Let's imagine for a moment that you have a teenager who has heard about a place called YouTube. All of his friends are on the site blogging on video about their lives and sharing videos and basically having a good time. This same teenager who used to go outside and play along with his friends has now subscribed to them online and is talking to them through his webcam.
You, unaware of your teenager's growing obsession, decide to allow this to pass. Weeks go by, then months. The teenager you once knew holds a sour face at the dinner table and sometimes even appears to be upset when you ask him about school or real-life interests.
Being the concerned parent, you talk to friends about your teenager's changing attitude. They tell you stories about the site known as YouTube. You hear the words "bullying" and "hate comments". They tell you to check your teen's computer and search for clues for such definitions.
Somehow you find a way to get your teenager away for a few hours. You go through his email client program and find several messages from YouTube with the subject field of each with a rather negative and hurtful heading. You click on the link to his inbox on YouTube and find that he is still signed into his account.
What you see is horror beyond belief.
There are dozens and dozens of messages all of which speak ill of your child. Some even suggest that his life isn't worth living and that he should go and kill himself. You manage to find his main channel page and find comments of a similar nature there.
Worse still, you find that these people leaving the comments are the very friends that your child hangs out with.
You decide to be brave, suck in your gut, and watch some of the videos he recorded. The first few start out with everyday things: musical tastes, relationships, and some random videos of your child doing nothing. But the newer videos have a different tone.
The newer videos feature your child in a more depressed state and very sensitive. You notice some of them are linked in response to other videos. A mere click on the original video takes you to a channel of one of the friends your child has that you noticed in one of the nasty emails left in the child's inbox.
What you find is even more horrible than the messages.
You find that this friend, someone who knows every bit of your child's personal life, has decided to put your child on blast, even going so far as to suggest what was suggested in the many emails — that your teenage son needs to end his life to clear the way for those who are more important. You know as a parent that you can call on his parents to stop him from saying such things about your child and to stay away from your child.
But, you also know the child may take this action as a means of being nosy and controlling. Just at that moment you see a flag button which allows you to mark a video inappropriate for the site. You mark the video under the category of "bullying" and do so on other videos that you find that are negative towards your child.
You feel as a parent that YouTube has given you the ability to take control of bullies on the Internet in the same way that you can with bullies who bother your child at school. You come back to your child's computer days later while he is out somewhere and return to his YouTube account. You ignore the messages because your main focus is the video content his so-called friends decided to upload to bring your child down.
You go to the channels to find the videos you flagged and find that rather than being taken down, they have merely been given a warning, one that asks to confirm your birth date. You are perplexed. "Aren't they watching these horrible things?" you think to yourself.
You decide to do it some more to make them pay attention to your problem.
Days pass and you return to the site again to see if the videos are taken down. You find that they are and cheer yourself on for having done some good for your child's mental health. You hope it's not a temporary fix.
You find out later just how wrong you are.
You return to the same computer, the same site with the same account signed in. You go to the same channels that his friends have. You find the videos are still up.
Angrily you ask, "How could they allow this video to be uploaded again?"
You decide to try the usual strategy and tell your child to stay off the Internet. Unfortunately, your child fights you at every turn with his reasoning that he or she is growing up and should be allowed to do things with the permission of a parent. You leave your child alone because at the end of the day, your child does have a point.
One morning you get up and find that your child hasn't come down for breakfast. You go up assuming the child is on the computer up all night from doing YouTube videos after you decided to restore the Internet access. You call the child's name and find that the child doesn't answer.
You open the door and find that your child has hung himself.
I tell this story because this was the end result for Megan Meier, a 13-year-old girl from Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, who killed herself in 2006 after a boy she liked on MySpace left her several negative messages calling her names. The final message allegedly told her to kill herself.
As it turns out, the boy was not even a boy in real life, but a grown adult whose daughter had been fighting with Megan and used the Internet to take revenge against Megan for that.
This could happen to your child.
It is easy for people to dismiss bullies and ignore them. "Words are words" is the common expression as well as, "People will hurt you if you let them". The problem with those statements in regards to Megan is that Meier herself was suffering from depression.
People who suffer from depression generally have trouble engaging in social relationships. Sometimes they barely go outside for fear of being judged by the society at large. Given the way kids and people in general can be cruel to one another, someone who knows someone that has depression could easily use the anonymity of the Internet to make life miserable for that individual, even to the point of death.
I implore the community of YouTube and the folks at Google who run YouTube to seriously create better ways of fighting this kind of thing. The flagging process is simply not enough. People who get their accounts and videos taken down are re-uploading new videos and making new accounts to keep their hate alive without any real consequences from the site itself.
Even though Megan's situation was different in that she suffered from depression, that did not give anyone the right to make a mockery of her. To allow such a thing is about the same thing as shooting someone in the back.
I have become a victim of this as well on YouTube, which is why I took myself out of the equation that would have eventually lead to an offline confrontation. I know that's not the sound way to handle things, but I don't like having my personal life torn to shreds by an individual wearing a ski mask who smokes weed all the time. I would have thought an outcry from the community to stop this sort of thing would come to pass, but that cry is a mere whimper.
No one on YouTube cares enough about YouTube's content so long as they get their own hits and somehow make it to partner. Anything else falls in line with the motto of a rather childish statement: "If you don't like, don't watch." That would be simple if it was just textual comments.
Actual videos being made is a different story.
I'd like to hear from those who are on YouTube and currently have issues with the bullying aspect that is creeping up on the site. I'd also like to hear from former YouTube users just to see if some of the reasons they left involved the very things I speak of. There is probably nothing anyone can do about Internet bullying, but it is real and must be talked about.
Meanwhile, I am doing the best thing by staying off the site and letting Mr. Ski Mask have his way. Perhaps someone else will cut him down to size. Someone, hopefully, who is involved in law enforcement.