Or Harm Online
Online Harm or Harm online can be difficult to define accurately in a quantitative frame
Harm online can be seen to be behaviours that are carried out with varying ‘modus operandi’s’ such as intentional versus unintentional, delayed versus immediate and direct and indirect. They can be multi-modal, multi-platform and multi-interval.
The harm may be carried out by other children, adults or machine learning ‘bots’
Harm can also include secondary events such as engaging with posts that result in an impact on a third party
The areas of online harm spans phones, smartphones, gaming consoles, social media accounts, email and any other medium of contact.
Online Harms can result in Cybertrauma
For a definition of CyberTrauma, please see this link:
Gaming is inherently and mostly safe, as is the world we live in.
Our nervous system responses have and are increasingly tapped into by the skewed narrative that is available through social media and new media outlets. Research from leading academics/scientists and researchers such as Steven Pinker has highlighted that as a society we have become less violent as a species and that the rates of homicide have decreased. However, this doesn’t sell news stories, does it? This narrative doesn’t keep your nervous system in high-stress response state, commonly known as fight/flight. It’s unlikely that you will believe in trust and safety if your newsfeed tells you otherwise. Gaming and the ‘negative issues’ that exist are often collected within this narrative. I write about these and know they do exist, however they exist in a small minority of cases and some of them are myths, not facts. Current myths that are being argued by academics relating to gaming are focused on the hyperbolic claims that you will or have likely read online or in a newspaper. These are gaming does not (mostly) create addiction or disorders. violent video games do not produce violent gamers in the real world. The benefits of gaming outweigh the very few negative issues that we researchers are interested in and exploring to date. I have a number of podcasts on this subject matter so please go there to learn more.
You see I am a trauma specialist and I work with children, adolescents and adults. I work in a practice whereby I know the impact of being a witness to another person’s trauma through and through and its why I teach on the subject of vicarious (cyber)trauma and self-care in the profession of being with and around trauma. Traumatic means many different things and what is traumatic to one person is not always traumatic to another; You can’t or don’t get to decide that for another person, even if you are a professional. You are not the receiver of the image, video or text. Writing trigger warning actually creates a propensity for some to press play and watch or read/view. If there’s a slim chance that you will traumatise someone why do it? (see my previous blog on Cybertrauma by professionals for the why people actually do this). Educating on the dangers to look out for online know we need to educate parents, professionals and other adults on the dangers we need to look out for in terms of young people and their online activities and perhaps we can also educate young people on these issues.
However, we must remember that even if your chronological age is 20, 30, 70 or 15 you may not emotionally be capable of processing images, videos and sound without having a traumatic response to that media. You may also have a background in which you have your own trauma and viewing material that is uncomfortable or traumatic may jiggle, unsettle or trigger your own nervous system stress response in a traumatic way. You can be traumatised by hearing about a traumatic event. If this can happen to an adult with a fully formed and mature brain imagine the impact on a developing brain of an adolescent.
Today a video went live that contains many Cybertrauma issues. Whilst it comes from a place of best intent by the producers of the video it contains victim-blaming language (such as the phrase “if only he had believed us” this is a trauma trigger for victims), it contains images of a grieving parent (mirror neuron responses, empathy and trauma triggers and is meant to create sadness and outrage in you- it’s a manipulation of your nervous system) and it contains a very scary message aimed at children and young people, yet the film has a suggested viewing rating of 15. This message, which is about trusting online friends, suggests that YOU (the child) are responsible for knowing who your online friends really are and every aspect about them and their abilities and patterns of potential grooming behaviours. Yet this grooming set of behaviours is not explained in the video, which leaves a deficit of knowledge about what to look out for, yet insinuates that you need to know this. How confusing for adolescents! Do you really know, or should that be could you ever really know who everyone is you talk to online Do you really know, or should that be could you ever really know who everyone is you talk to online when this number could be into the thousands or millions as the number of online gamers is actually huge… The concept of online friends is still in the infancy of research questions about this phenomenon and one that adults quite often believe means the same thing as it did before the internet existed. How does a young person know what to ‘lookout for’ when this is omitted from the educative video? How can they be responsible for something that isn’t within their control? Hence the word victim, which means something happened to you, that was out of your control. This video WILL be and HAS been shown to young people and no doubt will hit the million mark on views on YouTube very quickly. This of course will increase traffic to the makers of the film, who have previously created a number of films like this with all of the above issues. This will potentially win awards, be talked about as a great resource for education and yet the issues above miss the very important message as it is disguised as one that young people will be ‘fed’ as their responsibility.
Hyper-Rational Thinking Patterns
As young people think differently and have hyper-rational thinking patterns this message will be lost to normative maturational processes. To use a phrase you may have heard before: ‘it is likely to go in one ear and out the other’, but the trauma, oh that will be processed and may create further issues. I can tell you from the adolescents in my practice that this occurs and we as the adults show them it in the name of…scaring them into responsibility? How odd.
Sharing the trend adds to the algorithm
When you share that image/video of the trend, you add to the existing algorithm of the ‘trend’ and if it is an intention of perpetrators of a crime to advertise their product, i.e. to entice children to find out about their videos or games then the best people to do this for them already exist in a fear-driven world and they are the adults. Children do not have this advertising power, you do and so do schools, child-related clubs, professionals who support children and other fear-driven parents. You literally advertise for them for free. Each and every time.
I wonder how many under 15’s will see this as it’s on YouTube? How many shares will take place over social media platforms in the very same fear-driven act that made ‘Momo’ so famous? I wonder how many children (adults and people with anxiety) will have nightmares become afraid of everyone they now speak to online? (what about the real world, where grooming exists too?). I wonder if this really was the best way to communicate this message?
Perhaps we need a rethink… actually, I’m suggesting that this is actually what needs to happen, pronto.
Shock/Horror, Shame, Fear and Victim-blaming are not the way to educate. We can do better.
I wanted to keep this blog hidden until after I had presented at the Trauma Conference in November. However, the media has a funny way of bringing things to people’s attention.
Let’s be clear about my stance on this topic. Cyber trauma needs to be spoken about to help repair ANY damage caused by witnessing and viewing traumatic material.
I have been developing workshops for professionals, parents and adults who work with young people around this topic for over 18 months as I am beginning to see the effects of this through my work as a therapist and Relationships & Sex Education tutor.
So what am I talking about? Cyber trauma, what does this mean?
I don’t want to come across all Greenfield-ist, but.. Young people who are watching horrific, traumatic, abusive and cruel images and videos are encountering traumatic responses which are manifesting as behaviours in schools, homes and elsewhere. Now I’m not saying this is every young person, what I am saying is the number of young people and concerned adults that I am talking to in my roles is becoming alarmingly incremental.
So what I decided for this blog was to give a quick overview of trauma, the growing young person, that is the adolescent brain and what happens to that young person after witnessing such a video over the Internet. NOT always Facebook, however, this is one area I want to highlight.
Trauma has a biological effect on the growing brain, which in short affects learning, brain development, empathy, peer and ‘other’ people relationships, behaviour patterns which could be misdiagnosed, memory problems, communication problems, thinking processes and (possibly, but more probable) desensitisation just to name a few
In short young people are carrying the images as a biological response, which is unconscious so will be ‘out of the persons awareness’. This is showing up as ‘bad’ behaviour which can include self-harm, self-injurious behaviour, attention deficits, suicidal thoughts and actions, aggression and even possibly reenactments of the images or videos to others
Just to add to this the young people are under peer pressure, social norms and cyber bullying if they do/don’t watch and share these videos. There is an expectation to be able to handle this level of ‘horror’ in whatever format it appears in. It’s talked about in and out of school and is the new gossip. If children live in low SES households (Socio Economic Status), or have parents who are sensible and try to protect their children through e-safety at home they are not protected from this ever increasing trend as mobile technology allows for the viewing on someone else’s device. Without parental consent or knowledge
The videos themselves cover a large area of trauma, ranging from horrific murders, assaults, child abuse, sexual and physical, this includes videos of young people abused by peers and then used for blackmail purposes, adult abuse (similar?) animal cruelty, surgeries, accidents and injuries and protestors for the rights of any of these topics using the videos to ‘get their point over’.
Now, this is interesting as a phenomenon in itself as to why there is a sudden increase in these types of videos and who actually has an interest in this world? However, as adults, we have a choice to go looking for this type of information if we do it’s at our own discretion and peril and we can click onto some websites that freely hold some of these images. I DO NOT KNOW OF, NOR WISH TO CONDONE SEXUAL ABUSE SITES!!! although p*rnography, especially BDSM may look traumatic to young people witnessing it for the first time.
Young people are not getting this choice. It’s happening by accident, through peer pressure, videos are marked to look like something else, there’s an expectation to comment and like the videos with “ha LOL, funny vid!!”, people are tagged, it shows up in someone else’s news feeds and most importantly young people (every one to be fair) is CURIOUS! It’s non-intentional mostly, and this is why trauma has the biggest effect. There was no psychological preparation. Even so, watching someone have their head cut off would make me nauseous even if I was prepared for the image.
I have an opposite argument to weigh up the costs of trauma and to argue for and against who, how and where this is having an effect but lately I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about this area not being acknowledged by large media attention.
I want to discuss this in more details in social services, schools, youth clubs, with parents and so on, but for now I will present at the Trauma Conference and see where I go from there. Maybe no one wants to listen. Ostrich syndrome perhaps?