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Dark Side of Social Media Part II: Social Terror

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Social Terror

A number of positive things have happened as a direct result of the popularity of social media in society. People have reconnected with family and friends. They have found new jobs and been able to show their talents to the world where, before, they would have gone unnoticed.

But, there is also a dark side of social media. In part I of this article, we discussed cyberbullying which has magnified the effect of bullying to epic proportions never seen before in our lifetime.  Social media has also magnified the reach for cyber criminals, gang members, drug dealers and terrorist. They all use social media outlets to recruit new members. In the article we will focus on terrorism.

The terror group ISIS (or ISIL) has used YouTube, Tumblr, Twitter and other social media platforms to recruit and raise funds. Twitter, for one, has shut down thousands of ISIS accounts over the past year. Just like company’s do for themselves and the products they sell, terror organizations do the same with branding campaigns of their own, targeting young people to become soldiers, promotion propaganda and soliciting funding.  In correlation with our article on bullying, many of the recruits ISIS finds through social media are loners who are disconnected, troubled or looking to find an identity for themselves.

A New York Times article entitled “ISIS and the Lonely American” talks about a young, 23-year-old baby sitter named Alex who converted to Islam after trying to learn more about the terror group online. It wasn’t hard to find and contact them. Alex was sent gifts, chocolate, Hallmark cards, books on Islam and even money. She had several conversations with an “ISIS fighter” via Twitter and then Skype. They preyed on her weaknesses. Alex dropped out of college and had a bout with drug addiction. Her grandmother referred to her as a “lost child.” She looked toward ISIS for direction. Luckily for Alex, her family intervened and the F.B.I. were contacted.

Others don’t have someone to intervene. As of July 2015, the F.B.I. has reported that over 200 Americans have attempted to join ISIS. There propaganda efforts on social media have been seen by over 200,000 viewers. ISIS is the predominant terror leader when it comes to PR. Yet, they are not the only terror organization using social media to its advantage. Groups like al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Boko Haram, Hamas and many other less known groups are using social media to spread messages of hate.

These groups post videos, tweets and status updates in many different languages. ISIS often posts videos showing graphic images of opposition soldiers they have killed or beheadings. They want to show how strong and superior they are over their enemies, often portraying them as weak and inferior.  They have even disguised themselves as relief organizations in order to reach the opposition’s audience.

Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik , the terrorist responsible for killing 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif, used Facebook’s Private Messenger platform to communicate to friends in Pakistan pledging support of jihad.

The Boundaries of Privacy

So how do we control such conversations on social media when these platforms are supposed to be free and open to discuss all points-of-view? Tim Cook and Apple came under fire this week after refusing to break an encryption code to unlock Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik’s cell phone accounts.  The FBI feels obtaining access to the information from the phones can lead them to bigger terror cells possibly. But, Cook had this to say in an interview with NPR, “if you have an open door in your software for the good guys, the bad guys get in there, too.” On the flipside, Twitter has shut down over 125, 000 accounts it claims were connected to ISIS. Twitter also noted that “it works with law-enforcement agencies when appropriate and partners with groups that work to counter extremist content online,” in a recent article in The Atlantic.

Facebook has also agreed to help the U.S. Government tackle social terrorism. Monika Bickert, Facebook’s Head of Global Policy Management told The Wall Street Journal on February 11th,  ‘If it’s the leader of Boko Haram and he wants to post pictures of his two-year-old and some kittens, that would not be allowed.

YouTube, on the other hand, is harder to figure out when it comes to terrorism policies as they often leave it up to viewers to report inappropriate content. Anwar al-Awlaki, said to be a recruiter and motivator for al-Qaeda was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011, yet you can still find his videos and hear his anti-American sentiments on YouTube. So where do we draw the line between freedom of speech and the promotion of terrorism? YouTube seems more concerned with removing videos that are considered copyright infringement, which they remove thousands of everyday. But, you can report abuse on YouTube, as well as most other social media platforms.

For Twitter and Facebook, fighting terror is an ongoing battle. As accounts get taken down, thousands more go up. You can report abusive or suspicious activity on Twitter at https://support.twitter.com/forms/abusiveuser at Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/help/434138713297607 and on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/reportabuse.

Keep in mind, just as the world is a dangerous place if you wander down the wrong road, the same is true about the internet and social media. Information is power when it comes to keeping loved ones safe from social terror, cyberbullying and all the dark corners of the internet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Features

The Dark Side of Social Media Part I: Cyberbullying

In between the videos of kitty playing piano and pictures of grandma blowing out candles on her 90th birthday resides the darker side of social media; a place hiding in plain sight that is filled with gruesomeness, brutality, bullying and malicious intent. A place where privacy is non-existent, a tweet can get you killed, and terrorists lurk toattain new recruits.

Classroom Teasing Goes Viral

I remember being a high school freshman in an all-boys Catholic school in the 80s. I was a tiny, skinny, little kid that found himself pushed to the ground at times by the usual suspects of classroom bullies. Lucky for me, I was one of the quickest kids in school too and running was a better alternative to kissing a sidewalk. Surely there were moments when I wasn’t quick enough and found my pants pull down from behind, or a “Kick Me” note on my back. Embarrassing moments for sure with all my classmates laughing or my teacher standing in front of me, but, luckily,  I was able to shake it off and move on. Unfortunately, many kids aren’t able to move past the humiliation and, as a result find themselves depressed with low self-esteem, failing grades and not many friends.

Grim statistics show that not only has occurrencesof bullying increased in recent years, but in many cases today, the reach of the bully extends far beyond school yards. In our new digital world, cyberbullying is the latest way for bullies to hurt kids with maximum impact. Now bullies not only say and do hurtful things to our kids in person, but they share these insults, humiliating pictures and videos on Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, through e-mail and other social mediaoutlets, magnifying them to immeasurable levels. Some bullies have gone so far as to creating websites dedicated to mocking other kids. It is an outlet that makes bullies feel powerful and in control. Cyberbullying targets a child’s life and social image. My incident of having my pants pulled down in front of 25 other kids would be looping on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Vine, possibly receiving thousands of views and shares. I can’t even imagine.

According to Cyberbullyingstatistics:

  • Over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyberbullying.
  • More than 1 in 3 young people have experienced cyberthreats online.
  • Over 25% of adolescents and teens have been bullied repeatedly through their cell phones or the Internet.
  • Well over half of young people do not tell their parents when cyber bullying occurs.

According to the Research Center, in a survey of 2,000 middle-school children from across the nation:

  • 20% of respondents thought seriously about suicide
  • 19% reported having attempted suicide
  • Cyberbullying victims were 1.9 times more likely to attempt suicide than non-victims

 

Some of the Victims

  • Matthew Burdette, 14, a student in San Diego took his own life after a student filmed him in the school bathroom stall. The film was posted on Vine and Snapchat.
  • Jessica Laney, a 16-year-old from Pasco County, Florida, hanged herself after being bullied about her weight on Ask.fm.
  • After being blackmailed on Skype, Daniel Perry, a 17-year-old from Scotland, jumped to his death from a local bridge. Daniel was harassed often on his Ask.fm page, with commenters telling him to kill himself and that he should cut his throat. He was then tricked into Skyping with someone he was told was a girl his own age and then blackmailed him with screenshots by anonymous users.
  • Viviana Aguirre, 14, of El Paso took her own life after countless bullying incidents on Facebook. Some of the messages suggested Viviana kill herself and even recommended ways she could do it.

Unfortunately, there are so many more examples of this. Now, personally, 30+ years ago when I was in high school I never heard ANY kid tell another kid they should kill themselves. This is very disturbing, not only that it’s happening, but that these calls for suicide are not just coming from individual bullies, but groups of them at once.

Warning Signs

Suspect that your child is being cyberbullied? Here are some warning signs according to stopbullying.gov. Kids who are being bullied tend to:

  • Use alcohol and drugs
  • Skip school
  • Experience in-person bullying
  • Be unwilling to attend school
  • Receive poor grades
  • Have lower self-esteem
  • Have more health problems

 

Prevention

Communication is key when it comes to cyberbullying. It’s not only important to discuss daily with kids on how their day went at school, but it is equally important to discuss what they should do if they are bullied and advise them not to bully others. Also alert the school principle if your child reports any bullying incident to you. Some parents choose to monitor their child’s activities online and require their passwords to social media sites so they can view activity. Statistics show that 65% of children go online unsupervised!

The other unfortunate aspect of cyberbullying is that it is not only targeted to kids. There are many instances of adult cyberbullying as well. According to PEW research, 40% of adults have been victims of online bullying. Some of these stats include public figures and celebrities as well. During her TED talks, former presidential intern Monica Lewinsky was quoted as saying, “The more shame, the more clicks and the more clicks the more advertising dollars. We are making money off the back of suffering.” On April 3, 2015, Kevin Bollaert was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison for his ‘revenge porn’ website. Bollaert posted over 10,000 nude photos of women sent in by ex-lovers and then charged the victims money to remove the photos.

You can report cyberbullying at www.stopbullying.gov or www.endcyberbullying .com and also take these steps immediately:

  • Don’t respond to and don’t forward cyberbullying messages.
  • Keep evidence of cyberbullying. Record the dates, times, and descriptions of instances when cyberbullying has occurred. Save and print screenshots, emails, and text messages.
  • Block the person who is cyberbullying.

Stay tuned for more articles to come on cyberbullying as well as other topics from The Dark Side of Social Media.

 

References:

http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/bullying-and-suicide.html

http://www.stoptechnobullying.org/statistics.php

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2691838/Student-14-committed-suicide-classmate-secretly-filmed-touching-bathroom-spreading-school.html

http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/a-ninth-teenager-since-last-september-has-committed-suicide

http://www.elpasotimes.com/news/ci_24895008/activist-lawmakers-battle-increasing-threat-cyberbullying

Bullying Statistics, The Ultimate Guide !