Mental health and social media: how to protect yourself from cyber abuse


If ever there was a prime example of the horrific capabilities and possibilities when something is placed in the wrong hands, the internet is 'it'.

This week, a report from NHS highlighted how the pressures resulting from social media use is one of the factors behind dramatic increases in the number of young women self-harming, having post-traumatic stress disorder or a chronic mental illness. (1)

The far-reaching impact of inappropriate online activity has been well documented. But, whatever the short-term result of those headline-grabbing incidents, the imprint of cruel posts and aggressive online is clearly longer lasting and can have severe and detrimental consequences for the health and wellbeing of its victims.

In a 21st-century world of 24/7 internet activity, new cyber-crimes are now being committed daily and include all social media platforms, emails, apps, spyware and even GPS tracking software.

But, it's not just a younger generation caught up in this modern-day problem - nor are the perpetrators particularly gender-specific. Crimes that involve the use of the internet, social media or other forms of technology to 'humiliate, control and threaten' women are on the rise, according to a report by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

From cyber-stalking to revenge pornography, abusive text messaging to trolling, an increasing number of us are falling victim to abuse as the number of platforms and opportunities widen.

Cyber-enabled crime is a growing trend that includes cyber-stalking, the disclosure of private sexual images without consent, and controlling or coercive, the CPS' Violence Against Women and Girls report reveals.

The number of prosecutions under the Malicious Communications Act - the intent to cause distress or anxiety - has also increased - something the CPS feels is a result of 'the rise of the use of technology and the internet'.

The report acknowledges: 'This is because developments in technology have created a new landscape for controlling, sexually-motivated or other forms of inter-personal offending.'

Interestingly, in May, a Demos social media study revealed that around 10,000 abusive tweets were sent over three weeks - with half of them from women.

It also found that, over three weeks, 6,500 UK Twitter users were targeted with 10,000 explicitly aggressive and misogynistic tweets using the words 'slut' and 'whore'.

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