WARNING: Post may cause anxiety.

For as long as the media has existed, there have been subsequent concerns and debates on its effects. The increasing use of social media is only increasing these uncertainties.

It isn’t news to anyone that social media is everywhere. Whether logged into an office desktop, home laptop, family tablet or mobile phone, media now is incessantly in our clutches. Social media plugs us into a database filled with friends, family and strangers all over the world who we can contact and who can consequently contact us, both with, and without, our consent.

texting

photo credit: Snipview

Lengthy research into the media and its effects has birthed a term known as the ‘Media Effects Theory’ which refers to the theories about the ways in which mass media and media culture affect how their audiences think and behave. However Professor of the Media Research Institute at the University of Winchester, David Gauntlet, states in his article 10 Things Wrong with the Media ‘Effects’ Model that he believes that a lack of clear answers on the medias effects can only mean one of two things – either after 60 years of extensive research there is nothing to be found, or, consistently the wrong approach into research has been taken.

Gauntlet believes that “the effect model tackles the problem backwards” trying to explain an issue such as anti social behavior starting with social media as opposed to first referring to a persons identity, background or character. Furthermore “the effects model is based on artificial studies”, expensive to undertake, the research often taking place in a laboratory or a classroom with a conspicuous research who instigates certain activities, neither of which are natural environments. Together these two frequently made mistakes illustrate just how murky research into media effects often is. So if media research is often inaccurate, do we have anything to worry about?

Enter cyberbullying (using technology to repeatedly bully someone) – an issue that has arisen as a consequence of the media. This harassment, aimed to embarrass, intimidate and hurt others, no longer terminates at the end of a work or schooling day. The media is a constantly available source of information where we are able to anonymously seek answers, have opinions and give feedback on issues which we views as important. However this also gives people the ability to do other things anonymously such as bully and harass or stalk people without without necessarily being held accountable.

When I pitched to a friend my worries of cyberbulling, stressing that we can so easily be be followed by bullies into our homes through social media, she countered why not just turn it off? And sure, why not put your phone down, shut down your laptop? Problem solved right? On many accounts this might just help solve these worries. However just as many times these bullies stretch over a various platforms and/or create groups on social media, inviting people to continue this act of bullying.

In my opinion cyberbullying has become one of the more important anxieties in the media. It has become a concentration in schools from Kindergarten through to Year 12, teaching students about the consequences of cyberbullying, for both bully and the victim, how to identify an online bully and methods that may help in dealing with this issue. But this isn’t just a focus in schools.

photo credit: Sites.Duke

Cyberbullying and the fears of its effects are often discussed in media itself. More recently this focus has been on the bill passed in parliament to instate a e-Safety Commissioner. A step in the right directions, the e-Safety Commissioner will be charged with a list of roles including:

– Removing material that is viewed as harmful for children from large social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

– Working towards better options for smartphones and other devices with internet access to assist parents in protecting children from harmful content;

– Creating an accessible platform where parents can view guidelines about the appropriateness of media content;

– Establishing research fund which investigates the effects of internet use on children and support services can be provided online and ways to moderate children’s online risks

– Establishing funding for online safety education to be delivered in schools

For more information on the e-Safety Commissioners roles see: Enhancing Online Safety for Children

This decision to create a position, in which an appointed member can monitor and reprimand those who use social media in the wrong way, is an indicator in itself that cyberbullying is growing issue and is viewed as increasingly important.

It is the expectation that this step will indeed make the move towards the ending cyberbullying and I agree that it is a start. However, for the moment, this role is to be tackled by a singular person, and I struggle to believe that this individual will be able to fully meet the demands when faced with cyberbullying throughout Australia. It is my hope that the Australian government will recognise this and consider a larger team of experts. Subsequently the e-Safety Commissioner will only be responsible for people under 18 years of age, which leads me to ask the question: can’t bullying effect everyone equally regardless of age?

Last week Triple J’s Hack program discussed many of the issues surrounding cyberbullying and the impact people believe an e-Safety Commissioner may make in the media:

References:

10 Things Wrong with the Media ‘Effects’ Model

David Gauntlet: Biography

– Cybersmart: How to Deal with Cyberbullying

Communications: Online Safety for Children