Standing on the Ledge: The Power of Language in Social Media

Jessica Amir

Loser, crater face, fatso… I can hear each and every insult over and over again in my mind. No matter how hard I try to cut out the voices, they just seem to scream at me louder and louder. Well today it changes. No more insults, this is the day I win the game.  All those who thought I wouldn’t make it this far, I sure showed them.  I’ve been waiting for this moment to arrive; They told me that if I don’t reach the end they will help me to win the game, but I don’t need their help, I don’t need anyone’s help. Those were my last thoughts as I stood on the ledge of the twenty- two story building and took my last step ever, and won the game.

Language. Creating the world we live in, capable of both causing pain and remedying it. What we say and how we say it not only shapes who we are but also has the strength to shape and reshape others.

Creating an incredible range of emotions, which quite often makes the difference between someone loving their life and someone sabotaging it.

Moving nations with our words in order to justify actions of racist cruelty, as Hitler did. Or leading people from the darkness into the light, as did the famous speech of Martin Luther King.

Our means of communication today has expanded immensely, changing the pace and scale of those receiving the message. Let us take for example, the social media that has overtaken so many of our lives. Whereas, in many cases this is a positive aspect and contributes to society, it also opens up a whole new world through various networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and more that may become either political platforms or personal tools used to harass and bully (cyber-bullying) others.

The shift in the way we communicate and the means that we use may have dire consequences for people, especially adolescents who may be more susceptible to peer-pressure when experiencing either positive or negative emotions. It is easier to manipulate the susceptible, insult and bully the under –dog, thus, causing profound psychological outcomes including depression, anxiety, isolation and even suicide.

An online game called the Blue Whale Suicide Challenge that initially started in Russia, is now spreading across Europe causing fear and worry for every parent. The participants are given missions to do, beginning with simple tasks such as waking up in the middle of the night or watching horror movies and then extending to self- harm tasks and eventually the end dare which wins you the game – suicide. Participants are told if they do not reach the end someone will find them and help them reach the end. Believe it or not, in Russia alone over 130 teens between the ages of 10-14 have died as a result of this game. The game targets teenagers that are either victims of verbal or physical abuse, making them more vulnerable to peer pressure (scared at what may be said about them if they do not join the game or go through with it). It also manipulates their inner craving to achieve attention even if it is twisted praise for taking part in activities forced upon them.

This game is an extreme example of the dangers out there; however with the constant increase of networking sites, online activities and messaging apps, it becomes easier to target each and every one of us. Although, Cyber bullying has long been more closely associated with the intentional bullying of children particularly teenagers, adults are not immune and this can manifest itself in many different forms.

I, myself have been a victim of such abuse. During my first year of teaching in an elementary school, a student dissatisfied with a mark I had given him on a test decided to open up a page on Facebook entitled “The Whore Jessica Amsellem – Join if you hate teachers.” Within a day this page had reached children from other schools and the numbers of followers to this page was high. With the option of being able to post comments for everyone to see, students who had never even met me were posting insults and obscenities about me. The amount of time that it took that specific page to reach such a vast audience made it difficult to close down the page and therefore continued to reach more and more people.

In the past we had more control over the direct contact we have with the words of others that either bullied or praised us. People had the chance to at least attempt to avoid areas and situations that would make them feel uncomfortable or at risk. However, Cyber-bullying can follow victims wherever they go, whether they are in a crowd or alone. Cyber-bullies can reach their victims, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,

Our words have serious implications; they can shape us the world around us for the better or they can bring it tumbling down. They make the difference of whether we step down from the ledge or jump off it.

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