this is why ANY derogatory comment – no matter how seemingly ‘severe’ – encourages cyber abuse and for others to also partake in the abuse.

Understanding the domino effect our posts and comments can have is vital when being on the Internet, and in order to address the issue of online abuse we need to first address our own behaviour on the Internet. Alongside this, we can take responsibility for not only what we say but also what we see; although our timelines and news feeds are filled with posts from other people, it’s important for us to speak up against what we see that isn’t acceptable. There is then the possibility that the dominoes can fall in the other direction – our choices to block or report abusive comments may inspire others to do the same, and if a post is removed because of its abusive content this may support the author to deeper consider what they’re writing in the future.

‘ALL RISE Say No to Cyber Abuse’ is an organisation working to promote responsibility online and inspire changes in society and in law to stop online abuse. You can find out more about their work and how YOU can Say No to Cyber Abuse.


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