When Things Go Viral

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

Last week in my post What Battles To Fight?, I was frustrated by having too many battles I wanted to fight.  Too many things I disagreed with strongly.  I knew I couldn’t tackle every battle, and if I did, it simply wouldn’t be any good for both my mental or physical health.  It was nice to know (from the comments that followed) that I wasn’t alone in this frustration.  I’m suspecting that perhaps there is a certain type of person (of which I haven’t yet defined) who just can’t let go of the need to try to make things better in this world.

One of the battles I mentioned in that post was about how news media, social media and some mental health organisations were handling the news  of a suspected suicide of a young woman who had a pretty hard time at the hands of others before she apparently took her own life.  At the time, I made a comment on a blog post hosted by a mental health site but elected not to get involved any further.  As time as gone on though, I have got more concerned by this situation.

I’m purposely not giving specifics here because I refuse to add to the mayhem.  I’m sorry if you find that frustrating.  I guess the issue got personal for me yesterday and I came away from that really worried about the consequences of when things ‘go viral’ on this wonderful invention called the internet.

Yesterday I was asked by another young woman (through social media) to view a video she had made and placed on You Tube.  I was reluctant, but agreed to watch it simply because I was concerned about what message others who I have contact with, might end up watching and possibly be disturbed as a result of viewing.

It was disturbing.  It covered topics of bullying, mental illness and self harm.  It was in a very similar style to the original video I had been concerned about last week.  The video, that I understand has now been freely viewed by more than six million viewers.  After watching the new video I had the opportunity to talk briefly to the young woman who made it, and asked me to watch it.  After setting some boundaries (based on the role that I was in) I asked her what she was hoping to achieve by making and posting the video.  Her reply?

“IDK”

“I don’t know”  Actually as our conversation continued, I became more convinced that she did know, but she just didn’t expect anyone to question her intentions.  I can only guess at her intentions now, because shortly after she ended the conversation (apparently I took the matter too seriously), and she was gone.

I certainly hope that this doesn’t end the way of the original video,  (Please God, no!) which she had pretty much copied, although added that she herself was a bully and individually named some people who she considered were also bullies.   In the time we spoke, I had enough information to be concerned, but not enough to warrant trying to get some professional help for her.  I also didn’t have the time as she elected to end the conversation.  But this much I know… she needs professional help and I hope she reaches out and gets it.

At that point my responsibility had to turn to others who also witnessed my exchange with her (including some who also watched the video and made same connection I did).  Maybe this was all about trying to seek attention?  I don’t know.  If it was, then she got some attention, but perhaps not quite what she was hoping for.

My concern is about how many other hurting people are seeking attention, or crying out in a similar way to the first person?  How many millions watched that first video (perhaps after being encouraged to watch it by media organisations) and assumed this was the way to get noticed, get attention, make someone hear that they too are struggling.  How many chose to self injure, and then show evidence of their injuries because perhaps they got that idea from what they saw?  How many choose to act out suicidal thoughts because they think that is the only way to be noticed, and to end the pain they are in?

When I questioned the author of the original post (from where I had got the original video link), why she had provided her readers with the link to that original video I got the reply that everyone else was doing it so why shouldn’t she.  A further comment to another reader also suggested that young people will see harmful stuff everyday, so somehow it didn’t matter if she encouraged viewing.   She also added that it was the wish of the mother of the dead young woman, that people see and learn about the realities of bullying.

I have no desire to hide from the reality of bullying, mental illness or self harm.  Actually I think it is important that these issues be discussed openly so that we avoid stigma, and also so that the secrets that some people carry with them, do not have to have the harsh consequences of shame.

That said, how these issues are discussed is crucially important in taking care of the people who view.  The mother of the dead woman apparently wanted other parents to watch the video her daughter had made because other parents need to be aware of the risks of bullying.  I totally accept that was her wish, and I don’t mean to criticise that at all.   The problem I have is that those parents are not the only people who watch such videos.

It would be interesting to view some statistics of those who watched the original video.  How old were they?  What was their reason for watching?  Did they have some personal issues of their own which were reflected in the video?  And perhaps most  important to me, did they have somewhere safe they could talk about what they saw?

There are consequences when things go viral.  Both positive and negative.  Yes, we get a message ‘out there’ about the need to stamp out bullying, but we also get already hurting people, hurting more and probably having nowhere to turn to get help and support.  On what do I base my opinion?  That I am fairly sure that had I watched that video five years ago when I was trapped in  self harm behaviour and addiction, I would probably have felt the need to harm myself as a response to what I saw.  Thankfully that is not my reality today, but I suspect for many it would be.

I read an interesting blog post on this subject today. The writer took a different approach to mine, but s/he made a good point:

“We cannot kill the current state of the internet to protect people, because keeping the internet open and free is a great means to protect the very same people.” (1.)

The internet serves a good purpose in providing an access to support for many people.  There is no doubt about that in my mind.  But it can also be an access to triggering and emotionally disturbing material for those same people.

All I would like to see is that both sides of the coin are considered equally.  Personally, I would not have left the original video on You Tube.  It could be useful in some monitored setting, but the potential harm is too much to risk, in my view.  Immediately on viewing it I could recognise that there were potential triggers for people regarding suicide, bullying and self harm.  I am sure it could have been edited to eliminate some of these triggers, but still keey the message her mother wanted.  It could also have had help-line contact details at the end, so that people needing help could access it.

Yes, I am an idealist.  Ideally, this young woman who died would have been spared the pain she went through.  Ideally, she would still be alive today.  Ideally, others would not be traumatised by watching her video.  Ideally, viewers would have got the message that young woman’s mother wanted to get across.  Ideally, the other young woman, with whom I had contact yesterday, would also have found another way to feel loved and important.  Ideally she won’t go on to self harm further, and she will get help.

I know we don’t live in an ideal world, but I am convinced that we can take more care.  When things go viral, we need to consider all the consequences.

Image credit: Wikipedia.com

“When  written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One  represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”

 – John F. Kennedy

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9 thoughts on “When Things Go Viral

  1. There simply just isn’t enough energy to work on yourself and lead the crusade in all of the battles that one could fight in this world. It’s a wise choice not to attempt them all.

    The way that girl handled that was completely irresponsible. Why would someone go about doing that? It would have been more responsible to at least put a preface of a trigger warning on it. I have run into dozens of posts that have triggered. In fact, I’ve written some. But, I always take the responsibility of putting something in the beginning as a warning. Read at your own discretion.

    We can take more care. We can be more mindful. And as people who crusade for mental health awareness, it’s up to us to lead the way in a positive and healthy ways.

    1. I totally agree Lulu. All it takes is for individuals to stop and think of others for a moment. And when we do it enough times it will become second nature to us, which is how it should be.

  2. I agree with you. If the video is not used in an educational setting of some sort (and properly edited) it is not helpful, it’s just sensationalizing someone’s tragic death. People can be really clueless.

    1. Yeah, unfortunately there are too many clueless people out there and often in positions where they could actually make a difference if they stopped and thought about it.

  3. John Richardson

    While most of us have the desire to control our environment, including the internet, in so many ways it’s just not possible. I certainly agree that there are consequences when things go viral, the problem as I see it, is that it is hard to predict what those consequences will be. I think you are on the right track. Self knowledge is critical and once you fee confident about who you are and the reasons for the way you feel about things, then you are in a position to help others as well. In the end all we can do is to try and sieze the high moral ground for the right reasons so that if things don’t come out as we hope at least we know we made a good faith effort. I enjoy your blog Cate, and you’re becoming a powerful lighthouse capable of helping others avoid the shoals. God Bless!

    1. Thank you John. While one individual is being totally unrealistic to think they can change the whole world, I do believe that we are all a drop in a large ocean. Put those drops of water together and we’re getting somewhere. 🙂

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