With the rise of the Internet use, our digital society is growing exponentially in volume and with it a slew of social conducts and behaviours.
Mocking, humiliation, hurtful teasing, name-calling, harassment, threats to harm, racist, sexist or misogynist comments, insults, sharing private information including photos and videos, spreading lies... is all hurtful no matter what.
Yet, in our online garden, teasing is considered part of the entertainment. You see, when children tease each other ferociously we call that bullying, yet when adults do it it's called banter, sarcasm, irony, witticisms, satire and ultimately even 'freedom of speech'.
We have become much more relaxed in our online social interactions indeed, so much so that where there was once a greater level of respect that no longer seems to be the case.
What the Internet has allowed is an acceptability of behaviour that a) may have been unacceptable not that long ago and b) not acceptable offline
What we can witness on social media in general and in the often no holds barred online environment are examples of chain reactions of hate. It only takes a spark to start a wild bush fire of rampaging hate. It can begin with one hate comment on a status or post and it's like fertile ground for flies when they sense fresh faeces on a hot summer's day attracting trolls who thrive on abusing people and so we end up with a tsunami of hate going viral within moments.
This is a vicious cycle that needs to be broken, for if we don't we are already reaching an impasse that threatens to plunge us deeper into the dark vaults of Internet and with that into greater destruction, something we absolutely must look now.
The challenge we have as a society is to get adult users to understand that cyberspace is real.
In conversations with young people they seem to have nailed that part and see no dividing line between offline-online world. To them, it is one and the same. It is real. Because when insults are hurled across online, they affect real people with real feelings, real families, people who hold real jobs and sometimes the end result can be very tragic and tangible - in other words very REAL. Nothing virtual about human beings being abused whether the abuser is visible to the eye or not.
Currently we are witnessing a massive lack of responsibility for the kind of comments online; 'go and kill yourself', 'I'll come and rape you', threats to family members etc etc. Some Internet trolls have made it their full time 'job' and run wild combing through online newsfeeds and timelines of people who simply exercise their freedom to express, dropping unfettered insults with no care or consideration for the repercussions that follow.
We all went along with the original ideal of the Internet to be a space for unregulated democracy encouraging interchange, without any concern for the consequences this might result in. Hence, what we ended up creating is real abuse on this virtual platform where trolls get thrills by upsetting people, with barely (if any) consequences to themselves.
Once upon a time schoolyards were mainly the hunting grounds for bullies. Today, it hardly takes any muscle - just an index finger suffices - to throw a serious blow and inflict significant, often irreparable damage.
The Internet, which should be used to bring us together as a people, now seems to be a platform of hatred where we tear each other down; confidential information ends up circling the globe, a relationship break-up can trigger detrimental retaliation, false accusations become part of someone's online identity hindering their reputations, relationships and job prospects as well as having adverse effect on one's health and well being for life.
Following yet another horrendous shooting on a mass scale in a school in America, CNN news spoke with people who were for and against tougher gun controls. A former senator was interviewed and he put it very simply and eloquently...to paraphrase...'all big changes come from people, not their governments'.
It is important that we understand it is down to us all to arrest the ill that is cyber abuse and cyber hate.
We do know when we are hurting others because it's simple - we can feel it, even when they don't tell us (which often they do). Therefore, it is for us all to rise, declare and not allow all these unnatural behaviours - dishonour, hate, obnoxiousness, wickedness, racism, sexism, abuse... It is only when we cease to remain passive observers, aka 'bystanders' to abuse and instead become active and loud voices when we witness ANY level of abuse, that we'd be able to reveal and implement answers to our cyber woes.
It is time we arise our true nature; compassion, love and brotherhood - for if we do not, it's very simple.... the situation will get much, much worse.
ALL RISE Say NO to Cyber Abuse, a not-for profit organisation, is running its 2nd film making competition for 10-21 year olds. This year's theme is RESPECT NOT HATE ONLINE OR OFFLINE. A great opportunity for young people to stand up and express against abuse. Winners to be announced and screened on Safer Internet Day, Tuesday 7th February 2017. Please visit their website to view winning films http://www.allrisesaynotocyberabuse.com