Erin Gallagher and Ciara Pugsley are names we shouldn’t know. We shouldn’t have ever heard of them. They should have been faceless teens, doing generic teen stuff in shopping centres or other public spaces, yelling at their friends, eating huge amounts of jellies, and generally having a good time.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, these two bright, beautiful girls are dead, and the whole country is reeling from it. How could this have happened? What could make these girls think they had no way out?
Cyber bullying, is what.
Sticks and stones
It used to be that when someone was being bullied, a certain amount of it had to happen face to face. Sure, there are always rumours, and teen girls in particular are usually talking about somebody behind their back, but the really, really hurtful stuff; the attacks, the threats, the insults – there used to be a face on the other side of those. Not anymore.
Thanks to the internet, anybody who wants to can say anything they want to you, anonymously, and pretty much 24-7. Nobody is going to stop telling you that you are fat and deserve to die because they have to get the bus home, they can do it online, hundreds of times, at any hour of the day and night. This kind of connectivity is killing people.
At Erin Gallagher’s funeral, Kathleen Lynch, Minister for State with responsibility for mental Health, said cyber bullying was a ‘new phenomenon’. She also said
Like all of these things, it will probably pass and something else will take its place
She couldn’t be more wrong.
Forms of bullying which are this effective will not simply go away, not unless something very drastic is done about it. And let’s not be polite about this, if you want to make someone’s life a living hell, cyber bullying is the way to do it. All you need is an anonymous profile on any one of the hundreds of social networking sites that exist out there, and you’re done. You can tweet abuse at people, ask them offensive questions, post pictures of them on Facebook… the tools we have created in order to connect with one another are wonderful things, but in the wrong hands, they are fatal. That’s not going to pass.
Bullying has been around probably as long as people have, but for the first time ever, it’s started to become impersonal. If I have an issue with somebody, I no longer have to say it to them. I don’t have to say it to anybody. But I can call them anything I want on ask.fm if I want, and it might make me feel better. Now, obviously, I am not going to do that, I am a grownup who deals with my problems in a grown up way. But what about teens?
Put yourself in a 15-year-old’s shoes for a second – saying mean things to someone you don’t like might sound a little more appealing. In fact, I’d bet it does. And, since it’s so easy to type and forget about, it’s also very easy to forget that a real person will open that message, or series of messages, and it will affect them in real life. It’s much easier to type “you should kill yourself” than it is to read it, and these kids just don’t understand that. They need to understand that, or this death toll will rise.
It’s hard to do something about it. It’s hard to know where to start. Kathleen Lynch’s minimising of the problem is not going to help figure it out. Because right now, the people involved in this are listening. Anyone who has ever said a bad thing to someone on the internet has read of these two girls, and is either thinking “Do I do that?”, or “that’s different than when I do it”, but either way, they are listening. And we should be telling them the truth: cyber bullying, even in its mildest forms, is killing people.
Don’t ignore it
You never know what is going to tip somebody over the edge; you never know how many other people have sent your victim a message that night, that week, that year. Thinking this kind of behaviour is innocent, or victimless, has caused the deaths of two girls already. Don’t make it three.
Instead, they are hearing “it will probably pass”. That is not good enough. It will only pass if we force it to go away, if we educate people about the severity of it. No form of bullying has ever gone away, but it is getting better. It will continue getting better, as long as we continue emphasising the real dangers of bullying behaviour, and stamp it out. But as long we assume it will pass, it will continue getting worse. And that means that the tragedy of this situation will have been for nothing. Nobody will have learned from Erin or Ciara. And in my opinion, that’s not something our Minister for Mental Health should be endorsing.
If you’re being bullied online call us and we’ll kick their asses!! OK, no seriously, click here for advice on what to do. The site is childish but the advice is excellent.