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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.

Holiday images: Its like the last six weeks haven’t happened?

So the last two days, in terms of e-safety, have centred around back to school photographs of children. There have been media posts and many of my social media feeds have been acquainted with some parents challenging this as a ‘trend’. Hooray!!! I have written/blogged about this a number of times/years and feel that the e-safety companies, parents and newspapers can take this participle one on now as I have noticed something else that bothers me, which I find just as, if not more sinister.

Now don’t get me wrong I am not following a current path of over sensationalising cyber/internet-based issues, I am merely hoping to highlight an issue for consideration. This issue is not likely to happen to all users of the internet, however, it is a risk. A risk.

Let me elaborate…. Recently there has been a phenomena that occurs much like the yearly one that happens every 25th December. This phenomenon is called “summer holidays”. Last year I wrote a small piece for an internet safety company and I’d like to expand on it after noticing this upon my return from my annual leave. Again. (Facepalm)

Holiday pictures of children. In surprisingly enough…holiday attire. E.g. Swimsuits, hardly any clothes, no clothes and pictures of children posing with very little in the background (think beach pictures here). So what’s the problem? These are just holiday pictures? It’s the holidays Cath?

Indeed these are holiday pictures, however, if I was (which I am) a person who views these pictures for admiration, celebrations and being pleased for you having a wonderful time then that would be/is lovely. If perhaps the person I am referring to here is not like me and has no interest in celebrating your success and life then this would not be lovely? Perhaps this person would like to use your picture for a more sinister reason. For example, trading it, keeping it, doctoring it (changing or adding details that were not originally there) and then trading it etc. This could be on a social media site or perhaps other areas that the public does not necessarily have general everyday access to.

I hope to make myself much more clear so I will explain that predators of children’s images look for, find, download, sometimes change and upload and share these images. These predators look for pictures of children on the internet and where sexual gratification is sought they may look more-so in the direction of children in less clothing such as swimsuits/naked. The less background there is in the image the easier it is to ‘doctor’ the image or to superimpose further images in or out of it.

Your privacy settings matter and so do those of your children’s images and the only surefire way to protect the images of your children would be to stick with the old fashioned printed out photograph album in the cupboard. You only show these images to people who visit your house then and unless someone was to steal the album the pictures remain safe/private (to the degree that anything can be either safe/private). However, I am aware that in 2017 we want to share our pictures with our friends and family who live close and far away. (Or just for narcissistic reasons in some cases). Herein lies the issue.

I’m not saying that your images will be targeted, but they might. I’m not saying that you don’t keep your privacy settings to friends only, because you might. I’m not saying you have sexual predators on your friends lists, but you might. I’m not saying your public profiles are unsafe from sexual predators, but they might be. I’m saying you don’t really know who is looking at the images of your children and I’m basing this fact on the number of sexual abuse cases that appear with the known fact that in most cases the abuser/predator is known to the victims. It is unlikely that ‘strangers’ from around the world will actively seek out your social media profile looking for images of your children in beach/swimwear… but they might. I’m saying that people you already know/are friends with/follow you etc may just be one of those sexual predators. Your images can be seen by them, you know because you set the privacy settings. if you follow the advice of e-safety companies you may have done this just to ensure that only friends can see the images.

Your children cannot protect their images that you share, you can though. Your children cannot protect their privacy of the images you share, you can though. Fast forward in time and imagine for a moment what your children might say to you about the sharing of their images without their consent/privacy/protection surrounding them. Imagine for just a moment how you may feel if this was one of your images of you as a child, in swimwear that had been actively sought by a sexual predator and your parents were aware of the risks and decided to share it anyway?

One of the things I teach is about the moment of pride/excitement/happiness and general overwhelm of feelings which actually takes offline the rational, forward-thinking, reasoning part of the brain. (Neuronerds…this is executive functioning being sabotaged) It’s those moments of not thinking clearly that creates the issue in the first instance. Parents, I get that you are proud, excited and overjoyed at times and want to share this with your friends, after all, we are a social mammal and this is how we connect, by sharing (stories and in the old days (kidding) those holiday snaps that last all evening…). I get it and social media now allows us to do this ‘in the moment’ without taking a moment.

The ‘cure’? ..Breathe, take a little longer with your moment and consider the implications. If you don’t know what they could be…don’t risk it?

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.

Dick Pics and online dating

Dick Pics and dating sites.

Just what I needed to receive just before eating my dinner; not! (I just vomited a little there, sorry!)

How many messages before I get sent one? The current record is 3 and still stands at this from 2010.

It kind of went a little bit like this:

  1. HI, nice profile,
  2. Hi,
  3. DING…..(insert picture in your own mind as this is NSFW)

Well, that leaves nothing to the imagination and so I told him. I then stopped using dating sites for that purpose and began to research why this was happening in 2010 and had I just chanced upon a random ‘flasher’?

In short, no and it can get worse than that! ( I won’t be covering that in this blog though so you’re safe)

But that’s not the ulterior message I am going to highlight here; You see I have been researching dating sites for some time to watch the behaviours of men towards women on dating sites as this is the only research I can carry out (for the time being). The things I have noticed have left me saddened, speechless and I have a lot of sympathy for the genuine guys out there trying to get a date or lifelong partner.

So yes “dick pics” are a part of this and whilst this is probably not the way to win a woman by early displays of your erect genitalia (I’ve never knowingly been sent or been told about pictures of flaccid ones btw) there are a number of sites that no longer/do not allow these to be sent in chats on the site. Rightly so! It’s the process around this, and how that happens that I have been interested in because it’s not being talked about enough.

So let me introduce you to the ‘Romantic guy’, you know the one whom many women are looking for on a dating site? I am going to make a big presumption here and say that this may because the women are looking for someone that isn’t their ex (you can now insert your own prejudices about” he was a….” whatever). So yeah they’re looking for a nice guy…..

Herein lies the deception. I have watched a number of profiles whereby the story behind them seeking love is a wife/gf who treated them poorly and they have been deeply affected by this and they are looking for a soulmate…. Someone they can trust, just cuddle up with (not meaning sex) and have deep and meaningful conversations with etc…etc; all of the things that women are drawn to in Romcoms and Mills and Boons books.

  1. Genuine guys who have had this happen and who have real profiles like this are now seemingly going to get the bad end of the stick here, however, they are not the ones I am talking about.
  2. I’m talking about ‘the deceptors’ who are baiting the women out.

You see what happens now is called a ‘psychological game’ (Eric Berne and his theory: T.A. describes this as a set of transactions leading to a payoff whereby one or both parties are left with a particular feeling)

This dating game follows a pattern of contact, in this case viewing his profile either by looking in the first place or because he looked at yours so it’s only fair to look at his, which has been carefully edited. The conversation is struck up and moves onto sharing details that are outside the dating sites, eg phone numbers, kik/snapchat/whatsapp handles or numbers.

It is at this stage that you receive the unsolicited sexting picture. ‘The payoff’ for the woman is disgust/surprise/maybe even a giggle, or two. The payoff for the sender; gratification at the very least. Obviously, I don’t know what they do at this stage and the women I have spoken to about this don’t tend to hang around to find out either!

Also, dick pics is not a conversation that is happening enough with women or men, the point I am attempting to make here is this is not okay on a number of levels and we speak to young women/men and girls/boys about this and we make adverts and have conferences about it. This is behaviour that is sexually intrusive, without consent, its sexting and grooming/stalking behaviour.

Why am I talking about this? Well, it seems that both men and women are mostly embarrassed to talk about this and when they genuinely get a chance to discuss it they are angry and do not like it. I think that perhaps there is a misconception that grooming only happens to sexually exploited young people.

The game I talked about in this blog is also known by its more popular name: “grooming”.

This is to say women and men can be and are groomed on dating sites and this is one of the ways it happens. It’s not so long ago that a man was arrested and charged for date raping women he had met via online dating sites. This is how it happens. Grooming.

This does not just happen to women, I know as I have seen some homosexual men in therapy and one disclosed that he regularly got sent dick pics in this way and had not asked for them.

However whilst this subject remains taboo/embarrassing then the full extent (pardon the pun) of this issue will remain hidden also. Dating sites need to be treated with the same caution that we advise to younger people about accepting ‘friends’. You are only dealing with a picture and some text, to begin with, treat it with caution. You genuinely do not know who you are talking to.

If you’re reading this and would be interested in sharing your experience anonymously for some research into cyberstalking/harassment please contact me. I will treat any contact regarding this issue with confidentiality.