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Online Harm or Harm Online

Online Harm or Harm Online

Online Harm

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:

CyberTrauma Definition

When trigger warnings are not enough, nor are they a valid reason to potentially traumatise an audience

When trigger warnings are not enough, nor are they a valid reason to potentially traumatise an audience

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.

Dear client, does your therapist discuss you on social media?

Dear client, does your therapist discuss you on social media?

Dear potential client, or perhaps one already in a therapy chair/room. I wanted to speak out on your behalf, rather than write an article that would require you to do anything. You do indeed have that choice of course and perhaps this is a question you will raise once you have seen this article. If you are not old enough I hope your parents/carers or some professional reads this and considers its contents on your behalf.

I have been commenting on lots of posts on social media over the last few years and I now feel that I need to address and speak out on behalf of clients everywhere. You see being a human and doing the very kind of behaviour I’m going to talk about I made a mistake in my training and posted a picture of my birthday party being held at a training group because I was excited, and I also made an assumption that other trainees (begin adults) knew how to use social media. I was very wrong, and some of my peers were identified through their Facebook settings. It resulted in a shaming and guilt laden experience for me and one I quickly learned from.

What I see and comment on, on social media leaves me very worried for some of you. We provide you with a safe space and we discuss with you, reassure and ensure that sessions are confidential, and we mean it.

Well mostly, most of us do. Some of us however…

I would like to let BACP, UKCP, BPS, BAPT, BABPT, IAPT, NHS, NCS know some of your therapists are doing exactly this.

Dear child and/or adult counsellors, psychotherapists and psychologists….

Social media is not supervision, nor is it a peer group, nor is it a safe space to talk about client work. It is not a an ego boosting platform for you to parade the numbers of clients you see. It is not a place to share photos of your work created together, it is not a place to share their stories of the day, nor is it a place to identify them through comments such as “Im glad to have supported this boy/girl”. It is not a place to discuss issues that you are struggling with clients nor is it a place to discuss how the sessions have gone.

Take it to supervision and keep it confidential. Keep it to yourself or discuss it with peers when you are guaranteed a safe space such as a therapy room, training room or classroom. One where you know that the other people in the room are your profession also. Social media is exactly that, its not your living room where you’re having a chat with a friend, you are not protected and its not confidential! Your post can be seen. Potentially by anyone who has access to the internet.

Do not share (identifying) information about your clients so they can be traced because here is a little experiment that some clients, stalkers, hackers, people, and companies do. I have also carried this out and here’s why this is a problem for you.

Let’s take Facebook groups for a moment: I’m going to pretend that I run a group called real counsellors only. So, I set it up and make potential group members answer a question. I’m not tech savvy so this question is are you a real counsellor? (I know, this happens believe me) So now I have 2,000 group members. Its very difficult for me to watch all of the posts that happen on the page, but its okay as I pinned a message saying, “no real client work posted here thanks!” A post appears about a counsellor struggling with a child client, whose 8 years old and they see this client at school and its Friday.

A potential client identifier (this sentence is important and I’ll come back to it shortly)

Will/can/might do this…They join these kinds of groups for varying reasons, as they want to know more? They see the post, they click on your profile, its not locked and now they can see your pictures, your family members, your friends, the groups you like, the groups you’re in, pages you like and so on. Most importantly for this exercise they see your practice, the school you have posted about where you work or your website as its advertised on your page. The goto your website, and/or they look at the school website in this example. They perhaps go and wait on a Friday near to the practice/school/setting and they see the clients leaving that day/time. I’m aware that schools are contained and its only leaving the grounds that children can be identified by the public, but bear with me and you’ll see why this is still an issue. They now know something about that child’s work so this could give them a starting conversation eg, “so you like painting?”

The client identifiers might be: The client themselves. Imagine if that came up in a session?

They might be potential abusers, yes this is a behaviour they would engage in. Lots of parents share photos with their children’s school uniform in and we know that’s how perpetrators learn about potential victims, so this fits the modus operandi here too.

They might be abusive partners, parents, adoptive parents, long lost family members trying to trace the person.

They might be your supervisor?

The peers of the client. Imagine if you’re discussing a sexuality issue that you struggle with and the client is outed?

An Artificial Intelligence programme and yes this is definitely a thing

An identify thief?

And now we have the GDPR ruling coming in it might be a solicitor/organisation?

All trust that clients put in us is sacred, as is the space we allow them to have when they work with us. We are bound by ethics and confidentiality not to identify them. Clients can of course identify us or talk about us on social media and that is their privilege, not ours. We also grant them safe protection of their data and this includes their words, pictures and anything we discuss about them. Social media is NOT the place to do this.

Social media policies won’t cut this as they will be vague or non-actionable, it needs to be in mandatory in training from the outset and it needs implementing now. Trainees need to hear messages that say DO NOT discuss your work on social media, it’s the only way to be crystal clear and to prevent clients being identified/shamed/outed/disrespected.

Please share this message so we can begin to provide our clients with the protection they deserve. My message to Governing bodies is your message (if you have one about this) isn’t working. Trainees are not the only ones carrying out this behaviour on social media (I’ve seen posts from Dr’s/Accred therapists doing exactly this). Ethically we cannot carry on allowing this to happen. Imagine the consequences, law suits and potential deaths/suicide that could be caused by this behaviour.

There’s nothing wrong with the Internet. I say “There’s something awry about society”.. YouTube Only? Suicide forest, live streaming and weird NSFW videos.

YouTube Only? Suicide forest, live streaming and weird NSFW videos.

Have I got your attention?

Most likely it happened when you read the title and I sparked off a myriad of brain connections that elicited a memory about some of these topics. Good; you’re almost a typical candidate for how the internet can trap you into addiction, porn and depressions through social media use…. Only kidding…..or am I?

Here’s my rant about this today and yes I’ve noticed some of my posts have been a bit ranty, but that’s what happens when I become frustrated, angry, sad and defensive of my clients and in general people whom I have based Cybertrauma theory on.

You see the internet is a business. FACT. YouTube/Facebook/Twitter and LinkedIn are business too, FACT. The thing with business is their ultimate aim is to bring in money. Lots of it. As much as they can. Ethics, Values and Impact are all debatable here and yet I understand that the ethics of one company may not reflect another. Do they care about the impact their business has on the world? Perhaps only as far as can, I make them money? Perhaps in terms of forward-thinking; a grand life for designing something in the here and now is overpowered by the thinking processes of self-regulation versus aspirations and greed? Perhaps I am cynical, however, I do think that honestly designers of the platforms and apps that appear on the internet are not concerned with long term impact if they can design something that will earn them big bucks. I know I would because I am a human too. It would be hard to resist no doubt?

So recently there was this ‘thing’ that appeared on the internet whereby a journalist (not some small-time researcher such as myself or other academics who study this stuff for a living) decided to write about some YouTube videos being unsuitable for children. No shit sherlock!! This article went ‘viral’ (Interesting how this term is now used). I sat in awe as this is one tiny part of my theory of cybertrauma and for a while, I sat thinking you’re kidding me, now ‘we’ (some of the internet) outcry about a phenomenon that has been around since the internet began and I’ve not to this date seen much of an implementation to reduce these videos or remove them regardless of the size of the article and outcry? #moneymaker

How interesting and what about…. Live streaming of a number of issues of which I will speak about just one here and have previously written a blog on. What about Snuff movies? What about sites that teach about heinous acts? What about the stuff that isn’t on YouTube, why are “we” not upset about this? What are “we” actually doing about it? Can the internet providers prevent this? (highly unlikely and the topic of a cyber synapse podcast soon) #maybenotmoneymaker

Then came the flurry of articles (mostly opinionated and often citing less than significant research articles) in the media about how social media is addictive; I argue it’s not. It’s more complicated than this and is an overlap of attachment behaviours and ‘addiction in laypersons language’ not the Psychopathological aspect. But I’m sure ‘we’ can make money out of this? Perhaps even offer ‘Interventions’ for this issue? #moneymaker

Now we have psychopathology of ‘gaming disorder’ that will soon mean that this term will be used to ‘diagnose’ normal friendship behaviours when the medium between people is a PC, console or smartphone. I don’t actually remember learning about the Mental Health disorder of telephonic communication addiction or electronic communication disorder but I do know it was a normal part of growing up to use the telephone for ages and perhaps even consecutively for days on end, moreover, this is how people actually communicated with each other, you know like to have conversations and be social…. Oh-oh, there’s that addictive word again! Once again ‘we’ (some of the internet) will now use this to begin providing quackery interventions, clinics and ‘recovery centres’ #moneymaker

Now we have terms (all being made up as we speak) like ‘social media-related anxiety’ and ‘socmed depression’, ‘socmed addiction’ and many more. All which provide the internet with judgemental language which can be imposed on the younger generations by those who invented/designed it. #irony. They could probably spend time designing apps to help with these terms? #moneymaker*Today I saw an article that talks about young people not being equipped to deal with ‘socmed pressure’ (runs off to add to cyber dictionary as this may well be different to the real world pressure?…I think not but I do suggest it’s enhanced somewhat)

The point I want to now make is about how the internet is a #moneymaker environment and this is its primary function/purpose. It’s quite sobering and disturbing what I am about to discuss so please take care of yourself when and after reading this. (with that comment I now know I have your attention so please be aware your curiosity may get the better of you).

Recently Logan Paul a Youtuber with fifteen million subscribers…. #moneymakerforYoutube #moneymakerforhim, Of whom the demographic is likely to be aged under 25 when the brain is not fully developed by the way and is impacted by traumatic images far more than adults in terms of neuroscience which I won’t go into here, and of course anyone under the age of 25 is clearly ‘addicted and can’t resist watching Youtube’ (I’m seriously considering taking up sarcasm as an academic form right now).

Anyway, back to the 15 million subscribers and the recent video that Logan decided to film, bring back to his production team which includes editors, publishers and so on. This was a morbid display of him illegally entering Suicide Forest in Japan, whereby he is heard to say on the video something along the lines of “I wonder if I’ll see a suicide” (I mean c’mon was this scripted? Now I’m thinking I wonder if there will be bread at the bakers? hmm). Well indeed there was a recent suicide in the forest approximately 100m from the entrance and Logan is seen to walk up to the persons body and begin discussing his surprise, and adds in but did you know he also has more videos on his website and merchandise etc.? .#moneymaker. (I’ve not heard the exact wording but this is the gist of it) He is joined by others and they film the person’s body and belongings and continue chatting, but perhaps as s gin of his level of knowledge touted as respect, he does blur out the persons face. Because that’s how to get past the filters (A bit like the black mirror episode I recently watched- Top job btw Charlie Brooker may season 5 hurry up!)

The aspect about this video that’s morbid, sad and disrespectful occurs on two levels. One those who filmed it, edited it and produced it. Two the fact that YouTube trended it. Yep- they decided to put it into trending whereby anyone who was not on Logans subscriber list might have seen it too. 15 million-plus and counting.

It has been taken down after an outcry by ‘we’ of the internet and this includes celebs. I’m left wondering though how much money this made through the number of views for YouTube/Logans team in the 24 hours or so that it was up and most importantly the effect this has had on children and young people as this conversation has been in my therapy room this week. Furthermore who decided along the route from the initial filming through to the process of appearing on YouTube and them deciding to monetise on this where the values, ethics and respect that this person deserved? Why did no-one seemingly say I don’t want to be part of this, please don’t put it up etc? Where was the human decision?

This video exists outside of YouTube and therefore is still accessible and not to forget that others can now make money out of this and will do so. It’s about the money, the business, the fame, the shock and so on.

To misquote the journalist James Bridle: There’s nothing wrong with the Internet. I say “There’s something awry about society”. The internet does not currently decide to film, edit, produce and upload videos of this nature nor does it then go onto monetise it by labelling it as trending. That’s a human being that does that.

On or off YouTube it doesn’t really matter as there will always be a platform and always someone willing to be a #moneymaker out of it. Never mind the consequences?

DITTO Article September 2017 – Fear from the media and critical thinking.

This article has appeared in the quarterly DITTO e-safety magazine which you can access through Alan Mackenzie’s page via my links page or by going to

My last article talked about fake news, scare stories and critical thinking. This one is not so far from that in terms of the topic, however, I wanted to write something that feels more hopeful for you as teachers and parents.I took a number of small social media sabbaticals this year for a number of reasons. The main reason being for self-care. You see when you submerge yourself in something, such as a bath you expect to get wet. Well, so the same goes for social media and the incessant negative stories and topics that I research, means that I can become both overwhelmed or begin to view the world in a skewed manner if I don’t practice what I preach in terms of looking after myself. As a professional working with peoples stories of their traumas, negative life experiences and worries for much of my day, this can happen to me as a therapist in the real world, and so in turn researching, cybertrauma can also have this impact. I keep a very close eye on myself in this respect and know when to take some time out and regularly discuss this in supervision to makes sure I am not becoming vicariously traumatised. This is a (helpful) suggestion for you too.As I took these mini sabbaticals during late spring and summertime there were some awful tragedies occurring throughout the world and being shared on social media (no more so than at any other time I might add), however, I made a conscious decision to refrain from social media to see what happened for me as usual, this is one of the points when I research much more closely, it is after all my chosen topic of interest.In short, I found that I both managed the breaks and they were delightful. I am aware that this may cause some people to break into a cold sweat when thinking about taking time out from social media and this is not an article about the benefits of social media sabbaticals. What I did find out, what has interested me and is the remit of this article is that social media exacerbates the fear factor and this was apparent with my clients who brought their social media stories and scares into the therapy room for the entire time I was on my sabbaticals.So what I wanted to communicate is more about the psychology of fear, violence, crime and terrorism and how this is not actually as prominent as social media makes out (this is not rocket science here by the way and you should not be surprised by this statement). Firstly let me introduce two excellent researchers and academics who have studied humans and violence. Stephen Pinker and Gavin de Becker are world-renowned in their studies of human behaviour and violence and show that the incidences of violence are less in terms of prevalence and degrees of actual bodily harm since we began as a species to harm each other (Seriously good reads by both of these authors and I recommend them both).So what does this mean in terms of this article? Well as the new term begins, new pupils, new topics of ‘social media’ issues, well you may find your pupils talk about terror, fear, violence, graphic issues and terrorism much more. This is because Manchester, Grenfell, Barcelona and Finland, North Korea etc have been given much more ‘airtime’ through social media. The increase of this airtime is likely to increase the awareness of this topic into younger peoples lives (year 7-11) and their understanding of this topic is likely to be limited in terms of cognitive skills (reasoning, critical thinking and executive functions- see Pinker’s work). In turn, this may mean they can become fearful of a topic due to limited understanding and ‘gossip’ from their peers who are also in the same frame of reference. I’m sure you all have an understanding of this with the ‘ghost/zombie’ stories we all heard and participated in during adolescence; fear breeds fear.If this is applied to a social media frame then you should be able to see how the miscommunication of fear-based stories of violence create an anxiety in young people that is then further communicated in the hope of understanding it. As teachers I feel you can help your pupils learn to think critically and by challenging the facts around the news stories yourself and with your pupils. You may be able to appease the fear and anxiety somewhat by having these discussions rather than avoiding them. The hopeful news is, as a species we are actually less violent now than in the past. Due to the medium of social media, we can now discuss and share incidents much faster and become aware of issues that in the past would have happened, perhaps in another country (without our awareness). We are actually overloaded with this kind of information and this can skew our thinking in a negative way. What are the options? Perhaps this is the kind of educated debate we can have with young people to support critical thinking, challenge the status quo of fear-based news, create a balanced view of events and also provide ourselves with a reassurance that the world is not as violent as we think and that fear should be our intuitive gift, rather than our daily bread & butter served up with lashings of anxiety, worry and speculation. Let’s change the menu.Start writing your post here. You can insert images and videos by clicking on the icons above.

Why are counsellors scared of Cybertrauma?

What is Cybertrauma and why does it seem so scary?

Why are counsellors currently turning a blind eye to an issue that is only going to increase?

Why is this not a compulsory part of all courses and modules?

Will it affect you?

These are some questions I have both mused over and directly asked counsellors. Currently, the answers to this seem steeped in fear. The same fear that is preventing Parents and Teachers from acknowledging the darker side of cyberspace, the internet and digital devices/communication.

How is this important for counselling? Well if you a) see clients, b) use digital devices (I wonder how you are currently reading this?) and c) work with anyone who owns, has access to a device or cyberspace then this is a topic you need to know about.

This is not esaftey, this is what can happen and why and how this is imperative to your work in sessions.

I am currently writing academically on one small portion of Cybertrauma and the results have been quite stark and interesting in this area alone. Needless to say, counsellors are now being asked to be esaftey experts, provide advice around cyberbullying and how to collect evidence by the clients (mostly children or young people I may add at this stage) and also what seems to be a deficit of knowledge in counsellors about the harm that can occur through the medium of cyberspace.

So to answer the first question what is Cybertrauma? : This is the effect upon a person of any traumatic or stressful event that occurs through the medium of an electronic device, which may be self or other-directed. This may be limited to the present or may include past or future incidents and reoccurrences.

Why is it scary? Because anonymity exists in cyberspace in many forms.

Lastly, will it affect you as a counsellor? Well, truth be told any aspect of it could. It depends on the way you communicate using your electronic devices, what settings you have or do not have set (including default manufacturing ones), your presence on the internet and yes you probably are on Facebook somewhere; because there will be photographs of you in existence. This also depends on what devices your clients are using and bringing to your counselling room and something called geotagging. (whether they are switched on or not). If you see high-risk clients this can be a very important issue.

Then there are the issues that directly affect your client and what this means to them and how you work with these in sessions. “You see cybertrauma is a time-travelling issue” (my words). It is not limited to the here and now. It is not limited to the 6, 10 or even a few years worth of sessions you have with a client and each and every issue from cyberbullying to stalking, revenge porn to grooming, underage gaming to radicalisation is going to appear in your room. (I have listed over 25 separate issues so far in the last 4 years and its growing)

Do you know how to help your client? How the event impacts them? What they are even talking about?
Generation Z, Millennials, Digital Natives and all other names we have for the younger generation using these devices one thing is for sure. You need to know this stuff, the whys and hows. Perpetrator and victim behaviours and how to help your clients.

These children will become the adults that bring these issues.

This is not going to go away. I have only mentioned the accessible internet in this article. There is also the Dark Net and what this means for you and your clients is even more scary.