All you’re ever gonna be is mean…

The question, “Why are some people so comfortable with being mean on the internet?” has a simple answer.

Some people are just really unhappy in life and take pleasure in spreading the unhappiness virus in whatever way they can.

Obviously, these people are not displaying appropriate digital citizenship, a critical key to developing a healthy and professional online identity. These people are also not thinking about the far-reaching and undeniably horrible connotations of their actions, and might be shocked to learn just how devastating their unkind words can be.

The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has seen a sharp increase in suicides among their youth in the past few months, a statistic that is unnerving and horrible in itself. However, if we take a closer look at the reason behind this sudden rise in suicide rates, we might just swear off the internet forever.

The short answer for the rise in suicide rates? Boys.

The complex answer? Lies that the internet propagates.

All of the information in this paragraph is second-hand knowledge gleaned from a friend of a friend, but from what I’ve heard, these suicides started not long after the reservation youth discovered the internet sensation Slenderman (a fictional monster that steals children, and do not click on that link if you’re easily terrified). For some reason, these young teens decided that they wanted to become disciples of Slenderman, and somehow deduced that the only way they could do this was if a certain number of boys and girls committed suicide. So began the cyber-bullying, mostly (as I have heard) about boys, and since mid-December, five girls have taken their lives. I’m sure the creator of Slenderman did not have the intention for this to happen when he or she concocted the story, but this just goes to show how powerful, and how dangerous, words on the internet can actually be.

This brings in my digital citizenship research for the week. Most of the information I looked at warned of the perils of surfing the web, and how teachers and parents need to set guidelines for and monitor their student’s and children’s online activity.As a future teacher, I am torn over how to treat the internet. The internet is a wonderful resource, and I wouldn’t know half of the information that I know if it wasn’t for this world wide data base. On the other hand, half of the information I’ve learned on the internet is disturbing, and stuff I’d rather not know. In addition, Stephanie Rosenbloom has studied how the internet, and internet trolls, affect our brains, and has found that the negative feedback we receive from our online critics weighs more heavily upon our minds than the positive. For most people, it’s far too easy to let the negatives consume them.

However, to counter the wave of negativity and unfair criticism that the internet usually provides, a revolution of kindness has developed on the world wide web. George Couros, a Canadian principal, shares his experiences of the overwhelming support and love from his online community, and how this extensive support system can encourage kids in school. This positive view of the internet is what I want to develop in my future classroom, and I hope that I can help my students avoid the trolls and focus on those people with a genuine interest in helping them.

So, while internet haters will always exist,  we can try to avoid the negatives, focus on those people that give us positive and supportive feedback, and when we do receive online hate, we can provide kindness and empathy to these trolls, as they are probably extremely unhappy in their own lives.

Taylor Swift’s message to all those online haters out there. Girrrrl power. (Video from YouTube)

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6 thoughts on “All you’re ever gonna be is mean…

  1. I loved reading your blog. I do not think that people realize the impact they have on people when they interact over the internet. Some people may not think it is such a problem but it reality someone can take something the wrong way and be a victim of bullying which could ultimately lead to something worse. I loved this assignment this week. This is something my family has been dealing with, with my brother and his friends. I hope more people shine light on these things.

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  2. I had no idea about the tragedies that are going on at Pine Ridge. This is so sad. I think that you are correct in saying that people who cyberbully are just spreading what is going on in their own life. I also like how you honestly address the use of the internet in school. There are repercussions to reading false information and negative messages. We want kids to utilize technology responsibly, but we also want to do it in a way that does not harm them. Now to find a way to reconcile the two…

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    • I think the tragedies at Pine Ridge aren’t publicized well enough, and I think the reasons behind them aren’t publicized at all. Most people know that words on the internet can hurt, but I don’t think people realize how far reaching and horrible they actually are!

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  3. There are so many cases of cyberbullying leading to suicide. I think it could be very powerful to share some of these stories with our students and discuss. It’s challenging to know what to do about the mean and disturbing behaviors even adults display online when they feel anonymous and powerful, but I think mostly what we do now in schools is ignore the problem and assume that someone else (parents, maybe?) should process with kids. All too often what ends up happening is that schools simply firewall every site and think their responsibility to teach digital citizenship is done. But as your examples point out, we need to think more deeply about this issue and find other ways to help kids be safe and kind online.

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