In a statement released to the media, the social media site who many believe is indirectly responsible for the teenager’s death, said Hannah Smith had sent 98 per cent of the abusive messages she received on Ask.fm to herself.
While other news outlets reported it as a statement made by Ask.fm in a press release, the article by freelance writer Nina Funell, reported the statement as fact.
In the article published by on Fairfax news sites, Ms Funell wrote: “In an inquiry into the matter, Ask.fm has uncovered that 98 per cent of the abusive messages sent to Hannah came from the same IP address as her own computer. Only four of the abusive comments came from other IP addresses.”
Firstly, there was no ‘inquiry’ it was an ‘internal’ investigation by Ask.fm who haven’t provided the media with any proof to back up their claim that the teenager was sending abusive messages to herself.
Secondly, you don’t have to be a genius to realise that Ask.fm released the statement to the media in an attempt to deflect blame from themselves and they did this in the most appalling way possible, by blaming the 14 year old victim.
But let’s say for argument’s sake that the allegations made by Ask.fm were true. Isn’t it then a stretch to say that teenagers posting abusive messages to themselves on social media is a “phenomenon”? Nina Funell doesn’t think so.
In her article Ms Funell quoted the results of a small survey of 617 American college students conducted by Elizabeth Englander from the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Centre. However, the same study that found up to 10 per cent of first-year university students had “falsely posted a cruel remark against themselves, or cyberbullied themselves, during high school”, also found that half of these so called “digital self-harmers” had sent only ONE abusive message to themselves. Incidences of teens sending more than a couple of abusive messages to themselves, are rare.
The article published by Fairfax also referred to statements made on a blog written by social media researcher Danah Boyd. It appears all this information was probably lifted from a blog post published on the Cyberbullying Research Center website. Again, we see Ms Funell offering statements as fact.
What concerns me most is the irreparable harm this has done to the cause of reducing incidences of cyber bullying.
How many teens will be told they’re sending abusive messages to themselves just to get some attention? How long before we see a teen suicide because no-one believed the kid when he or she disclosed they were being bullied on the internet?
Although Fairfax did publish Nina Funell’s piece as ‘comment’. Does simply calling it ‘comment’ make it any less influential in the arena of public opinion?
Commercial news sites such as Fairfax, are in a position to influence public opinion on a wide range of issues. And let’s be honest, your average consumer of news content doesn’t know the difference between factual news content and commentary. You only have to read the comments posted beneath Nina Funell’s piece to know that, is a fact.