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Who am I talking to?

Most people on the social media platform Twitter assume that those they choose to converse with are adults, but be warned, that isn’t necessarily the case.

Last week a number of users, including myself, responded to a Twitter account as if it were run by an adult and discovered we were wrong: the owner is fourteen.

Unfortunately, our response to something written by the teenager was negative and couched as robustly as if we were speaking to our peers, which should surprise no one because we thought we were. The result was an almighty backlash, as accusations of child abuse, paedophilia, and cyber bullying a child were hurled about by those who knew the account belonged to a minor, and those who, like bored monkeys, take any opportunity to hurl their excrement because they can.

My personal social media policy is not to follow minors. I would not want my fourteen-year-old child to be engaging daily with adults on a platform where all sorts of topics are discussed, language is frequently florid, many accounts are anonymous, and abuse of all kinds is rife. Call me over-protective, but I’m of the view that there are subjects and discussions for which the teenage mind is ill-prepared, and to which it should not be introduced on a public platform by anonymous adults. So I’m not about to knowingly contribute to the impact such an environment has on kids.

It was alarming to witness some adult users privilege the minor’s “right” to use the platform over their safety. This struck me as a problematic exercise of libertarianism – yes, many of us want to give every encouragement to young people who are politically engaged and enthusiastic about expressing their opinions. Is a social media platform populated by adult strangers a safe space in which to do this? I’d say not.

There’s nothing that can be done to protect minors on the Twitter platform – there is no requirement to disclose the age of the user and it is open to anyone aged thirteen and over. You can’t really tell anything about anyone from their biographies and pictures: some people disclose personal information and others don’t, and very many bio pics bear no relation to the appearance of their owner. Mine is a cartoon black sheep, for example. Many people choose anonymity for a variety of reasons, not least of which is safety, and restrictive workplace social media policies. A post arrives in your time line under the poster’s handle with no further information, and generally one responds without doing a background check. If you had to check every handle, the platform would quickly become useless.

As with all social media, there’s a truly vile stream of Twitter users who find satisfaction in trolling and bullying others. The best you can hope for is to avoid attracting their interest. Sadly, the young person at the centre of this story has now become a target for the absolute worst of this miserably disturbed group. I wonder how adults arguing for the “right” of a teenager to participate in a very rough adult forum feel about this.

Hopefully there’s a responsible adult somewhere in the teenager’s life who can protect and guide them through this experience. And perhaps some adults need to think a bit more deeply about risking a teenager’s well being for the sake of their notions of liberty.


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  1. Michael

    Propose age could be stated as ppmv ?

  2. Josephus

    I avoid such social sites totally as do my adult children. Easy.

  3. Williambtm

    An interesting realization Dr Jennifer Wilson, thank you. My first thoughts are why not?
    The youth of today has access to a high-level communication facility, that was not available in the early years of a large portion of today’s subscribers.
    It stands to reason that some of the youth see themselves possessed with a sufficiency of intelligence to challenge or mix it with the discourse of
    the grown-ups.

    We as adults have a choice from 2 strong influences we are able to respond with, one is encouragement the other is disparagement. I have chosen
    the former.

  4. Kathryn

    TWITTER is a haven for right-wing TWITS because inarticulate, uneducated LNP-supporting bogans are (thankfully) limited to only 280 characters but, fortuitously haven’t got the intellectual ability to exceed 42! Avoid it!

  5. Jaquix

    Twitter gets a very bad rap! It allows people to share stories from Independent news sources, and point out the
    propaganda we are fed by Murdoch and increasingly, Peter Costellos Nine/fax. Surprised that a 14 year old was posting, nobody would know the age of an account holder unless they disclosed it. Should have an age limit of 16, perhaps.
    But avoiding twitter is a mistake. More truth there than on any Murdoch propaganda sheet. You can block bullies
    Ive found few. The Morrison govt hates any social media because its people having their say. In the old days the newspapers only published a few Letters to the Editor, and only the ones they approved of.

  6. Michael Taylor

    I find Twitter a lot more left-leaning than Facebook, and from my experience it has a lot less trolls. Sure, the trolls are out there and are everywhere but it only takes one click to block them or ban them.

    As a news source I find Twitter far more reliable, and as Jaquix says, it’s the best place to challenge the lies and propaganda from the mainstream media.

    Facebook, despite all its faults, is a valuable resource for The AIMN as it provides us 60% of our traffic. It used to be 80%, but over the years a lot of people have left Facebook and moved onto Twitter, and ours stats reflect this.

  7. Carol Taylor

    I agree completely. If a child of mine decided to interact with adults on social media in a robust discussion pertaining to politics, religion, indigenous rights etc then I would also expect my child to accept the consequences – that there are going to be people who disagree, who might engage in ‘language’ and would expect my child to explain the logic of their argument. If a teenager isn’t prepared to accept these consequences then clearly they should seek a more moderate forum, more suited to their age group.

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