These comments were not meant in good humour or jest. They were placed deliberately to ostracise and target certain students.
Rehtaeh Parsons was just 17. What could lead a 17-year-old to such a state that ending her life appeared to be the only way out of her misery?
Cyber bullying, it appears.
This case bears stark similarities to that of Amanda Todd’s – another teenager who took her own life early in October last year due to severe bullying over the internet.
Both girls suffered from acute depression due to the fact that nasty rumours and compromising pictures of the two had been making rounds online.
Teenagers can be cruel and intolerant. They can cripple your self-confidence to the point where you feel as though no matter what you do in life or how you do it, nobody will ever allow you to be you or love you for whom you are.
I was, indeed, saddened when I heard of both these cases.
When I was a teenager, cyber bullying wasn’t really a threat to our age group as the internet had only just started to gather momentum. Our interactions were limited to MSN conversations and, at most, exchanges via Orkut. However, the cyber space has changed and children in this digital age know how to use a keyboard better than a pen.
I shouldn’t, thus, have been surprised when I stumbled across various Facebook Confession pages, but I just couldn’t contain my horror.
To all those who believe that Pakistan’s conservative society could prevent incidents of bullying – akin to those suffered by Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons – from occurring here, I hate to burst your bubble.
It seems as though shows like Gossip Girl have left a notable imprint on youth here and they are not afraid to publish nasty rumours about their peers to socially annihilate them.
These pages have sprouted all across Pakistan and are run by teenagers who attend various schools here. Just type the name of the school followed by the word “confessions” in your Facebook search box and we will see a plethora of pages pop up.
Once you view the content here, you will find that Pakistani teenagers are no angels. They are no less cruel than their Canadian counterparts and have mastered the art of cyber bullying with various Facebook pages made for their respective schools.
Warning: Graphic content ahead
I skimmed through some of these pages to see the sort of entries students were posting about each other. Aside from overly sexualized content, what I found – characteristic to typical bullying – was that specific students were targeted for being different.
Personal remarks were made based on appearances – if you are fat, you will get a snarky remark which shares your full name and says that you just cannot like a girl because you are fat and thereby completely unworthy.
If you have a limited wardrobe, you are held to the same standard of contempt:
What was especially appalling was the sheer number of entries that propagated that certain students were homosexual.
In a country where homosexuality is highly taboo, it sent shivers down my spine to see full names of students here and claims that they are gay or lesbian.
Please do not get me wrong, these comments were not meant in good humour or jest. They were placed deliberately to ostracise and target certain students.
What I don’t think these teenagers think of is the repercussions outside of school that such posts could have.
A family member or any relative could stumble across the full name of their kin (this has happened) and may read many alleging that this boy is ‘gay’. This can lead to devastating consequences. If the child’s family is fanatical, he could be beaten and even killed by his family.
Let us not pretend that this is a far cry from the truth.
As for social consequences, at a time and age where all you want to do is to fit in, comments like so can be devastating to one’s self-esteem. I have no doubt that these students are mocked and avoided by the entire school based on these posts; that’s where cyber bullying can be so much more dangerous than just regular bullying.
The reach these posts have is unlimited; anybody can see them.
Hence, not only can the entire school read that a certain girl has terrible body odour, any person can log on to this page and read the same, much like I did.
This reach can make a child a target in many circles.
If say, this girl or boy decides to leave this particular school where he or she is being bullied and hope for a fresh start – much like Amanda Todd – it is virtually impossible becauseanyone can access the malicious posts and thus, there can be no fresh start.
With posts such as the above, it is clear that these teens will stop at nothing. How far they will they go to shun and snub their peers and spell out that they are unwanted and unaccepted is a topic I do not even want to contemplate.
What I do know for certain is that if this continues, it is only a matter of time before we hear of a Pakistani Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd, and that will be a sad day indeed.
It is my request, thus, to all parents to teach your child the value of tolerance and acceptance. Inculcate in them to be kind to those who are different and help them to understand the damage that can be caused by hate speech.
I further beseech all schools to keep a stricter eye on their students. In the cyber age, duties of teachers extend beyond just the classroom. Please keep checks on the cyber space to see if your students are being bullied. Report these pages for they use the official name of your school. You will be held accountable if disaster occurs and you could have an innocent child’s blood on your hands.
Please, put an end to these crude pages and posts.
List of some of the pages:
You can take action by reporting pages on Facebook.