Teenage harassment on social media
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Support for parents whose children are harassed on social media
There is an ever growing number of parents who contact us on behalf of their teenage school children who have been harassed on social media. Many of the victims are boys who are falsely accused of sexual assault and as a result have been socially expelled from society.
Anyone can set up a social media account, where they can pretend to be someone that they are not, and they can get away with providing false information with no form of verification. This situation has lead to failings of online institutions in preventing online abuse against their most marginalised users.
Many parents are worried about the role social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat, play in facilitating online trolls and harassment campaigns, by making it so easy for them to create abusive accounts that cause harm to their young victims.
This is a particular concern to parents who see how their young teens have become so reliant on social media, and technology as a source for information, it how hard it is sometimes for the child to admit the harm that social media may be causing them.
The barriers are so weak when it comes to social media, which has permitted online abuse, and a relentless harasser who is able to constantly create different accounts to accelerate a campaign against their target. It could even be argued that society is learning how to use social media as a weapon rather than for the good, because platforms such as Instagram allow individuals to spy on their targets, through viewing a story, watching a live stream, or giving users the choice to create a public or private profile.
This “choice” for a user to decide as to whether their information should be public or private, could cause doubt that victims decide their own fate because they have decided that anyone can look at their profile. Where a private social media account may be safer, and secure, it does not look as glamorous as a public account, where social media offers more rewards to those who keep their accounts open, for example more likes and attention on a user’s profile.
Therefore, it is often unclear who is to blame here in cases of facilitating online harassment and whether the blame lies with the harassing young user or with the social media platform that permits and facilitates the harassing activities.
It was reported in February this year that a 19-year-old student, Phoebe Jameson, was the victim of an online campaign of harassment. Originally, Phoebe was a bright and bubbly, public character on social media with a large following, promoting body positivity and women empowerment. However, during the lockdown, Phoebe had to block over ten thousand abusive social media accounts on Instagram who were sending her relentless death threats which she had to endure day in and day out. She could not escape the online abuse, which was staring her in the face, merely at the grasp of her phone.
Phoebe was tortured online by a campaign of harassment, to the extent that she ended up in hospital, and she was tormented by the fact that social media do not seem to restrict a user from engaging in such disparaging behaviour online, and that they can hide behind a fake profile.
At the other end of the spectrum, our lawyers are dealing with an increasing number of teenage boys who had been falsely accused on social media of indecent and sexual assaults. In many cases, the false accusations result in the child being segregated and isolated and in death threats being directed at the child and his family.
The police is often at a loss as to who they should be protecting, the girl making the allegations or the boys who denies them and who is being subjected to a dangerous campaign of harassment.
Upon considering the above, we can only become more sceptical over the future of online harassment and social media abuse, especially where our young society are concerned. For example, over 50% of 10-year-olds in the UK own mobile phones, according to an Ofcom statistic from 2019.
Needless to say, a person can only imagine how many of these phones are connected to the internet, therefore further facilitating a child’s exposure to online harm and abuse on social media. The online harassment that children and teenagers experience in society can in some circumstances be highly detrimental to the point that online abuse may cause someone to feel suicidal or worthless.
It is important to acknowledge that anyone can be a victim of a campaign of harassment online. You should never blame yourself if you have become the target of harassment and of false accusation on social media of improper conduct. In such case, you should do everything in your power to create a strong case for yourself and to preserve any evidence.
Too often we have worrisome parents, concerned friends and individuals who are experiencing online abuse, and they do not know what to do. It is common for individuals to think that nothing can be done if the account is fake, when in reality there is something that can be done. We have lawyers at our firm who specialise in tracking down online abusers and we have been able to successfully identify the abusers of our victims before it is too late.
Our lawyers are also accustomed to dealing with worrying parents who become aware that their son had been harassed and falsely accused on social media of inappropriate behaviour towards a female pupil. They often advise concerned parents about the steps they should take to ensure that the police is taking their child’s case of social media harassment seriously, particularly when the allegations have been initiated by a young female pupil at the school and where it is felt that the school is being unhelpful or discriminatory towards their son.