Social Life: Yet another blog on online abuse

Charlotte Dawson. Photo / Don Arnold/WireImage
Charlotte Dawson. Photo / Don Arnold/WireImage

Hello, I'm Paul Harper, social media editor for the New Zealand Herald. Welcome to my Social Life blog.

Dawson, depression and online abuse

Considering this is a social media blog it would be amiss of me not to write about the biggest issue of the week, however it feels like everything has been said - the good, the bad and the ugly. You don't need to read another opinion piece trying to explain Charlotte Dawson's death, I didn't know her (although that hasn't stopped many others). I've read enough repulsive tweets, many by television personalities with axes to grind, trying to place the blame for a tragedy on columnists they've got beef with. And there have been enough insensitive opinion pieces, including in the Herald, which say more about the author than Ms Dawson or the issue of depression or online abuse. As someone who has dealt with depression and has copped my share of online abuse in the past and has known people who have taken their own life, the level of ignorance and insensitivity shown this week has been shocking.

You don't need to read another opinion piece sharing the abuse I've received as a journalist. Fortunately mine has been light in comparison to fellow journos. TVNZ staff shared theirs, as did broadcaster Rachel Smalley, while my Herald colleague Dana Johannsen shared the abuse she copped for daring to share her thoughts on our Winter Olympic team. In my role as the Herald's social media editor, I read a lot of readers' feedback to our journalists' work. Some of the criticism is warranted, a lot of it is helpful, but a percentage of it is vile. In Dana's case, a lot of the feedback was repulsive, threatening and probably illegal. While repeating their abuse perhaps breaks the "never feed the trolls" rule, Dana's brave response helped highlight the nastiness people in the public eye, including entertainers and politicians, deal with daily. It was a shame many responsible saw Dana's follow-up as her 'having a cry', failing to see how repulsive their initial comments were, however others were quick to delete their abuse, perhaps feeling a tad guilty or scared of possible repercussions.

A week has passed since Ms Dawson's death, and while there has been a lot of crap written, there are a few things I found worth a read.

Tuesday's Rotorua Daily Post editorial (No one really knows why Charlotte Dawson died) hit multiple nails on their heads, including pointing out the irony of tweeters condemning others for bullying in a manner that amounted to bullying.

Blogger Tim Batt drew comparisons between the public conversation about online bullying and that of video games in the 90s, as well as pointing out the unfortunate reality that if you hold a position in the public eye abuse comes with the territory, so the discussion we should be having is about mental health and the realities of depression.

Over at our competitors Stuff, comedian Michele A'Court wrote that those who did not know Ms Dawson should not speculate on the decisions she made on Saturday and no one should diminish the reality of mental illness.

On Twitter, another comedian Chris Brain spoke the honest truth:

My colleague Rhonwyn Newson also summed up my thoughts succinctly on Twitter:

As for online abuse or trolling (I hate that term - I imagine they wear it like a badge of pride) I have little faith in politicians to solve this problem (as many nasty, petty tweeters have 'MP' in their bio), but I think Justice Minister Judith Collins' Harmful Digital Communications Bill is a step in the right direction. The bill makes it an offence to send messages and post material online with the intent to cause harm, with a maximum sentence of up to three months in prison or a $2000 fine.

If anything, such a law sends a message that the behaviour is not okay and if a conviction were made, it would show abusers that they are not anonymous and can be held accountable.

So what should you do if you or your child is bullied online?

Facebook has information for children suffering online bullying, as well as advice for parents.

Information for how to report abuse on Twitter can be found here.

So when should you take abuse to the police?

According to the police website, if harassment is "physically threatening or contains racial, sexual or religious overtones", it may constitute an offence and should be reported to your local police station as soon as possible. The police recommend you take screen shots of abusive pages.

Check out for more information.

You don't have mail

You know the Facebook email service? No? That's probably because like everyone else you never used your email account. Well, Facebook is to close down the service, not surprisingly, because no one used it.

"We're making this change because most people haven't been using their Facebook email address, and we can focus on improving our mobile messaging experience for everyone," the company said in a statement to InsideFacebook.

A world of selfies

If you thought the selfie was the same all around the world, you'd be wrong. A study of mobile self-portraits taken in five cities (a thousand selfies from each city) found differences in poses, expressions and the demographic of people taking the snaps. For example, in Sao Paulo women like to smile the most, while selfies in Moscow aren't so happy. Women in Sao Paulo also like to tilt their head the most.
Selfiers (is that the term?) are more likely to be young and female, while more older men post selfies on Instagram than women.

Check out the SelfieCity interactive here. (h/t @simonemccallum)

I wonder what the New Zealand style of selfie is. Tweet me if you think you know.
But be warned, all you crazy selfiers, a Californian head lice treatment expert claims teens bumping heads together for selfie pics is helping to spread lice.

Reptile's tale of escape cut short

I love this Vine from Zealandia Ecosantuary of a tuatara being operated on at Wellington Zoo's The Nest. The escaped tuatara was found near the sanctuary's fence by a dog walker, however its tail was badly damaged. The rest of its tail was amputated, but there is a chance it will grow back. Good luck wee guy!

Tweets of the week

Because you need a laugh after a week like this.

If you've seen any great Kiwi Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, Vine, Twitter, Youtube or Pinterest accounts that deserve wider attention, or there's a campaign on social that deserves a plug, let me know me. Suggestions are also welcome. I'm on Twitter here, Instagram here and Vine here. You can also email me here. Send abuse here.

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