By: Shoshy Ciment | Opinions  | 

In the Wake of Parkland, It’s Time to Talk About Cyberbullying

On February 15, one day after the shooting that claimed 17 lives at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, social media lit up around one photo in particular.

The photo, which was tweeted by reporter Alexandra Seltzer, showed Andrew Pollack sitting in a car holding a photo of his then-missing daughter, Meadow Pollack, on his iPhone. Seltzer tweeted, “Here is Andrew Pollack yesterday showing a photo of his daughter Meadow. At that time he was searching for her. Today he said ‘she’s gone.’ #stonemanshooting.”

But the response to this photo wasn’t simply one of condolences and words of comfort. Instead, many people decided to attack Pollack while he was down, sending messages of hate and ill-wishes to a father who had just lost his daughter.

Why? Because he was wearing a shirt that showed his support for President Donald Trump.

But the issue here is deeper than politics. While there may never be a right time to bully someone because of his political views, the day after one of the deadliest shootings in America is certainly unacceptable.

Would these sick people who tweeted things like “one reaps what one sows” been able to say such disgusting and hurtful things to this grieving father’s face if they had the chance? What happens when the screens are removed from this conversation? Does their conviction still hold?

This incident is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to bullying over social media. While many argue that social media is making us dumber, there is a far more nefarious effect. By removing any sense of actual humanity in online interaction, social media is actually making us crueler.

The Cyberbullying Research Center, which offers cyberbullying statistics and methods for coping, reported that about half of young people have experienced cyber bullying at least once in one form, while 10-20 percent experience it regularly. And cyberbullying isn’t just an adolescent problem. On their website, the Cyberbullying Research Center admits to getting more inquiries from adult victims about cyberbullying than they do from teens.

In general, most statistics show an increase in cyberbullying over time. And why should we be surprised? As our world gets increasingly digitized, bullying does as well. It’s easy to fling insults and hurtful words when you can hide behind the comfort of a phone or computer screen without fear of an immediate repercussion. When we view people as profiles and emoticons, we misunderstand the impact that our harmful rhetoric can have.

Of course, social media can unify as well. Images of rallies, memorials, and marches have only been able to be distributed so widely because of online social networks. For some survivors of the Parkland shooting, Twitter has become an indispensable platform for them to connect with supporters and spread messages of hope and resilience.

But the drawbacks are massive and cannot be ignored. When the human-aspect of connection and social interaction is removed, we enter a state of fuzzy rules and undefined boundaries, where death threats and terrible remarks can be uttered without much regret, where people are no more than their profile pictures and twitter handles.

Social media should be bringing people together. But, unless we remember that there are faces behind the screens, it will only continue to do the opposite.