The Anti-Social Network- The nasty side of the internet

‘Cyber-bullying’ is a phrase that has permeated the cultural zeitgeist in recent years.

‘Cyber-bullying’ is a phrase that has permeated the cultural zeitgeist in recent years. With social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, playing such a massive role in communication in our society, it is unsurprising that negative interaction between ‘friends’ has transferred into the virtual world. Whether it be ‘banter’ or serious abuse, you don’t have to search far into these social media platforms to find interactions.

This week, BBC 3 aired an hour-long documentary hosted by Richard Bacon. In ‘The Anti-Social Network’, the Radio 5 Live presenter looked in depth at the issue of ‘cyber-bullying’, the damage it can do and what can be done to counter-act it. Bacon’s three month investigation lead him to look into the devastating effects that this dreadful form of torment can leave on people and their loved ones. He focuses on the tragic story of a young boy who committed suicide after abuse on Facebook; people who post hate-filled comments and pictures on ‘RIP sites’; and his attempt to unmask his own multi-platform bully.

Bacon reports the staggering statistic that, nearly a quarter of under-17 year olds have been affected by ‘cyber-bullying’ and girls of this age are three times more likely to suffer a form of bullying than boys. These alarming figures show the escalating scale of the issue. The anonymity of the Internet makes it possible for these bullies, or ‘trolls’, to cause pain to their victims, with very little accountability. According to Bacon, ‘trolls’ trawl the web (usually using a pseudonym) targeting grieving families.

Tasking himself to unmask these trolls, we are told the tragic story of Tom Mullaney. 

Aged just 15, Tom committed suicide after being abused by ‘friends’ on Facebook. Since his death, his parents were victims of these internet trolls. Posting extremely distasteful comments, defacing pictures and degrading the memory of the teenager on his ‘RIP page’, his parents were torn apart by the abuse. Bacon speaks at length with Tom’s parents and his older brother about the horrific abuse dished out by these trolls, describing it as something that will stick in their memories’ forever.

On his journey, Bacon documented how tough unmasking these trolls really is. Tracking down anonymous comments proved to be a huge task, even with expert help. Calling upon the help of an IT expert, he tries to gather data on potential trolls. However, with most using pseudonyms, his search is unsuccessful.

These horrible stories are bought to life by the excellent structure and presenting of the documentary, making it extremely hard hitting for the audience. Analysing a number of different stories, talking to a whole host of experts and eventually tracking down some of these ‘trollers’, the format of the documentary leaves the issue of ‘cyber-bullying’ resting gently in the mind of the viewer. It would leave most questioning: ‘how do these people get away with this disgusting behaviour?’

A lot of credit for the power of the programme needs to be given to Richard Bacon. He handles the extremely sensitive subject matter very carefully, takes a back-seat while interviewing and therefore elicits the extremely moving stories from the victims he meets. Even when questioning those responsible for causing pain to innocent people by defiling the memories of the dead, Bacon remains calm and questions the motives behind such a nonsensical attack on the innocent.

In the face of abuse from his own troll, ‘Dick_Bacon_Boom’, we hear Bacon talk about his own experience of cyber-bullying. Seeing his reactions to the abuse as he sees it himself gives an excellent first-hand look at how these messages can affect the recipient. He remains restrained, not revealing too much about his feelings. After meeting a psychologist, we see true fear from him as he is told that the escalating violence from the troll could potentially lead to more than just online abuse. This truly humanises the documentary and reinforces the notion that this can happen to anyone.

Overall, the documentary deals with the very alarming issue exceedingly well. Not only does it highlight the negativity, but it also provides an almost objective look at the motives used by these trolls. The expert interviews, coupled with the extremely emotive stories told, provide great context as to the scale of the problem. It is definitely worth investing an hour of your day to see this powerful documentary.

Watch it here on BBC iplayer.