Life

Leona O'Neill: How can adults preach respect to children, then savage each other on social media?

Given the events of the past couple of weeks, it is clear that some people need to take a step back and remember that the people they are ripping apart on social media are themselves sons and daughters, and as fragile as any of us, writes Leona O'Neill

Stephanie Knox – those who criticise her would do well to bear in mind the trauma she has suffered, having watched a family drown in front of her Picture: ITV Tonight

WE HAVE seen over the past two weeks how social media can be a disgusting and merciless cesspit of hate and vitriol.

It has certainly made our worlds bigger, but the power it wields can be dangerous and terrifying and two high-profile cases have proved that beyond any doubt.

Last week a news story revealed that a solicitor for Stephanie Knox, the young woman who was at the pier on the night of the awful Buncrana tragedy in which five members of the same family lost their lives, had placed a claim for damages with the council and the estate of the deceased driver.

Back in 2016 Stephanie helped her then partner Davitt Walsh rescue a baby from the stricken car that had fallen into Lough Swilly before it sunk. She witnessed the family drown and she has since suffered from debilitating post traumatic stress disorder and trauma connected to the incident.

Keyboard warriors, trolls, wannabe solicitors, super experts on mental health issues and thousands of hateful people filled news feeds with disgusting, derogatory and dangerous opinion of the situation and disgusting personal remarks about the Ms Knox.

Facing a ceaseless barrage of social media hate, the young woman commented that she was painfully aware why the suicide rate was so high. If you strip it all back to black and white, a young woman who was suffering from a mental health condition after witnessing one of the most traumatic incidents in modern Irish history was torn to pieces by strangers on social media.

In the past number of weeks a hateful social media commentary has run alongside the high-profile rape trial of rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding. The female claimant had her personal business discussed by strangers online who cast aspersions on her character, called her fame hungry and much, much worse.

She was named on social media, ensuring that her life will never be the same. When you strip it all back, a young woman, who suffered a traumatic incident and was navigating one of the most stressful episodes in her young life, was torn to pieces on social media.

The rugby players themselves suffered the same fate and after they were found not guilty of the offence, social media’s sofa experts gave their strong unqualified opinion. Many questioned the judge and the jury, and refused to accept the court’s decision, saying they thought they were guilty regardless of the ruling. Their lives will never be the same.

All of these people were thrown to the wolves of social media and ripped apart. As a woman who has often faced baying mobs on social media, albeit on a much, much smaller scale, I can attest that it does indeed have a damaging effect on your mental wellbeing.

It’s something we need to change and reign in. How can we teach our young people to respect one another, show compassion, empathy and understanding when a lot of us adults have done the complete opposite in recent days?

How can we preach about needing to improving mental-health services, sympathise with those suffering from issues and tackling our frighteningly high suicide rates one day then tear people apart mentally the next without a care for the repercussions?

Our young people are growing up in a very brutal, cruel and uncaring world. One where young people who find themselves in the news for whatever reason, right or wrong, are mauled by a bloodthirsty keyboard warriors eager to bring the next perceived villain down. One where, because of their phone, they carry around a perpetual purveyor of negative comments with them 24 hours a day.

Our young people constantly have a device that beams dangerously hurtful comments into their safe haven, their homes, their living rooms, their bedrooms. They can’t escape.

Social media is a cesspit. It can be a very damaging environment for young and old to exist in. As a society we need to take a step back and remember that the people we are ripping apart mercilessly are just human beings and as flawed and as fragile as the rest of us.

They are sons and daughters, just like mine and yours.

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