In October of 2012, a Canadian girl by the name of Amanda Todd had a video of hers go viral on the video-sharing site, YouTube. As many people started to watch the video, they expected something along the lines of a new dance move to tryout or a new video of a cat playing a piano. But what made this particular video so unique was the content and how a 9 minute video opened up a massive can of worms in regards to a very taboo topic in the mass media that is a growing concern – the issue of Cyber-Bullying.
Amanda Todd committed suicide on the 10th of October 2012, just a month after the video linked above was originally posted. The video tells her story of how compromising photos of her were circulated throughout the internet and followed her from school to school all from behind a computer monitor. This tragedy received mass media coverage worldwide as it was yet another in a long line of teen suicides resulting from cyber-bullying.
It has to be a totally different experience then a generation ago when these hurts and humiliation are now witnessed by a far larger, online adolescent audience.
John Halligan, ‘Ryan’s Story Presentation’
Cyber-bullying is by no means a recent concept, with one only having to look at the 2003 suicide of Ryan Halligan to see that this issue has been something mostly ignored by the mass media for well over a decade. In that incident, Ryan was bullied online through Instant Messengers and false rumors that spread in relation to his sexual orientation. The use of social media has done nothing but increase one’s vulnerability to this form of harassment, and due to the increasing push towards online anonymity, this issue has done nothing but gotten larger in the last 12 months, due in part to the controversy of GamerGate.
GamerGate was a major controversy involving both the gaming and journalism industry in late 2014. The brunt of the controversy was surrounding the alleged inherent sexism and misogyny in gaming and internet culture in general. Women involved such as Zoe Quinn (Developer of Indie Game Depression Quest) and feminist Anita Sarkessian were subjected to death threats, threats of sexual assault and doxing (The practice of broadcasting private information such as addresses, phone numbers and the like online) through several platforms of social media, not least limited to 4chan, Reddit and Twitter.
Some media was quick to use GamerGate as a way of stereotyping all gamers as ‘immature’ although many more were wanting to argue that much like any industry, the people involved in GamerGate was a very small part of a wider audience. However, this still leaves the wider question fairly unanswered. What are we doing to protect ourselves and the things we hold dear?
The lessons of Gamergate are clear: a hostile and aggressive social justice movement is actively looking for vulnerable targets far outside their usual hunting grounds. Sharing a common political outlook is no protection. Once you become a target, the debate will become an exercise in character assassination.
Nathaniel Givens, ‘Gamergate at the beginning of 2015‘
Many jurisdictions are looking to put in laws that restrict the potential of cyber-bullying, with the current US federal cyber-stalking law currently having the same criminal offence and penalties as stalking off the screen. However, many more jurisdictions are starting to use online activity to hunt down individuals who are perpetrating the bullying and ensuring that justice can be put in place. This can be clear from the 2014 arrest of a 35 year old Dutch man linked to the Amanda Todd case and the possession and circulation of the photos that eventually led to Todd’s suicide 2 years earlier.
Cyber-bullying is a growing issue as more and more of us migrate to an online presence, but not enough is being said or done in the mass media to promote a change, and with controversies like GamerGate becoming more widespread, the question beckons as to how much longer we can all go on before something must be done.