I will admit, when I first saw the word self-trolling, I had no idea what it meant. Quickly, upon reading Tanith Carey’s article Why teenagers are self-trolling on websites like Reddit, I understood what it meant and, more importantly, how dangerous it can be.
Photo credit: AntonioGuillem/Istock/Thinkstock via http://www.imujer.com/familia/6068/self-trolling-una-forma-de-autoagresion-entre-adolescentes
Self-trolling is essentially when someone attacks himself or herself online. I was shocked when I first read this was happening. I just didn’t understand why anyone would want to do this to himself or herself. However, in reading more about it, and following up with another article by Tanith Carey, the picture of self-trolling became more clear. It’s a type of self-harm, that teenagers take part in for any variety of psychological reasons. Perhaps they don’t know how to handle their feelings, maybe they want to express themselves in one way or another, perhaps they want to put out in the open their low self-esteem, or maybe they want to solicit compliments from friends about issues that are particularly plaguing them at the time.
Self-trolling can pre-empt criticism from others and help express the self-loathing teens feel for not measuring up to the increasingly high standards of physical perfection they set for themselves – Tanith Carey, 2016
No matter the reasons, it is happening, and it is causing extremely problematic situations for teenagers. Such actions, and the following conversations, can cause suicidal thoughts and actions, as was the case of Hannah Smith. They can also cause huge charades, as was the case with Ellie Thomas (not her real name), who started self-trolling herself online. After her friends came to her defense, to keep up the deception, she started trolling them as well under her online pseudonym.
It may feel good at first for a girl to anonymously call herself a bitch. The problems start when others, instead of contradicting her, start to agree. – Tanith Carey, 2014
When you think about it, an arena for harsh judgment and criticism is not limited to teenagers on social media. Millions of viewers have tuned in to watch celebrities get roasted. I couldn’t help but draw similarities between these ‘roasts’ – where celebrities put themselves out there for others to insult and degrade – and self-trolling online. Although different in structure and organization, they both have people putting themselves in public arenas to be insulted by others or themselves. Even though I think roasts have the intention of being funny, they often end up being incredibly brutal. In my opinion, they send the wrong message to teenagers and pre-teens about public scrutiny, and offensive jokes, language, and behaviour.
Then we have the social media sites that are based upon the idea of anonymous writers and contributors – such as 4chan, Yik Yak, and Ask FM. Although these sites can do a lot of good – such as help students find help near their geographical location, or help abused cats – they are rampant with negative and ignorant posts. Because these social media outlets are anonymous, and impermanent in 4chan’s case, contributors feel as though they can share whatever they want. The anonymity gives them power to say anything, without the responsibility to deal with the consequences. There are not many other real-life scenarios about which I can think that give power without responsibility. Yet it can happen everyday, online? These sites have been the birthplace for ignorant hoaxes, trends, cyber bullying, and pranks. They can promote inappropriate jokes, offensive language, and hate speech to some who may not understand the full magnitude of what is being said.
The following video demonstrates a university student’s inner reflection on the pros, and cons, of Yik Yak. I like the idea of: if you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t say it online. Here we are, of course, hoping they also wouldn’t say very negative things in person.
So. What do we do? Our students are faced with these social media outlets everyday. Their friends may be using them, their siblings, or they may have heard about them through the grapevine. If they aren’t using them now, how are we to know they won’t in the future. We can’t avoid them, nor should we ignore their existence. We have to do something. Our job, as educators, is not only to teach our curricula, but to help students become global citizens, and contributing members of society. Digital citizenship is a key component to this, and needs to be taught in a cross-curricular, multi-grade, manner.There are a multitude of resources available online for digital citizenship education, such as Media Smarts, Common Sense Education, The Lester B Pearson School Board Digital Citizenship Program, OSAPAC CCPALO, and Edutopia, which has an impressive list of a myriad of other digital citizenship resources.
Photo credit: Kwanele Dlamini via http://sbhera.blogspot.ca/2015/06/the-nine-elements-of-digital-citizenship.html (who also has a TON of great blog posts about digital citizenship!)
I know this post may have seemed ‘anti-social media’ because of the negative aspects that are highlighted within it, but that was not my intention. I know that these are real-life situations that can present practical and engaging teaching moments. Students wouldn’t be asking ‘how does this apply to my life?’ or ‘what am I going to do with this’ because they are already living, or at least hearing, about these situations.
Therefore, we can’t just look away. We have to teach about it. But what else?
I know we often teach kids to be respectful and kind to one another, and not everyone listens. We teach them how to add fractions, but they don’t all get it. So I don’t think simply teaching digital citizenship will suffice. We have been teaching about it, yet still poor decisions are being made online. We need to continue approaching it in class, but we need to do more.
My fellow E&CI831-er Luke Braun posted a wonderful reflection on what we need to do to help our students use social media more positively and more responsibly. With his blog, and the suggestions of Kids Health and Montessori Unlimited, I have come to the conclusion that in addition to teaching digital citizenship consistently, effectively, and practically for students, we also need to have the parents on board. They have just as important a role as we do in helping their children/our students become responsible digital citizens. Together, we should be ensuring our students feel validated, so they do not feel the need to self-troll, or troll others. Furthermore, we need to all demonstrate proper online behaviour. We need to be the examples that students want to become, and try to eliminate the attraction of negative models such as the celebrity roasters.
It is not only an educational responsibility, but a societal one. And we will only be able to achieve it together.
Thoughts, ideas, or questions? Please do not hesitate to let me know!