News Sinead Moriarty

Saturday 20 September 2014

Forget nosy neighbours, it's the cyber world that none of us can hide from now

Published 10/06/2014 | 02:30

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People's attention is being absorbed by hand-held devices.

One of the many problems with social media is the 'you can never take it back' aspect. What teenagers and indeed adults need to remember is, once you've posted something it is not possible to take it back.

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Sure, you can go in and delete it, but by then it will have been seen by lots of people and quite possibly tagged or re-tweeted. The problem with teenagers is that they rarely stop to think, and more often than not, say exactly what's on their mind, unaware of the potential repercussions.

Social networking sites are not all evil, they have a positive side in that they help people across the world to keep in touch with friends and family and to create new friendships.

But they have also contributed to a new kind of bullying: cyber-bullying. Young people know it; schools know it; and the Government knows it. Research conducted by the Department of Education and Skills found that 79pc of teachers in Ireland were aware of cyber-bullying, in particular homophobic bullying in their schools.

The good news is that the Department of Communications has prepared a paper to bring the issue into the mainstream curriculum with 'anti-cyber bullying lessons' to become a core element of the school curriculum.

These lessons will be most welcome, if a little overdue. With increasing numbers of young people so traumatised by online bullying that they are taking their own lives, we need to get a much firmer handle on this area of social media. Stringent sentencing for those who bully would be helpful, too.

But it's not just teenagers who are finding social media difficult to manage. Adults are also struggling. In a society obsessed with instant feedback and over-sharing it's alarmingly easy to humiliate or hurt someone with the simple press of a button or click of a mouse.

If a couple has an argument, one of them can so easily put up an embarrassing photo or piece of private information about the other in a fit of rage.

Obviously if the couple end up breaking up, things can get very dirty. Social media can be used as an effective revenge tool. Revenge porn, where a person uploads sexually explicit material of their ex-partner on to the internet without their permission, is being used with increasing regularity.

One of the most talked about cases of revenge porn was Holly Jacobs, a Florida-based PhD student. A month after a relationship had ended (on amicable terms) her ex posted pictures of her naked online. These promptly went viral. After changing her name, being forced out of her job, and suffering the horrendous stress of thousands of strangers seeing her naked, Jacobs eventually stopped trying to chase down the photos, which experts said could have spread to as many as 100,000 sites.

It's no wonder then that couples are becoming so paranoid about the dangers of social media that an increasing number are now including social media clauses in their 'pre-nup' marriage contracts. The 'social media pre-nup' contract stipulates that couples cannot share incriminating or embarrassing photos or posts about one another. If they do, they could end up paying up to $50,000 (€37,000) for a tweet.

The legal arrangements of the social media pre-nup allow couples to lay down boundaries for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media networks. It may sound extreme, but it would certainly help to protect you. Some couples who break up use social media to shame, embarrass and hurt each other. Leaked sex tapes, nude photos, personal financial information, claims of bad parenting ... all of these are being posted online by angry exes.

The advent of social media has carved a huge dent into our private lives. Even if you choose not to engage in it, your photo will probably appear on a friend's Facebook page.

Just as your children can't hide from it, nor can you. So it is up to all of us to learn how to live with it, manage it and protect ourselves from it in so far as we can.

Hopefully a more educated and informed youth will soon help us achieve some kind of protection of our own image and information.

People need to be held responsible for abusive online behaviour – this applies to trolls, cyber-bullies and other manner of online harassment. We used to worry about nosy neighbours peeping over the fence, now we have to worry about the whole cyber-world knowing our business.

Sinead Moriarty

Irish Independent

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