Gosh, it must be hard being a teenager these days. When I was in high school we had Myspace and Facebook. Instagram was just coming in but we were all still trying to figure out whether it made the social media cut or not.
As you might be aware, I have been trying to reach out to teens, so that I can have an influential effect on their mental wellbeing.
So I downloaded Tik Tok.
Despite all apps being designed to be learnt in a matter of seconds, Tik Tok didn't come so naturally to me. I decided to post a video that was created 4 years ago when I was living in New York City. The 21 year old me, was still finding myself however, still optimistic, determined and above all- kind.
I had a monumental moment with a homeless man on the subway and after hearing his speech that yearned for human connection, comfort and love, I gave him a heart pin that was at the bottom of my bag. The smile on his face as he put the pin on his tattered, stained and pigeon smelling shirt was life-changing.
I went home explaining to my roommate that I needed to create bulk amounts of these heart shaped pins. 'I'm going to hand them out on the New York City subway as an act of kindness that will eventually get passed back to the homeless people' (told you I was optimistic).
I never kept the video up on instagram because, the message of kindness was very quickly transformed into the bleak hostility of lost social connections while the people on the subway ignored me and my felt heart pins ... #morelike heart felt pins.
I decided to post this video on Tik Tok 4 years later however, because I was naive to the world of Tik Tok, I didn't give much context to the situation, because I didn't think it was necessary.
I posted it, not thinking much of the situation and checked my phone an hour later. I was getting literally 1000 views every hour and within 24 hours the video had gone VIRAL with 20k views and 500 comments all in the space of a day. For someone who is no-one in the online world, this was huge, overwhelming and incredibly good for my business.
As I began to read the comments, I felt my heart sink into my chair. Never before had I experienced something like this. 'This isn't an act of kindness you annoying, stupid Australian girl', ' I wish I was there so that I could have punched this girl in the face' (brutal)-
'people don't want your stupid paper hearts' (excuse me- they were hand cut out felt hearts- dah).
My friends have been told things over the internet like, 'go jump off a bridge' and I always said stuff like, 'those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.' But there is something about reading comments written directly about you that hits the mind in a really toxic, over consuming and negative way.
I decided to delete the video because my mental health was 1 million times more important than sharing a video that might be my ticket in, from a business perspective.
I spoke to my friend Julz about the situation and she said, 'mate it's because Tik Tok users are a bunch of 12 to 13 year olds and thats how they interact these days on the internet.' I started looking at teenagers Tik Tok accounts and began reading through the comments.
It WAS horrendous.
My comments were nothing compared to the comments posted on these young peoples accounts. 'Your mum clearly doesn't love you, look at that face she is giving you in the background.' 'Who gave you permission to put your ugly body on the internet.'
I was getting mad. REAL MAD.
Due to evolution, our brains are trained to see shame as a life or death situation. If your tribe rejects you, you die. The feeling of being shamed, unloved and rejected is torturous to the brain and it's been wired to think this way to protect us. So what happens when you have a generation that is interacting with apps like this that publicly shame them, 500 times over in the space of an hour. The toxic part of all of this is, teenagers are choosing to deal with the shame, because the social validation of having 200k followers is worth it.
This isn't their fault. This is what they have grown up with and it scares me because, it's not going to get better, in fact it's going to get much worse.
No wonder our teenagers are more anxious, suicidal and depressed than ever before.
I'm sorry but what is being done about this?
Laws are being put in place all the time to protect us. Thats what they are designed to do. Seat belts, they didn't always exist, but soon enough authorities realised that Mercedes-Benz was onto something and less lives were being lost with the safety of a seatbelt. So how come there isn't a law against online bullying and online trolls when it is so clear that online bullying and shaming leads to suicide.
I am 25, resilient, strong and sensitive. My pre-frontal cortex is now fully developed. If I couldn't handle the nasty comments people were saying about me online how can we expect a 12 year old that is still developing too?
Having an age limit on social media isn't enough (who abides by that anyway?). Bullying on social media needs to be illegal - yes, illegal.
There needs to be a button (the report button is not enough) that you can press that alerts the companies that this person is harmful and could have blood on their hands in a matter of minutes. These people need to be banned from social media.
I know that in real life, this doesn't make sense because if someone says something nasty to you, you have to stand up for yourself but that's because in real life, this doesn't happen.
Well ... until it does.
I have noticed in the classroom more outrageous commentary like, 'go kill yourself' is being tossed around and our kids are starting to think that comments like this are 'okay.' Something needs to be done- pronto.
Social media companies need to calm down, they have enough money, enough power and enough is enough. Changes need to be made because the way we are being used and targeted is like we are robots and we are not robots, we are human.
Sign the poll for online bullying to be made illegal- #spreadtheword