Online reality

By Jenn Watt

Published Dec. 13 2016

Sometimes it feels as though the fast-forward button got stuck on our world. News events move at lightning speed. The scandal of yesterday has to move over for the obsession of today which will be nearly forgotten tomorrow.

Twenty-four hour news channels bear a part of the blame but more than that our social media – Twitter Facebook Snapchat Instagram – play an even more insidious role. Advertised as a way to connect “socially” these platforms seem to be doing more harm than good. They allow people to make snap judgments to communicate their most base emotions immediately and with little time for reflection. And responses are just as rapid. We’re all watching warily as the United States reaps the results of fake news in their presidential election with a tweeter-in-chief who spends more time on this cellphone than in security briefings.

Social media isn’t just an issue on the international or national stage but it’s also an issue here. Last week the school board locked every school from Lindsay to Muskoka after a “generalized threat” was tweeted to them. We’re not privy to the threat itself but we now know that it came from a 16-year-old boy from Gravenhurst. He’s been charged with mischief and uttering threats.
Now the threat could have just as easily come by letter email or phone. Twitter the platform is not responsible for that. But this most recent incident seems to follow the pattern of larger issues with the Internet and the way we use it.
A tool that can be a window to the world can also give rise to bullying and abuse. And we’re just now coming to terms with this shift. According to PREVnet a coalition of researchers and child advocacy organizations one in three kids say that they have been cyberbullied. The top reasons the students say cyberbullying happens is how instantaneous the medium is the powerful feeling it gives and the ability to remain anonymous.
And as we saw last week things can get out of hand very quickly. Every single school in the board was locked to visitors and no one was allowed to leave. That’s a big deal.
It’s frightening that in 140 characters someone can cause that much concern for the safety and wellbeing of children.

But what can we do about it?
The tech companies play a role and they have begun addressing some of the issues – Facebook is attempting to slow the spread of misinformation Twitter is cracking down on neo-Nazis and other hate-mongers even Gmail is providing a delay on emails where you have a small amount of time to halt the message before it sends.
We also know our education system teaches online literacy and anti-bullying.
But it’s not yet enough. Just as we need to teach our kids to be kind and remind ourselves to bite our tongues when the temptation to overreact arises we must take the online world just as seriously.
There are people and consequences on the receiving end of each email post and tweet. We need to remember that.