It saddens me to have to write about two teenagers committing suicide within a couple of weeks, both of them from Monroe Woodbury High School in Orange Country, New York, and at least one who had been taunted on Facebook because of his alleged sexual orientation. Unfortunately, neither teen has the ability to confirm nor deny whether bullying of any kind led to their personal tragedy. The bigger picture here: high school students continue to post insults on the social network riffing on whether or not their classmates are heterosexual; this fall’s effort to combat homophobia on social media by raising awareness was a lovely start, but we hope such endeavors will continue.
A local Fox News affiliate said that 14-year-old took his own life after other students made insinuations about the freshman’s sexual orientation on Facebook. Two weeks prior, a junior on the football team committed suicide, although not a word has been said about whether the athlete had also encountered problems on social media or from any other kind of bullying.
I totally dig how Facebook made a formal statement to the media expressing sadness about the incident, but the problem is that the kids who need to know the social network’s stance on these issues just aren’t getting the message. Or they need to hear it again.
This fall’s anti-homophobia campaign sounded lovely to adult nonheterosexuals, but the message didn’t get through to those who needed to hear it. Parents and teachers haven’t been able to get through to the bullies, so why should we expect a bunch of public service messages to do the job? As for the nonhetero teens, isolation and depression might make one question the message that life really gets better after high school.
That message rings very true with nonhetero adults, a demographic that represents at least half of my friend list on Facebook. We all agree that life gets a lot better after high school. But teens have a different sense of time than grown-ups, a la theory of relativity. Four years to them seems like an eternity. Having to wait that long for things to improve seems like forever at that age.
I’m of the opinion that the only thing mainstream social media sites can do for nonheterosexual youth is teach them how to use the privacy settings to keep bullies away. Like I’ve said in a prior post, keep homophobes from being able to see your profile, contact you in any way and find you in searches of Facebook. And that’s not just for teenagers, either.
Now here’s where the fact that I live in San Francisco may bias my writing, but this beautiful city and New York have the country’s first two high schools for gay youth. These lovely educational institutions appear to have private groups on Facebook — and they need to stay private. But perhaps the schools could create separate public pages for outreach to prospective students and, even more importantly, advice to other communities on creating similar opportunities. Right now, teens who don’t live in one of the big cities considered “Gay Meccas” really have no option for escaping the bullies — until the equivalent of a Harvey Milk High School opens near them.
Where do you think Facebook should do to police cyber-bullying?