Oh it's back, all right. And with a vengeance.
From Colorado Springs to Chesterfield, Virginia to right here in LA— social warfare and bad behavior is as ever on the rise.
With all the brilliance and immediacy and ease of this digital age (there's an app for that!) there is a tremendous downside, and it's affecting our children in disturbing ways: brilliant and immediate and clickable options to target and pass along hurt instantly, in a forum created specifically for this purpose.
It's a phenomenon called The Burn Book. http://www.nbc12.com/story/20489199/parents-raise-concern-over-virtual-burn-book-about-chesterfield-students From twitter to facebook to instagram and now to the virtual #burnbook, https://twitter.com/theburnbook what smelled like teen spirit has now permeated the Virtual World—and can be pulled down to one's classroom or bedroom or backpack in the push of a button, with sinister Gossip-Girl overtones and a dash of Pretty Little Liars thrown in. And it's hitting kids hard, socially and emotionally. http://www.gazette.com/articles/online-150862-derogatory-students.html
A friend of mine recently asked me to lead what I like to call an ‘Emergency Tea Party' (a special Art of Peace Club bootcamp session) for her 12-year-old daughter and seven of her 6th-grade friends. It seems there's a mother-daughter duo wreaking social havoc at their school, and the girls were in an uproar. During our discussion it came out that there was indeed an online burn book—the bricks-and-mortar drama had escalated digitally, and not only were they duly upset, they suspected that She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named-Junior, among other favorably-mentioned kids, was behind it.
This particular Burn Forum consisted of anonymous postings; pairing photos of boys and girls as ‘couples,' which is looked at as either humiliating, by ‘outing' crushes, or as branding: demeaning or elevating social status depending on the seemingly omnipotent creator's moods towards the kids targeted. Embarrassing stuff, for sure, at that tender age. But it's barely one step from truly frightening and scary, as well. I believe it's a form of emotional terrorism. The anonymity and random timings of attack make it all the worse.
A young girl named Joanna* told me her story: she was at dinner in a restaurant with her family, enjoying her meal and unguarded time off from any middle school-induced social vigilance, when her iPhone buzzed. She by rote reached for the device, only to see a text from a pal, alerting her that she had been just been ‘tagged'…
From nasty comments to actual threats, exposure of ‘secrets' to using apps like ‘Uglify' to morph photos (thin to fat, clear-skinned to zits and horns)-- in school or out, this menacing behavior exists on a continuum from mild to extreme. It is nonetheless hurtful, isolating, and as pointed as a monogrammed poisoned arrow to the victim's self-esteem and ability to concentrate.
Upsetting? Absolutely. But hardly surprising. From the early to mid-2000's when Perez Hilton first outed celebs and drew penises on faces, writing slag-style against any manner of bold and not-so-bold-faced names, to the plot-prominent burn book featured in Lindsay Lohan's movie ‘Mean Girls,' is it any wonder that this popular culture of guerrilla snark has trickled down into the mainstream of daily life?
Schools, parents, police, and courts will need to determine exactly what to do on a case by case basis, as this is still brave new territory to unravel. But it's out there, trending now, and it's important to be aware.
Emotional safety is as important as physical safety.
*Not her real name.