Warning: Social media can destroy lives

A couple of stories in the last couple of days caught my attention, the first was that of Paris Brown, a 17 year old English girl who caused a bit of a stir, first, pleasantly for having been the appointed the fairly high profile newly created roll of “youth police and crime commissioner”, paying £15,000 P/A, . A few days later, police were investigating her for some tweets and posts on other social media a few years earlier for being racist and homophobic, it also came to light that she’d talked about her sex life, drink and drugs. Of course she was left with no option but to resign.

rehtaeh parsonsThe second story is tragic beyond belief, and is that of 17 year old Rehtaeh Parsons, who survived having been gang raped by 4 boys 18 months ago at a house party, had requests to police to take action over the allegations pretty much ignored, bullying at her then school, then after moving schools, finally settled down some and started going forward. But then one of the rapists finished her off last week by posting pictures taken during the rape to her whole peer group. She locked herself in a bath room, and sadly hung herself.

I think it would be natural for us to think Paris Brown had it coming, she brought it on herself, and she’s now lost the chance of a lifetime for a young lady to launch into a political career. But really those choices she made as a 14 year old were those of a child. While kids will be kids, and their behavior at that time is another issue, don’t we all want our kids to “do the right thing”, the fact is they don’t, and even worse they will brag about things they haven’t done online, same as in the playground.

With the case of Rehtaeh, the police currently are refusing to take any action; again, even though it would seem obvious that posting images of a 15 year old being raped would in itself be a crime, the police claim not to have adequate evidence. Morally I would suggest that the boy who posted these images has a responsibility for her death. And I would want to see the police firstly to use all resources available to secure convictions and secondly to hold an internal investigation to see how they let Rehtaeh’s life slip through their fingers and how they can avoid this ever happening again.

Maybe changes in the law are needed, that they are not well enough defined, a post on Facebook can be just as hurtful to a 12 year old as being beaten up in the toilet. And even worse, what’s posted on social media is not only there for life, you don’t know even if you message something privately that that won’t be made public by the recipient.

I would suggest that parents are losing the ability to control what our kids are doing online, they can get Facebook and Twitter on any internet connected device now, cell phones, PlayStations, and even our TV has its own internet browser. While we can’t control what they do, we can make sure we have a Facebook account that has them listed as a friend, and subscribe to their Twitter feed; at least we will know what’s going on in their world, and when we need to step in. While we can’t stop them going to that house party, as all their friends are going, we can warn them, that your potential employer in 10 years might not be so impressed. Of course how the parents of the boy that posted those pictures can live with themselves, I don’t know.

You may like to join me in signing this petition to Demand an independent inquiry into the police investigation.

I did find some useful films to help drive the message home on the PrivacyComm YouTube feed, this one below I particularly liked and showed this one below to my 11 year old.

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