Journalists! Please don’t cyberbully teens because of their sexual fantasies!Posted: August 27, 2012 | |
Everyone is on the Internet now. Including your grandparents and children.
It’s a crazy digital world, and journalists covering the Internet literally go where no other writer has gone before. These journalists are on occasion making the rules up as they go, too.
These Internet writers hang out in weird fetish bars (think 4chan or Reddit) or peep in on journalists exchanging proverbial blows in a virtual newsroom (think a Twitter or Google+ debate).
Sometimes in their quest for a story, these writers even spy on teens gossiping in bathrooms about homoerotic sex, and because said teens don’t think anyone is listening they don’t bother locking the door. (In this particular case, that bathroom is Tumblr, and the privacy settings are off.)
When journalists write about children, tweens, and teens, (read: minors) on the Internet, that journalist is both morally and ethically obligated to handle the subject matter with sensitivity. Typically, an adult expert is called to weigh in. If the subject matter concerns a psychological or sexual issue, this rule applies double.
As a common courtesy, the journalist should avoid painting the minor (or group of minors) as loons or crazies, or use words like “silly” or “delusional thinking.” This last bit goes double if no psychological or teen sex expert has been called to weigh in on the horny, deluded minors in question.
(I don’t have a journalism degree, and I didn’t go to grad school; I know minors and their sexuality are supposed to be treated with delicacy when written about in respected publications because I have common sense.)
Media for the most part has been great about treating psychological and sexual issues arising from teens on the Internet with the required distance and lack of bias.
When the media wrote about the thinspo craze on Tumblr, no one teen was singled out and adult experts were called to opine on what this all means. When the media was concerned about the “Am I pretty?” videos on YouTube, posts that did single out teen users were supportive of the teen and didn’t refer to the insecure teen as an attention-whore, or anything remotely derogatory.
Recently, an article covering a predominantly tween and teen phenomenon failed to do any of the above. The article’s intention may have been to show how fans can take their fandom to the extreme, with the line between reality and fantasy blurring more often than not.
A fine idea for an article, right? Except, the article in question is about minors and their sexual fantasies, and the subject matter was not even remotely treated with sensitivity. Rather, the article comes off as if the journalist is mocking the minors. As I wrote earlier, the minors were blatantly, cheekily, painted as delusional and out of touch.
To make matters worse, this one community of minors being mocked by the press already has a history of being cyberbullied by peer groups, and a few members have allegedly committed suicide recently due to the cyberbullying.
(Also, harassment of this community of predominantly teens increased following the widespread circulation of the article on the Huffington Post, LiveJournal, and MetaFilter.)
The community of teens covered by the publication were (rightly) offended, and left hundreds of angry comments across various social networks. Many of the comments were confused, though that is to be expected given their age. Angry teens felt their privacy was invaded, thought the writer was homophobic (the article was about teens fantasizing about two teen members of a boyband as lovers), and:
“Did I just read a page long essay bullying teenage girls…”
“Bullying,” “victimized” and “harassment” were used repeatedly by angry commenters to describe the effects this article had on the community, with many echoing they are teenagers and shouldn’t be mocked by an adult in this public way.
“A person today messaged me telling me that he/she showed his/her parents the article (and his/her parents know he/she [supports the two band members as lovers]) and told me that they were disgusted and found it immature.”
“Basically this was an adult mocking teenagers for believing in love. I’m not sure if this was homophobic, offensive to me, or a pity that she has nothing better to do than try and ruin a kid’s vision of love… smh”
“I am more than a little offended. Not at you calling my [fantasy] impossible, but at your generalization of all of us as lunatics unable to see reality.”
“to me, this is just promoting the idea of hating someone for their beliefs and encouraging cyber bullying – larry fans already get enough hate simply for believing and they don’t need a pathetic journalist promoting hatred.”
“Mostly, taking into account that the demographic involved here is at an age where emotional growth is occurring, so backlash from the publicity could be just as bad for the people involved as the hate their[sic] finding on their social networks…I think it’s possible to write an article without potentially being demeaning or harmful to the people involved.”
A follow-up article appeared on the site shortly after, but didn’t address this issue of the community being minors, or of the article propagating cyberbullying against the teen community in question.
The article did address how the different communities within this one fanbase harass one another (but teens are always bullying one another over something so how new is this news really.) Then, as if to add insult to injury, the writer spent more time favorably covering the community that allegedly cyberbullied the originally covered community of teen girls to commit suicide. It was almost as if the writer was saying, “yes, you teens that believe those two band members are in love and fucking secretly, I am telling you to go kill yourself!”
The writer of the two articles also did not address either of these issues (the average age of her subjects when depicting them as crazies, nor the increased harassment her articles caused the group) on her personal Tumblr. The writer cannot claim she did not see these complaints from teens and what appeared to be concerned grownups as they were repeated again and again in the comments section, so why was she silent on these matters?
Full disclosure: I used to write for the publication in question. One time an editor and a writer were mocking a trending video during the pitch process, a video that was made by children. I inserted myself in the conversation, reminding them they were talking about children, and that I had an 11 year old brother and if he were to read what you are writing about those boys he would be crushed. The article when published did not explicitly mock the children in the video. (I am almost positive no one on the current editorial team has any experience with children, so this is probably why an article mocking minors was allowed to be published.)
I don’t mean for this to come off as if I am picking on this one writer, these two articles, or the publication. Far from it. I am writing this out of respect, and … out of fear.
These two articles deeply worried me because they have the potential to set a dangerous precedent in how we cover children, and minors, on the Internet. Coverage of Internet communities is new, and the trailblazers are making the rules, setting examples for others to follow in the future.
I know, I know, “Think of the children” is such a commonly used trope, but I mean it wholeheartedly here!
We won’t be able to avoid writing about minors on the Internet, but we can avoid unnecessarily painting them in a negative light, or treating their sexual fantasies with callous indifference.