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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