While social media sites may not be legally liable for cyber-bullying that occurs on their networks, they are still responsible for it, according to British Prime Minister David Cameron, who urged parents and teenagers to boycott social media sites that allow bullying to go unchecked.
British newspapers quoted Cameron as saying: “There’s something all of us can do as parents and as users of the Internet and that is not to use some of these vile sites. Boycott them, don’t go there, don’t join them.” He added: “The people who operate these Web sites have got to step up to the plate and show some responsibility in the way that they run these Web sites.
Cameron’s remarks were prompted by the death of 14-year-old Hannah Smith, who committed suicide after being bullied on the site ask.fm, one of a number of Web sites that allow users to ask and answer questions anonymously. The story of Smith’s suicide has gripped the British public, with tabloids and TV news putting the blame squarely on social media. Similar sites have been linked to a number of teen suicides in the U.S.
The PM’s recommendation seems to reflect a general feeling among adults in Britain (and the U.S.) that, in some areas at least, social media is getting out of control and needs to be brought to book. While these sentiments are certainly understandable, I have to express skepticism about a strategy that relies on asking teenagers to simply forgo using social media sites, which after all aren’t solely dedicated to bullying and abuse; needless to say, teens are justly famous for disregarding parental wishes.
That said, I’m at a loss for a solution to this problem, aside from the predictable responses of more anti-bullying campaigns and educational efforts. Ideally, parents, educators and peers could foster greater self-confidence and help teens realize how pointless and self-destructive it is to submit to online abuse -- and that the pathetic individuals who engage in bullying only have power when you grant it to them by engaging them on their level. Of course all this is much easier said than done.