Is Twitter to blame for cyber bullying?
On Saturday, I received a call from my friend Samantha, that her former colleague had just committed suicide. She was in shock and needed to take stock - and rightfully so.
Charlotte Dawson's name only became known to me through the media about "trolls" bullying her on Twitter. At the time, the media was reasonably supportive of her plight, but columnists and bloggers including myself were on the fence. If you took time to read the dialogue well before it became public you may have an opinion that some of the things that she had openly said about other people were not so nice either, and as an adult, some of the insults that flew back to the "cyber bullies" were something that you would be horrified about in a school yard.
Now, that doesn't mean that cyber bullying is acceptable - as it is not. I too have been prone to have a few trolls pass both of my Twitter accounts which combine amount to 41,000 followers, on some topics that I have chosen to write about on this blog, namely the one on how women can help their man be more successful. Apparently, I am stuck in the 50's but the trolls took it a little bit further and threw a few distasteful words my way. I politely replied to some (not all) with "Thank you so much for sharing your opinion. I respect everyone's point of view and perspectives." It stopped within 24 hours, only after my website had more than 100,000 visitors.
Charlotte's death is sad. Here you have a person who is clearly loved by family and friends, who has chosen to take her own life. I don't believe one can blame Twitter for her death as some papers choose to do, but look at the deeper issue here - depression and/or bipolar disorder. Charlotte Dawson was an Australian Television Personality, aged 47 years, who had a high profile position on Australia's Next Top Model as a judge.
At 47, while she had lots of friends, her income didn't match her lifestyle, living in a $1,200 per week apartment on Woolloomooloo Wharf, with no real secure paying job, and her looks diminishing possibly not through age, but over-use of botox and fillers. She didn't have a boyfriend and given that fame and celebrity was a career choice, only seemed to be in the media in the past few years to talk about bullying on Twitter and being dateless in her 40's. No doubt, she had so much to offer than that to the world and more talent than she was ever able to be given credit for.
"People who attempt suicide don't want to die - they want to be free of pain," according to a blogger Natasha Tracy.
Last year, my best friend since childhood's partner committed suicide, riddled in debt, and not sure of what his career direction was going to be to give him the lifestyle he wanted. He loved her passionately, and it didn't appear that he had any type of depression or mental illness, yet he chose to leave behind two teenage daughters and someone he loved. I remember thinking to myself, if he had not been in debt and had a job he loved doing, maybe this would not have happened. No-one will ever know.
When you hear stories like this, and you read in the media that "Twitter is to blame", I wonder if on the topic of debt, that so are the Big Banks and the Taxation department. Are they key players in pushing people over the edge, causing divorce, or worse, death.
I feel for Charlotte Dawson and for her family and friends. While I don't think from the out-set that Twitter is to blame, depression certainly is and what triggers it in individuals is such a shame. When you have friends who go through this, the best thing you can do is be there and help them find someone who they can talk to independently, qualified to work them through the issues.
What to do if you think your friend has suicidal thoughts:
Trust your instincts that the person may be in trouble.
Talk with the person about your concerns. Communication needs to include LISTENING.
Ask direct questions without being judgmental. Determine if the person has a specific plan to carry out the suicide. The more detailed the plan, the greater the risk.
Get professional help, even if the person resists.
Do not leave the person alone.
Do not swear to secrecy.
Do not act shocked or judgmental.
Do not counsel the person yourself.
Contrary to what you may read in headlines over the past few days, Twitter is not to blame and in fact, is a source to help identify people at threat and can act as an early warning system. It is a real-time monitor, validating actual suicide data with real-time at-risk data. People are realizing that with social media, that it is not a unique, different new world, but it's a reflection of the real world. On social media, people are talking about they feelings and thoughts, and attitudes and relationships - and all things social. With Twitter, we look at literally millions of people around the globe using high tech tools and its going to transform the way scientists and medical practitioners research.
A study in 2013 shows talk of suicide on Twitter reflects real suicide rates. It found that 37,717 troubling tweets that mentioned suicide and bullying. Deaths like Hannah Smith have brought cyber bulling to public attention, with a positive effect. In Australia, Facebook, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft have all signed an Australian Government complaint handling program designed to remove hateful material from social media sites. Twitter has not as yet, but I am sure they will follow and improve their standing on this topic.
As a community, we all can do more, but it is as family and friends that we play the real role. If social media is getting the most of someone, then switch it off. It is that simple. There is no need to be on Twitter if you are feeling down or suffer from a mental illness. Read a book, watch a good movie, spend time with loved one's and most importantly, feel like you can talk to someone who is experienced in helping people just like you.
#RIP Charlotte Dawson. I hope you have found peace and now know how much your family and friends loved and respected you.