Technology Enables Bullying, but Can It Empower Survivors, Too?
Some technologists are trying to create more humane systems online
Nikki Mattocks was about to do her high school exams when the bullying started. “My friend told me on the phone that her Mum thought I was going to get a knife from the kitchen and kill them all,” says Mattocks, who is now 21 and speaking from her room in a South London hospital where she is being treated for the recurrent depressive disorders, psychosis, and PTSD she has suffered with since she was a teen. “I had just come out of hospital, and her Mum had read something in the paper about ‘people like me’, who have mental illnesses, being violent.”
People noticed Nikki had been missing school, and when rumors started spreading on Facebook, Nikki started to get abusive messages. “The news of my illness spread like wildfire, but nobody actually understood my condition. They just stigmatized it and spread fear and hatred of me. People kept saying ‘everyone is talking about you — you shouldn’t come back to school.’”
“One person reported the original status update to the school, who had it taken down, but that just meant that the cyberbullying became invisible,” she explains. The bullying on Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger was a constant presence for Mattocks, but went largely unseen by anyone who might have been able to help. “I received direct messages, saying ‘please don’t come back to school, we don’t want you here.’ And people would send me screen grabs of other stuff which was being said about me online.”
The stress of Mattocks’ online life started to amplify difficulties she was facing elsewhere. She wasn’t living with her Mum at the time, but with her Dad and older sister, and spent a lot of time on her own. “I had no confidence to stand up for myself, and I didn’t know anyone else who heard voices. So I withdrew.”
Vulnerable, and without proper support, she started hanging out with older kids, which led to her using drugs and being abused. But the helplessness Mattocks felt during that dark time is shared by millions of children and adults the world over.
Michael Brennan, who founded the award-winning safeguarding platform tootoot, was himself a victim of cyberbullying at…