In the last two decades, the internet, designed by a small group of computer scientists looking for a way to share information quickly, has expanded rapidly to become a global autobahn of info available to all comers of the world, but also a nine lane highway wide open to those seeking to abuse with invisibility and no accountability.
It has been said that Cyber Bullying is a national epidemic. Given the speed with which communication is spread is it possible that cyber abuse is reaching more pandemic scale?
Is it too much to compare cyber abuse to poison - made deadly by 'invincible' anonymous entities online? Nameless and faceless, these entities feel untouchable with an injection of false power. Anonymity offers cowards the strength to say online what they are too gutless to say in person.
Nobody appreciates cyber bullying. It is not our natural way. Yet, people are in fear of speaking up and are being bullied into silence daily. Our ability to express freely is exponentially diminishing, forced so by a small minority.
For too long, our society has shrugged off bullying and in particular cyber bullying as a 'rite of passage' telling people to simply 'get over it', or adults are ridiculed with taunts like 'toughen up princess'. These attitudes must change.
Bad behaviors continue when we allow it. When a person is held accountable for his or her actions, their future conducts can change.
This potential for anonymity means that businesses, governments, national security organisations and of course individuals are constantly at risk and with our ever increasing dependence on the internet and smart-phone technology the abuse looks likely to only increase.
As reported in the media, Facebook is adding 'reactions' emoji to its site. The 6 emotions people can post against content are love, haha, wow, yay, angry, sad.
The question we need to ask is why not add: 'abusive' 'you are a bully' 'this is abuse' or similar?
At the other end of the spectrum apparently in the most recent of Apple's iOS software updates, a vertical middle finger emoji has been added.
Now, who needs that? Apple cannot but be fully aware of their young age customer groups - countless children increasingly using iPhones yet this superfluous and exceptionally crude feature gets added. Why?
Coming up with emojis whose sole purpose seem to be to abuse is shocking. Shocking because how many will even batter an eyelid at this? And as we have all seen from the comments threads on newspaper articles, youtube etc, abuse begets abuse.
Whatever happened to open communication and genuine expression?
And where is our collective will to address cyber abuse?
One need not be an intellectual genius to know that anonymity does enable abuse. Absolutely. But the finger must also be pointed firmly and squarely at the lack of accountability. The point being the abusers know they are going to get away with it, hence they thrive in relatively lawless state, where everyone is free to say almost entirely what they please.
We know we can change the structure - introduce real name policies, replace anonymity. But if there is not a concurrent shift to take responsibility for our expression and the impact it has, then nothing changes. It is the call for this shift that has the potential to make difference
Without the shift to responsibility for all our expression, the same old cycle gets repeated - ideas, solutions, notions ...over and over. Different names, same cycle.
Debates that are running about anonymity are smokescreens behind which everyone can maintain the status quo of not taking responsibility. Actually it is worse than that, because a change in law, or a shift in policy can give the illusion of progress thus allowing us to sit on our laurels and further delay the inevitable.
Cyber Abuse is a crime not an opinion.
We have compartmentalised offline and online life as if they are two different things whereas in truth online life is really life too.
True - it is harder to defend oneself against a faceless entity and they usually are far more cruel since face or name omission gives them certain protection otherwise not awarded if one turns up in a supermarket and starts hurling abuse at staff for example.
Try telling the policemen who stops you for speeding that you have no name and stick on a balaclava quickly. Demerit points are awarded to bad drivers but what of unruly cyber users?!
There is no doubt that change in our attitude towards anonymity and cyber abuse including laws would help prevent people from posting calumnies. Anonymity in the hands of an irresponsible, arrogant, self-centered, uncaring person is a very dangerous weapon. Some people lose all restraint online and bask in the control and the attention they receive.
Hence why calling irresponsible internet users to account is not only paramount but it is our moral duty - If one is old enough to access the Internet, he or she is old enough to know the difference between what is humane and that which is not, what harms and what doesn't.
Unless and until our society recognises cyber bullying for what it is - CYBER ABUSE, hundreds of thousands if not millions of human beings continue to hurt. Mostly in silence.
All Rise Say No To Cyber Abuse, a not-for-profit organisation, is running an international film making competition for 10-21yr olds - an opportunity for all young people to stand up and express against Cyber Abuse. Judging panel consists of teachers and some notable people in film industry - actors, actresses, film directors....Please Do encourage youngsters to go enter the competition: http://www.allrisesaynotocyberabuse.com/film-making-competition/