We’re together online, but we die alone

I literally choked on a piece of my Saturday pizza while reading this article in Dagbladet Magasinet. The article tells the story of 14-year-old Annie, who tragically died as a consequence of the so-called “choking game”. This is the first known death of this kind in Norway. Teachers, investigators and parents blame social media, especially YouTube, for the distribution and increasing popularity of this potentially lethal game, which is intended to produce a euphoric high. According to the article, there are hundreds of thousands of videos depicting teenagers “strangling” themselves or peers available online.

The term digital competence incorporates an interpretative side in addition to the development of mere technical skills, i.e. knowledge of and attitudes towards use of technology in society (Giæver, Johannesen, & Øgrim, 2014, p. 12). The disastrous case mentioned above stresses the importance of being able to critically interpret and openly discuss phenomena distributed to young people especially via social media. Teenagers are easily influenced by what they perceive as exciting and popular, including such practices as the choking game.

In Norway, several schools have warned their students about the danger inherent in this game, and with good results. In the US, a number of schools are ambivalent about discussing this, as they fear that students will then somehow be inspired to try it out themselves. But will hushing up this phenomenon prevent teenagers from experimenting?

The internet is an unrivalled source of information for young learners, in a negative as well as in a positive sense. However much one might want to – in light of such tragic stories as this one – educators and parents cannot deny teenagers access to an internet offering inter alia easy-to-understand recipes of how to make bombs or various forums discussing the least painful method of suicide. What we can do, however, is to continuously discuss and examine the various mechanisms that regulate behaviour on the internet, the social media included. Youngsters need to know that people tend to exaggerate, misrepresent and outright lie online. We tend to present a polished façade to others; to stand out as more perfect, exciting and accomplished than we really are. Many, both adults as well as teenagers, never cease to chase those all-important “likes” and build their self-concept on the basis of these. And, sadly, young people become involved in thrill-seeking behaviour like the choking game.

This game has been around for a long time, and many have experimented with it. Due to the distribution via social media, more and more teenagers are exposed to what they perceive as exciting and something that “everybody’s doing”. This highlights the importance of supporting the development of interpretative skills and a critical attitude to the way certain phenomena are presented online. Young people, who are often susceptible to peer pressure, need to be taught to be discerning and how to rely primarily on their own common sense.

According to the article in Dagbladet Magasinet, social media has contributed not only to distributing the choking game, but also to making it more dangerous. Now, children do not need to be together in the same room to show each other what they’re up to, as they are together online. They die utterly alone, however.

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References

Angela Marie Henriette. Good bye – One moment in time. Downloaded 6 March 2016. Online image. Retrieved from   https://www.flickr.com/photos/mara_earthlight/8270990477/

Fjellberg, Anders (5 March 2016). Annie ble bare 14 år. In Dagbladet Magasinet (pp. 10-19).

Giæver, T. H., Johannesen, M., & Øgrim, L. (2014). Digitale verktøy i skolen – ferdigheter, kompetanse, dannelse? In T. H. Giæver, M. Johannesen, & L. Øgrim (Eds.), Digital praksis i skolen (pp. 10-23). Oslo: Gyldendal Norsk Forlag AS.

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