Thursday, 25 August 2011

the cyber bully, the victim, and the block feature?

This week a Kent woman was spared a prison sentence for participating in the kidnap and assault of a man who posted bullying messages on her disabled daughter's facebook wall.

Sylvia Hooper from Chatham in Kent took revenge after her daughter's ex boyfriend launched a campaign of malicious postings towards her on Facebook.

After the police said they were unable to act, she, her son and a friend of his, kidnapped the man, her son hit him and he was taken back to the family home where he was made to crawl on his hands and knees into the house and make a grovelling apology to the girl.

They were charged, and prosecuted for ABH but spared prison terms on the basis that the messages sent were so hateful and the judge acknowledged that they had been pushed to the limit.

Now, there is quite possibly a debate to be had about the taking of justice into your own hands when you feel that you've been failed by the authorities, and whether or not this woman and her accomplices should have been more severely dealt with. But that is, I think, perhaps a debate for another post.

My discussion point here is one of cyber bullying.

There is of course no question that the man who sent these messages was in the wrong. There is also some question as to whether the authorities should perhaps start to take the issue of disabled hate crime more seriously.

However, all this happened on Facebook, and while there is certainly no justification for the action, facebook does have a series of features that allows its users to block individuals, posts, messages, and even to block messages from posters who are not on your friend list. One can't help questioning why, once this campaign of abuse began, this individual wasn't blocked on the girl's facebook page.

It is easy enough to block someone, and if he had created other accounts in order to continue the abuse, to set a Facebook profile in such a way that messages could not be sent to the girl from anyone other than on her friend list.

While perhaps the authorities should have had more power to deal with this individual, had the girl just blocked these messages when they first started, then perhaps it would never have got to a stage where her mother and brother felt they needed to take the law into their own hands.

Cyber bullying is an in increasing problem in our society, and more and more use is being made of social networking sites in order to send intimidating and abusive messages to people, often school-age children.

That it is a serious problem is not in dispute. However, social networking sites all have the ability to block users, so while no-one should have to endure such messages in the first place, equally no-one need put up with a sustained barrage of them either if they just use the sites' blocking features.

In an ideal world no one should have to take measures to ensure only certain people can contact them online. But in an ideal world no-one should have to lock their front door when going out or remember to not leave valuables on the back seat of an unlocked car, but we do all of these things in order to hopefully prevent crimes being perpetrated against us.

No one is to blame if they are a victim of a crime, be that a crime in person or a cyber crime such as described above. However, we can all take measures to hopefully try to limit our exposure, or in the case of cyber bullying, the impact on us. Is it really so wrong to suggest that?

Friday, 19 August 2011

When they want to be... on reality TV.

This week sees the return of Celebrity Big Brother, and x-factor, two of the most widely watched reality TV shows in the UK.

In Celebrity Big Brother we will see a dozen or so well-known (or in some cases not so well-known) people spend several weeks in a house with almost no access to the outside world, while their every move is captured on camera for the viewing pleasure of several million viewers. This is of course a slight alteration from the original Big Brother, where the housemates were members of the public who had to audition for the show and who spent twelve weeks shut in the house. Every week the public votes to evict one of the house-mates from the house,until at the end there is just one left and he/she wins a cash prize.

In x-factor we will watch the initial auditions, where wannabe singers will sing for the judges in the hope of being considered good enough to make it through to boot camp, and then on to the judges houses, to then hopefully appear as one of just twelve acts who will sing live for the public each week in order to be voted for and to win a £1 million recording contract.

The contestants of these shows all have one thing in common, they want to be famous, and they want that above anything else.

During the x-factor auditions we will see wannabe contestants interviewed who will tell us that "This is all I've ever wanted," and "I just can't go back to being a waitress/shop assistant/office worker." and "If I don't make it then my life will be over."

The reality is that for most of these people the dream will end within seconds, for one or two the dream will become a reality, and for the rest the fame they will gain will be based not on how good they are, but on how bad they are, and yet for some that is seemingly enough.

We have reached a stage where children look at reality TV as being something to aspire to. Rather than wanting actual careers and jobs, they want to be famous.

Surely it's time to question how it has happened that so many people see working for a living in an ordinary every day job as inferior, and instead they see being famous as the goal to aim for? Even if being famous means having been locked up in a house for twelve weeks under the constant watch of millions of television viewers, something that doesn't require any talent at all.

But it is time to question not only the people who create these shows, but also those who watch them.

For the next several weeks millions of us will tune in to the x-factor auditions, not to see the next great talent, but in order to watch several hundred people humiliate themselves in the name of entertainment. We will see pictures of the hundreds of thousands of people queuing outside the various audition venues in the hopes of being one of the lucky ones. The public are led to believe that the judges see all of them, when in actual fact contestants have to audition three times before seeing the judges. So those acts who are truly awful have been told three times that they are what the show wants, only to be humiliated on national television in front of an audience of millions.

So why do we watch it? What pleasure is there to be gained in seeing people, sometimes surely vulnerable people, being humiliated like this? Equally why do people feel the need to spend hours and hours in front of a television screen watching people in a house chatting, doing tasks, and cooking the dinner, almost like watching animals in a zoo?

It's easy enough to blame the manufacturers of these programmes for raising the expectations of the hopefuls who compete to appear in them. But in truth, without an audience there would be no programmes. So do we as the public not also have some responsibility here?

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Kidneys for sale - the solution to our debt problems?

Today a UK academic

That in order to increase the amount of organs available for transplant, those who are prepared to be live kidney donors should be paid an amount somewhere in the region of £28000.

An example of those who might benefit from such a scheme were students, who might like to use the money to pay off their student debts, but of course anyone might be open to the idea if they thought there was a decent level of payment available.

The British Medical Association have categorically stated that paying individuals to essentially sell their organs is not something that would ever be considered, however it does raise questions:

In the US, it is not uncommon for men to be paid to be sperm donors, in fact this has been seen as a good source of income for many students, especially those who are doctors, and lawyers etc, and who might be seen as good prospects in terms of their fathering intelligent children.

It has also recently become more common for young women to be paid to donate their eggs, a procedure which is far more invasive and carries far greater risks than donating sperm.

Sperm and egg donors are not paid in the UK, although it has been suggested in the past in order to try to reduce the shortage, in order to help infertile couples to conceive.

But is selling a kidney really that much different from selling your eggs or sperm?

If you sell your eggs, there is a possibility that a child, or children, may be conceived as a result, in effect you are selling the chance of creating a new life, and some even see it as selling your biological children.

But selling your potential biological material only really has an impact on the potential parents, and maybe the resulting child. There are no real life risks to doing so, yes egg retrieval is invasive and does carry an element of risk in terms of the hormones a woman has to take, but generally this is something that has little long term impact on her health.

But kidney donation is an invasive procedure that involves the removal of a healthy kidney, in short it is major surgery. It also puts the donor at greater risk of health complications in the event the other kidney should fail.

And from an ethical point of view, it is surely not unreasonable to question whether a young student really has the maturity to make a decision to donate a kidney, not out of selfless altruism, but because of a cash incentive.

How can we possibly justify turning our own body parts from something that give life to us, into commodities that could be traded for the chance to pay off our debts.

We should not be for sale.