There are many things that scare me about parenting. I freely admit that some of the big ones (beyond the general health and safety concerns) are drawn from areas that I struggled with as I travelled the bumpy path to adulthood.
Bullying has always been a big one. I wouldn’t say I was necessarily bullied at school – back then it was just stuff you put up with. Kids are mean and anything that made me stand out from the crowd was noticed. My parents were the first in my primary school class to divorce, I had red hair, I was rounder than some – the list goes on. None of it was stuff that really sent me into any sort of spin. I could handle most of it. I still fight my own demons of body image, but most of that is now in my own head.
As I start becoming more involved with the internet – through writing, commenting and generally participating – I do however notice this beast that is online, awaiting our kids. I don’t know many teenagers (or even older ‘tweens’) who don’t spend a significant amount of time online. I don’t know any teenagers who aren’t connected to the world via their smartphones. It scares me enough the idea of having Facebook to announce get-togethers and breakups to the world, linking a journey that for my generation only went as far as our peer group (aside from the occasional controversy that would form an almost folklore around the neighbouring high school). Back then if we went out and got drunk and stupid at a party, the embarrassment only really lasted until someone else did something stupid and the focus would shift. Now it is forever stored and tagged to us on Facebook, usually in either photographic or video form. The idea gives me the shivers just to think about it.
The scope for bullying and harassment and general embarrassment that lasts and festers in the minds of young people is now enormous.
But, the area that is really striking me at the moment is below the line commenting. With usernames and pseudonyms and a freedom to make a statement without having to necessarily stand by it comes great scope for abuse and personal attacks. As someone rapidly approaching my 40s I am (mostly) in a space to ignore this type of slur. In my 20s I wouldn’t have coped so well. So how did we get to a space where trolling and personal attacks became OK?
Who is responsible to police it?
I read an interesting article in the Financial Times last month, written by John Sunyer – The threat facing online comments. The piece raises some interesting questions, which as someone who puts their own thoughts and opinions out into cyberspace, hit quite close to home.
I must say that the field attracting some of the nastiest comments (that I see) is within the parenting space. Put one mum with an opinion up against a mum with a different opinion and sparks can fly. I would argue that none can enter a slinging match with more venom than two mumma’s with their heckles up, feeling like they’re being judged for their own choices.
Within the article, Sunyer flagged some interesting approaches to moderation. He pointed out that some large online publications are now banning below the line comments altogether. I think that would be a shame, but can completely see how enticing it would be to not spend such a huge amount of time moderating and wrist slapping.
The Huffington Post apparently now require users to validate their sign-ins through their facebook accounts. Although if someone really wanted to set up a false ID, nobody could necessarily stop them, but the call for transparency is there.
For me, the juice of the discussion below the line is great and I wouldn’t want to lose it. I can’t help but wonder how this may change if users were forced to post opinions under their right names.
And, would this aid my children as they take their paths to adulthood? If someone took a swipe at them online without the cloak of anonymity, would it be easier for them to determine the validity of the comment and process?
This is a new world for me and my skin is thickening as I become more experienced but I fear for the impact it can have for someone young and inexperienced, not wearing the weathered coat of someone a bit more battered by time.