Social Media Needs Civility

Mariel Rossi deVries, Staff Writer

The cyber world is the root of much social drama for teens. In Lamorinda, most make their entrance into the social media world around middle school and remain obsessively active during high school.  What they take with them into the virtual universe can be both good and bad.  Cyberbullying is often the worst.

High school staff combat problems that arise from inexperienced social media users in the form of lectures on cyberbullying and cybersafety. Although useful, these lessons fall short of adequately preparing students to interact appropriately when opposing viewpoints clash on the web.

Social media is a bottomless pit, where people vent about their experiences and express opinions on topics from sports to politics. This inevitable leads to controversy. When kids write malicious jabs at their peers, and send them off into the virtual world, those on the receiving end can be deeply affected.

Studies conducted by Young-Shin Kim, M.D., the assistant researcher for Yale School of Medicine’s Child Study Center reveal that “bullying victims were two to nine times more likely to report suicidal thoughts than other children were” and showed greater symptoms of depression.

The vast majority of students at Campolindo know what cyberbullying is in general terms. When asked, many say that they are not aware of online bullying between peers. Sophomore Vasily Tremsin stated, “I don’t really notice it.” Awareness of cyberbullying has increased within the Bay Area since 2013, according to Connect Health-I-Team, but noticing cyberbullying is not the same as preventing it.

Students at Campolindo are aware of the meaning of cyberbullying, but not enough truly understand the consequences for such behavior.

The internet has created a whole new venue for debate. Junior Shannon Gilbert stated that “People mostly just feud about what they believe.” But the line between healthy debate and harmful denigration is often ignored.

What students do not realize is that stating an extremely biased viewpoint online can lead to indirect cyberbullying. When one person shares their opinion, others pile on with their own, which can can lead to unnecessary escalation. Students who are outnumbered online can be made to feel isolated.

In one such case, a girl expressed an opposition to homosexuality. She was immediately harassed for expressing her view. While her opinion may be politically incorrect, isn’t the bullying she received equally discriminatory?  Both parties in this instance were in need of some serious lessons in cyber etiquette.

Schools must teach students how to be diplomatic, tactful and cautious in their online interactions along with the rest of cyber instruction.

Intellectual feuds are not the mindless conflicts featured in movies, nor are they exemplified by the current presidential primary debates.  Perhaps the circus of the Republican primary race is an unfortunate prelude to the further deterioration of social civility.

Rather than allowing this to play out with a new generation of insensitive, socially inept teens growing into equally inept adults, schools need to intervene.