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Essendon’s own Gossip Girl

Thought Gossip Girl was just a fictional book-turned-TV-series? Think again. Copycat Facebook pages have sprung up posting salacious gossip about teenagers and Lydia Sawtell says the social networking site isn't to blame.

I literally LOL when I see Facebook groups that I can really relate to, including ‘Wearing no makeup and being able to rub your eyes as much as you want’, ‘The risky naked trip from the bathroom to your bedroom’ and ‘Liking someone way less if they don’t like your dog’.

Young users have long acknowledged that Facebook is a prominent part of their lives, for better or worse.

‘Waking up & checking your FB like it’s the morning paper’ and ‘f a c e b o o k – destroying jobs, friendships and relationships on a daily basis’ have 386,751 and 65,801 ‘likes’ respectively, and counting.

But while these groups are harmless, others are not.

Recently the ‘Brocial Network’ group was criticised for circulating photos of women in bikinis and lingerie on Facebook without their permission.

Last week, ‘Essendon Goss’ (EG) spread through the social network like a plague.  In its less than 24 hours of existence, EG covered my news feed, had attracted over 2,000 followers and caused uproar among my ‘friends’.

The account claimed to be an ‘alter ego’ and suggested users to ‘consider me that friend who repeats everything they are told but doesn’t reveal who told me’.

The creator’s wall posts consisted of accusing young teenagers of cheating, promiscuity and sexual acts, while hypocritically stating it will never intentionally try to damage someone’s reputation.

‘Essendon appears to be a huge fan of the Golden Rule 😉 **** was spotted giving head to 2 guys during school behind a tree on the oval. It’s not gay when it’s in a three-way. Love EG!’

The Gossip Girl copycat included the victim’s full name in the post.

A lot of people may be happy to read gossip about others, but things change when it gets personal. Police have since been involved in the EG saga and one girl is said to be suing.

There are so many questions that need to be asked: What part of young people’s culture has encouraged them to thrive on publicly humiliating people? Who is to blame? The creator of EG; the people who ‘did’ the things it claims; Facebook; Gossip Girl? Where does the buck stop?

But it’s worth nothing that it’s not Facebook that destroys people’s reputations — it’s the people who sit behind a computer.  It’s easier to type something than say it to a person face-to-face.

The problem is that the effects of cyber bullying are far more than just virtual affairs. They have the potential to cause serious psychological harm or worse, potentially push vulnerable young people to suicide.

But pulling the plug is not the solution.

In an interview with the ABC’s Carole Whitelock, cyber bullying expert Susan McLean said, ‘Eighty per cent of young people won’t tell a parent if they are bullied or harassed online’.  McLean said young people fear their parents’ solution will be to disconnect them from the social networking websites, and ‘that’s punishing them further for what someone else is doing to them’.

In a world where having a Facebook profile says a lot about your existence and place in social circles, young people would rather be bullied than be out of the loop completely.

The problem is overwhelming and there is no obvious solution to bullying, let alone cyber bullying. The sad thing is less than 28,000 people have liked the ‘Say no to bullying!’ Facebook page, which is little in comparison to the groups previously mentioned.

It’s a worldwide challenge to discourage young people from bullying, and while Facebook is not solely to blame, it could be doing more to help. Essendon Goss is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to derogatory, sexist, racist and plain mean occurrences online, and the creator should be punished for, and educated about, what he or she has done.

Freedom of speech should be encouraged but slandering people online is bad for individuals and communities. Facebook is the middleman, and no doubt it will be used time and time again for the good and the bad.

In the meantime, the new group people can relate to: ‘Not making gossip pages because you have a life’.

Lydia Sawtell is a recent graduate from the Bachelor of Journalism at La Trobe University. She is currently working as a freelance journalist and will be involved in yarraReporter next month.

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