This week if you have young people in your life who spend time on Tumblr or other social media sites, please keep an eye on them. Word is going around that anonymous terrorists on Tumblr and other sites plan to aggressively bully young adults who have shared themselves in a vulnerable way on their social media sites.
A young friend of mine is posting warnings to protect her friends from now until after New Year’s that they not use their tags and turn their ask button off within Tumblr. Other young people have shared posts from individuals hiding under “Anonymous” and who actively suggest suicide and other forms of self-harm.
As my young friend shared with me in an email, “many teenagers have been hospitalized and a few have already committed and died.” In particular, young people who identify with “Fandom” or have self-disclosed on their social media they feel suicidal or are cutters are being targeted.
If you are of my generation, you might be tempted to minimize the effort of my young friend as melodramatic teenage behavior. I want to assure you, though, if it was important enough for her to post to her personal page, then this is a real threat to our young people who are looking for personal connections with social media. Many news stories have been written about cyber-bullying.
As a parent or teacher, be vigilant about checking out the social media of your children and students. You can do it surreptitiously so your child doesn’t put up filters to keep you out. If you check the friends list of young people on Facebook, you will see many of them have between 1,000-5,000 friends. This means our young people are friending others as a way to demonstrate popularity, not because they actually know this many people to consider as friends. Facebook has tried to address people who bully people on line with various policies, but has not yet come up with a fool-proof way.
Also, our teens tend to gravitate away from where their parents are congregated and so now are on other sites such as Twitter, Tumblr, Yik Yak, Vine, Instagram and many others. But many still use Facebook. You are not out of bounds as a parent to know where your kids are hanging out. In a real world way, you set boundaries and don’t knowingly allow your kids to go to biker bars, strip joints, or other dangerous neighborhoods. So do the same for your young people in the virtual world.
What’s dangerous about bullying activity is it’s difficult to trace anonymous stalkers to stop them. The Supreme Court currently is considering a case which will have far reaching effects on how our freedom of speech intersects with our right to safety in our society. Our teenagers live and survive in a tenuous place right now. They are exposed to many more grown-up things than what people were 30 or even 20 years ago. Yet they lack the autonomy to protect themselves the way an age recognized adult can.
If you know someone who you sense is struggling right now, please reach out to them. If you don’t know what to do, then call someone who does. The Suicide Prevention Hotline is available to contact if you want to ask on someone’s behalf. They can connect you with your local resources.
And for every hater post out there, you have an opportunity to share your own encouragement. As my young friend said: “kids need all the help they can get and sometimes adults have a bigger impact on them than teenagers so yes, please do” help.