Young People’s Christmas Debate

Has social media made us a society of bullies?

Was Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer bullied? Does Donald Trump use Twitter to pick on those with whom he disagrees? Has the use of social media, such as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, led to an epidemic of bullying? These and other questions were raised at the College's latest annual debate for young people.

For nearly 20 years, the College has held at debate for school children from London and the south-east of England. And such is its success that similar events are now held in Wales and other regions across the UK.

I have had the privilege to chair the debate since I was a trainee. I was originally asked to be a 'young face' on the panel, but now I rely on colleagues to provide the youth!

This year I was joined by Dr Gil Myers as my co-chair and four psychiatrists, Elizabeth Masterson, Derek Tracy for the motion and Omer Moghraby and Mark Salter auguring against:'This house believes that social media has made us a society of bullies'.

Elizabeth and Derek presented some forceful arguments in support of the motion. Elizabeth presented research which found that a high proportion of young people had been bullied online. She went on to link cyber-bullying with the rise in mental health problems in this age group.

Derek asserted that social media can bring out the worst in people, especially as human evolution has not equipped us to manage social groups of several hundred people, as may be the case on line. There is a mismatch, Derek suggested, between our 'stone-age emotions' and 'god-like technology'.

In opposing the motion, Mark agreed that bullying is a problem for young people, but contested that bullies have always existed. Social media does not cause bullying, but has made it more visible.

Omer described some of the positive aspects of social media. It may be a force for good, allowing us to connect with others, and to receive help and support.

Mention of Donald Trump's use of social media was inevitable. Some of his comments about others, including describing the porn star Stormy Daniels as 'Horseface', were cited to demonstrate that cyberbullying is not only a problem for young people. However, it was also asserted that Trump's behaviour does not reflect society as a whole.

After the speakers had made their arguments, the debate was opened to the floor. Audience members had no hesitation in challenging the teams for both sides, and made many pertinent observations. Some descried their own experiences of cyber bullying.

Before the motion, the majority of the audience voted for the motion, but after hearing the speakers and entering into a lively discussion, most were against.

However, the debate was a clear example of taking part being more important than winning. An audience of young people was encouraged to consider issues of bullying and mental health in a lively and entertaining way. We also hope that the event helped to destigmatise mental illness and psychiatrists. Several of the audience showed an interest in pursuing a career in mental health, visiting the careers stand and talking with the speakers.

Has cyberbullying become an epidemic, or does social media provide a platform for, but not a cause of, a problem as old a humanity? How would you vote?


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