Social media users (isn't that most of us these days?) may want to catch The Internet Ruined My Life, a new series airing on the Syfy Channel every Thursday night. These shows profile people whose lives have been seriously messed up by the Internet (quick note: the Internet isn't really doing the messing up here, it's actually the people who are using the Internet. In other words...all of us. Ouch!). I promise these shows will have you longing for life circa 1995.
But you don't have to let the Internet mess up your life, and even if it does it IS possible to recover and thrive.
Just ask Sue Scheff, author of Google Bomb: The Untold Story of the $11.3M Verdict That Changed the Way We Use the Internet. Scheff won the first landmark case of $11.3M for Internet defamation and invasion of privacy after being the target of very public Internet shaming. She says,
In 2006 I was vindicated in a court of law, yet the Internet doesn't send you an apology. But we have progressed. A decade later we are seeing celebrities like Erin Andrews and Hulk Hogan also winning judgments for online defamation (that make $11M look like chump change). But whether a judgment is collected or not, it's about making a statement. People need to learn boundaries online when it comes to privacy and cruelty.
In her mission to eliminate online cruelty, Scheff has reached out to some high profile colleagues and friends, others who have also committed their professional lives to improving how people use technology and social media tools. Every week they gather around the virtual water cooler, otherwise known as a new online chat platform called "Blab.im", to discuss the previous night's show and, more importantly, to share strategies that keep Internet disasters from happening in the first place and suggestions on how to recover should such an Internet disaster happen (full disclosure: I moderate these talks).
Last week's Blab chat included Emily Lindin of The Unslut Project, an organization that promotes gender equality, sex positivity, and comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education for all ages, as well as Richard Guerry, aka "Mr. Public and Private," of the Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication (IROC2). They discussed "Sext Gone Wrong," the previous night's show in which a young girl named Allyson Pereira shared her tale about a former boyfriend who posted her topless photo (which was supposed to have been kept privately between them). In the aftermath and subsequent sharing of this post, Pereira, who was 16 years old at the time, was bullied and shamed by kids at school and eventually attempted suicide. Luckily, with counseling and the support of her family she was able to recover from the incident.
There was so much to discuss about this heartbreaking show and the unthinkable acts committed, not by Pereira, but by the ex-boyfriend and the students involved in the bullying that followed. As Lindin put it,
What was unthinkable is what he [the ex-boyfriend] did, break her consent and share it [the photo] and make it go viral. He committed an act, if we are going to shame anything, that should be shamed.
Linden went on to point out the importance of including sexual bullying in all school curriculum about bullying. Which brings up a good point. Does every school offer such lessons? That's a rhetorical question by the way. Any curriculum at all about the online issues brought to light by these shows would go a long way in eliminating these problems in the future.
As guest Richard Guerry put it, "We've passed out a 21st century flame to everyone on this planet without guidelines on how to use it responsibly. Everything we do is public and permanent."
This week's chat (below) features both women who appeared in the previous night's episode titled "Adults Only": Annmarie Chiarini, a college English professor who was also double-crossed by an adult ex-boyfriend (are we seeing a theme here?) and 21-year-old Ashley Vanpevenage, whose before and after makeup shots became an embarrassing and cruel "viral meme." It is worth noting that both women have since turned lemons into lemonade: Chiarini founded a crisis hotline for such incidents, and Vanpevenage posted a video, called #curethehate, addressing the issue head-on.
Andrea Weckerle, Founder of Civilination, an organization that fosters an online culture where every person can freely participate in a democratic, open, rational and truth-based exchange of ideas and information, without fear or threat of being the target of unwarranted abuse, harassment or lies, also joined our chat. She noted,
These events happen not just to everyday people. They happen to celebrities and everyday folks, and moms, and dads, and children, and you name it. This is not just a U.S.-centric thing. It is an international problem. If people haven't actually experienced this they tend to be very non-sympathetic, non-compassionate.... I hope it doesn't happen to you. Everyone is vulnerable.
As Scheff pointed out, "You just don't understand until it happens to you."
In weeks to come others joining these chats include: Nicole Crowther, who is profiled in next week's episode titled, "Gleek Tragedy"; Indiana University's Dr. Michelle Drouin; McAfee author and Intel Family Tech Blogger Toni Birdsong, STOMPOutBullying Founder Ross Ellis, and more.
Together, we hope to put an end to these events and usher in an era where a show called "The Internet Made My Life Awesome" earns the highest ratings.