“Kill Yourself.” “Nobody wants you.” “You are not normal.”
Cyberbullying impacts millions of kids around the globe and today, in Italy, it prompted a 14-year old Italy to jump from an abandoned hotel to her death on Sunday. She read comments like the three mentioned and hundreds of others on Ask.fm for weeks before taking her own life.
The girl, known as “Amnesia” on the site but whose actual name is Nadia, went to the site while having a hard time after breaking up with her boyfriend. After posting a picture of cuts that she had made on her arms, a commenter wrote, “I hope that one of these days you cut the big vein on your arm and die.” The vast majority of those comments go unseen or ignored, but in this case, the most extreme, they lead to the death of a teenage girl.
“My daughter was only 14 years old and hadn’t done anything,” her father said before declining a day of mourning to prevent “creating and even bigger clamour.”
The tragedy has prompted Italian lawmakers to develop legislation that helps mitigate cyberbullying.
“We can no longer read about young people who take their lives because of threats and psychological pressure,” said Michael Campana, a member of the Democratic Party. Campana, who has already proposed a bill draft bill that would increase the consequences of Internet abuse also added, “That is why I think it is urgent that parliament discuss a law on bullying and cyberbullying soon.”
Mara Bizzotto, a member of the European Parliament from the Northern League Party, petitioned the European Commission for stronger EU legislation in the hope that it would provide some sort of “justice” for the girl’s death.
Some are blaming not just the individual commentators, but also the website itself. Ask.fm was founded in Latvia in 2010 and allows people to pose questions anonymously. It has been at the center of controversies in both Britain and the United States after other teenage suicides.
“Let’s close this damn Ask,” said Marcello Mezzasalma, the mayor of Fontaniva.
“We intend to cooperate fully with the Italian authorities regarding this tragic case,” Ask.fm spokesperson Liva Biseniece said. “We note that suicide cases of young people are always a very complex overlap of social, economic and emotional aspects. We urge the media to provide space and time to establish what prompted this terrible event.”
Unfortunately, Nadia is not among the youngest people who use social networking sites. In fact, a recent study found that more than half of children have used a social network before turning 10 years old.
“It’s really across two fronts,” explains Paul Adkison, Founder of Zabra. “I believe that parents have to monitor and mentor. The dangers on the internet are no different than those in the real world, they’re just over a different medium. Parents have to make sure that their real world values get transferred to the digital world.”
The Opinium survey of just over 1,000 parents of and children aged eight to 16 was conducted in October. It found that kids are most likely to first post a video or image of themselves by age 11 and try a site like Ask.fm at 13. On a more positive note, it also found that two-thirds of kids will go to their parents for help when they have trouble online.
“The internet offers wonderful experiences for growing and inquisitive young minds,” said Dr. Richard Woolfson, a child psychologist and Knowthenet spokesperson. “Yet, as social media has removed the barriers between a young person’s public and private self, children can become vulnerable, and compulsive online sharing can lead to danger.”
While it is almost impossible to point the finger at one party for any suicide that happens as a result of cyberbullying, parents that take the time to talk to their kids about these kinds of problems can make a difference.