Dangers of social networking

The tragic death of two teenage girls earlier this week has re-focused media attention on social network sites like myspace where both girls had online profiles. There’s been lots of talk about the dangers of sites like this bringing together like-minded individuals who might be supported in their alienation and depression by others who feel the same.
The argument I think is that, while traditionally these teenagers would have found little support for these feelings in their immediate communities, the internet and social networks provide a means for anyone to connect, and it’s one that has some validity, for good and bad I suspect.

The AGE yesterday headed up a front page story with Lost in cyberspace: Fears that new networks are breeding grounds for real-life tragedies (AGE 24/4) with this quote from a child psychologist: “Don’t let them disappear behind this emotional firewall called MSN.” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg)

Coincidentally the ABC’s new program Difference of Opinion had four ‘experts’ talking about the changes in communication that the new technologies had enabled for young people who were born into it.

The digital divide was played out right before our eyes with the two ‘oldies’ on the panel nostalgicising about how ‘we used to play outside in the sunshine’ and ‘you shouldn’t be stuck in your room all by yourself for hours’ and the younger ones saying things like ‘we’re not alone in our room; we’re there with all our friends’ and ‘you just don’t get it’. (these are remembered quotes; I didn’t write this stuff down

I’ve been working with a committee of students and teachers at my school on a program we’re calling Online Safety and Ethics, attempting to deepen student knowledge and awareness of online issues like safety from ‘predators’, ‘cyber-bullying’ and ‘identity theft’. Lots of people are. Look at http://del.icio.us/tag/online_safety

Still, looking at the lists and dimensions of the program we’re envisaging, I don’t think anything we’re planning would have prevented a tragedy like this one. These aren’t internet skills that are needed here; it’s counselling, positive reinforcement, communication and hope, wherever it comes from.

So it was interesting to see an AGE article on self-harm among teenage girls today conclude:

Professor McGorry said there was also little evidence to suggest
a link between internet chat rooms and teenage suicide.

“To dry to draw a link between the internet and the risk of
suicide is pretty difficult. Those sites facilitate a lot of good
things where teenagers can share information about each other
… they could even have a protective effect.”

He said there had, in fact, been a decline in youth suicides in
the time that virtual communities such as MySpace had become
popular.

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2 comments

  1. I heard Michael Carr-Gregg speak at the Middle Schooling conference here in Adelaide last year but the more I hear him quoted in the press, the more I suspect that he doesn’t “get” web based technology even though he is sure he’s an expert. The media is keen to play up any negative aspects and like you, I believe that social networking sites can be used for positive and negative outcomes. That effectively makes the tool neutral and the human element is what turns any use of that tool into a negative or positive experience. Teenage angst and isolation is not a new web based phenomenom – what’s worse, feeling totally alone with no-one sympathising with your world view and maybe taking drastic action or maybe connecting with other troubled teenagers and realising that you aren’t the only one with issues?

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