#Suicide, #cyberbullying, and #socialmedia: Kik, Ask.fm, and other fringe social media sites.

Before this week, like me, you probably didn’t even know Ask.fm, or its relationship with several youth suicides, including one in Florida this week (more on that in a moment)…The question before #SPSM chat this week is how do we contribute to a suicide-safer social media-verse in fringe media venues popular among people most at risk?

This week a 12 yr. old Florida girl suicided after 2 years of bullying that happened at school, and on social media.

Her mother, who had been aware of what was happening, had complained to the school, shut down her Facebook account, and even started this girl at a new school this year. The bullying was likely due to rivalry between girls about a boy they were interested in.

Following this girl’s death, the police investigated harassment that continued on social media platforms such as Instagram, Kik, and Ask.Fm. Most adult professionals will recognize Instagram. However, social media platforms such as Kik or Ask.fm are specifically appealing to young men and women who have digital devices without necessarily having access to large monthly blocks of texting and data…and which are much less regulated and “policed” by adults. Read the following about Ask.fm, as posted on wikipedia:

“In 2012/13, the site was involved in several cases in which cyberbullying on it had led to suicide.[7] The site has courted controversy by not having workable reporting, tracking or parental control processes, which have become the norm on other social media websites.

“However, the site later responded to the allegations by stating that they do have a reporting feature and employ a number of moderators to fight cyberbullying. Accordingly, the site has a “sexually explicit comment” monitor staffed by moderators; however, the comments are never deleted, even for explicit threats. This is a major cause of criticism.[8]

“The site also provides users with safety tips giving users basic pointers about being smart and responsible on Ask.fm.[9]

“On 15 July 2013, Daniel Perry, a 15-year old from Fife in Scotland killed himself by jumping off the Forth Road Bridge inEdinburgh.[10] This was due to being repeatedly bullied and blackmailed on Ask.fm.

“On 6 August 2013, it was reported that Hannah Smith, a 14-year-old girl from Leicestershire, England, had committed suicide, and that her father blamed her death on bullying responses she had received on the site. He called for tighter controls against social networking sites like Ask.fm, saying that he had seen the abuse his daughter had received and it was wrong that it was anonymous.[11][12] The Smith family calls were echoed by the parents of GoosnarghLancashire teenager Joshua Unsworth, who was reported to have been cyberbullied on the site prior to his suicide.[13] The company responded by stating it was, “happy to help police,”[14] and later reported that an analysis had shown that 98% of the abusive messages came from the same IP address as that of the computer Smith herself had used.[15]

“Following the suicide of Hannah Smith, British Prime Minister David Cameron called for a boycott of websites shunning the responsibility for dealing with cyberbullying on their sites.[16] Several advertisers responded by severing links with the site, including (amongst others) Save the Children,[17] eBay and BT.[18] Vodafone had already stopped advertising on the site.[17 “

This suggests several interesting things. 1) Social media does not cause bullying, but it does have the potential for amplifying and/or hiding it from responsible adults; 2) There is a strong movement among mainstream social media platforms to create access to resources for identifying bullying and self-harm, blocking harmful content, and getting resources to people in need; 3) There may always be social media platforms, on the “fringe” that appeal to younger users because these platforms are unregulated, less expensive to use, and more “supervision-free” than mainstream platforms; 4) Public and legal opinion is increasingly placing a degree of responsibility on the people that develop and maintain social media platforms to provide basic safety features to protect users; 5) Youth who bully using social media will leave evidence of their mistreatment of peers in a way that will hold them accountable like never before…And as a society we aren’t sure what to do about that. 6) The mental health community has provided very little research and guidance about the intersection of social media, bullying, and suicide.

The purpose of #spsm chat it to generate rapid, expert thought and response to these very kinds of situations. We’ll be asking YOUR opinion tonight on Twitter, 9pm CST, hashtag #spsm.

The Tweets for this chat will be archived on Storify.

About spsmchat

weekly twitter chat and sometimes blog and video blog dedicated to the latest information about suicide prevention and social media (SPSM)
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