After much (MUCH) deliberation and indecisiveness, I decided to explore the Cyberculture aspect of Cyber Bullying, and more specifically the links to teenage mental health issues and its contribution to teenage suicide rates. Alongside this, as a primary focus, I intend to explore the phenomenon of online “communities” which exist, often as a support network, to young people harbouring mental illnesses.
Being a current issue and an increasing epidemic in the online world, cyberbullying is an issue of the utmost importance to address and introduce measures for prevention. Ideally, my final research report will be able to inform and teach of the details of cyberbullying, and apply my research of relevant case studies, journal articles and primary research to improvements in social media safety, particularly for teenagers in crucial years of the lives. I will discuss and communicate this aspect of cyberculture in its past and present form, as well as looking into the future of the issue. Additionally, an emphasis and focus on how online communities may often worsen the issue will be an important aspect of my research.
It is undeniable that the Internet plays a huge role in the life of a modern teenager, with this technology accessible through countless mediums, and content available with only a couple of clicks or taps. It is a staple in making the transition from a child to a young adolescent in today’s society, particularly with the use of social media, which allows for easy convergence between media technologies and this young audience. An example of a social media platform that has become concerning in terms of its links with teenage mental illness is Tumblr- a blogging platform which is highly anonymous, with a strong sense of community and a flow of uninterrupted creativity. Tumblr nurtures an ominous online community, where teenagers become stuck in a virtual world where mental illness thrives.
Tumblr has always appealed to those looking for a blank canvas; somewhere commercialized, with anonymity and freedom, and this is the attraction Tumblr has inarguably achieved. However, it is this anonymity and lack of monitoring that has fostered an underground network of young people who are finding themselves entangled in a virtual world of despair, where they are taking to hiding behind an ominous URL, and turning to equally as impressionable teenagers for “help”. There are “communities” revolving around eating disorders, depression, self-harm, and teenagers struggling with homosexuality, and transgender identities. The sense of community and belonging is equally as powerful here, as “the bonds that form between self-harm bloggers can reinforce their feelings and behaviour, convincing them that cutting…[is] normal, even healthy” (Dewey, 2013). For many teenagers using Tumblr for reasons of seeking out others who they believe are facing the same issues as themselves, the connections they form on this site are often their only “friends”. In the real world, these primarily female individuals may be isolated and find themselves not fitting in.
Caitlin Dewey, digital culture critic for The Washington Post, declares that Tumblr has a “teen suicide epidemic” (Dewey, 2015) on its hands, and this is not far from the truth. In recent months, “at least three teenagers have committed or attempted suicide after scheduling suicide notes on the blog platform Tumblr” (Dewey, 2015). Their notes have consequentially gone viral, with intentions of “solidarity and support” (Dewey, 2015), however, there are fears that this viral suicide phenomenon presents a romanticised view of suicide to vulnerable teenagers who in fact need to see the opposite. The romanticisation of mental illness via images and words shared through Tumblr encourages a culture of idolising those with scars already on their bodies, and those of have made the ultimate sacrifice and become “immortalised as a romantically tragic soul” (Hartman, 2013). As more and more teens seem to be pushing away professional, medical help in exchange for having their illnesses self-diagnosed and glorified, this culture festers and becomes more widespread with each image that is shared. Naivety is perhaps a factor in this epidemic; it is simple to go from innocent, with a mind untouched by harrowing images of bleeding wrists, to one whose every waking moment is spent scrolling through similar things, using them as inspiration and motivation to embark on a quest of becoming romantically tragic, living an online life that quickly translates into an everyday reality.
The microblogging platform has banned content that “glorifies or promotes self-harm… an ambiguous standard the site is still working to pin down” (Dewey, 2015), which is evident by simply logging into the site and searching various hashtags that can be associated with self-harm and being met with countless amounts of content. Additionally, when these hash-tags are searched, a public-service announcement will first appear, displaying various help lines and contact numbers, before giving the user the option to “Go Back”.
This is a summary of the research I have undertaken so far, and just the tip of iceberg. I have not yet explored additional social media platforms, and have much more industry level research to do to legitimise my research.
Dewey, C. (2013). Self-harm blogs pose problems and opportunities. [Blog] The Washington Post: The Intersect. Available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/self-harm-blogs-pose-problems-and-opportunities/2013/09/09/6f0ce85e-067f-11e3-9259-e2aafe5a5f84_story.html [Accessed 20 March 2017].
Dewey, C. (2015). Inside Tumblr’s teen suicide epidemic. [Blog] The Washington Post: The Intersect. Available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2015/02/24/inside-tumblrs-teen-suicide-epidemic/ [Accessed 20 March 2017].
Fink, M. and Miller, Q. (2013). Trans Media Moments: Tumblr, 2011–2013. Television & New Media, [online] 15(7), pp.612-626. Available at: http://tvn.sagepub.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/content/15/7/611.full.pdf+html [Accessed 16 March 2017].
Gilman, R. (2010). Tumblr: the right combination?. American Agent & Broker, [online] 82(12), pp.20-12. Available at: http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/docview/821697821?pqorigsite=summon&accountid=15112&selectids=10000039,1007139,1000001,1007133,1007884,1007885,1007886,1007887,1007888,1007889,1007883,1007912,1007913,1007914,1007915,1007916,1007917,1007911,1007898,1007899,1007900,1007901,1007902,1007903,1007897 [Accessed 17 March 2017].
Hartman, S. (2013). We Need To Stop Romanticizing Mental Illness. [Blog] Thought Catalog. Available at: http://thoughtcatalog.com/sarah-hartman/2013/12/we-need-to-stop-romanticizing-mental-illness/ [Accessed 20 March 2017].
MIT Technology Review, (2014). The Anatomy of a Forgotten Social Network. [online] Available at: http://www.technologyreview.com/view/525966/the-anatomy-of-a-forgotten-social-network/ [20 March 2017].