Recently, revelations of vile messages sent by students at an elite Sydney school have prompted alertness amongst parents and the community about their teenagers' online behaviour.
The group chat, on a messaging app Discord, appeared to be active for around two years and featured more than 150 students, former students, and their friends. Some of the vulgar content in the group chat expressed numerous racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and dangerous comments as well as profane, violent images and videos including minors being raped:
“Silly ‘pro choicers’ think women's rights matter”
“I’m a maniacal paedophile who rapes babies for a living”
“Hitler is always staying in my heart with techni blade HEIL Hitler”
The school has responded by stating that “the nature of these posts is contrary to the values and culture of the school” and the students “have participated in lessons to reiterate the importance of respectful and appropriate behaviour”.
Not only is this response publicly understating the nature of its atrocity to protect its reputation and minimise further exposure, but it has taken minimal action to take effective measures to eliminate any further dangerous behaviour from its students.
The school has previously been embroiled in controversy in covering up multiple sex abuse crimes involving staff and students. Additionally, the school failed to inform the parents until weeks after such information was received. This cycle fosters a toxic culture that teaches young adults to ‘cover things up and ‘to keep silent', which ironically does not align with its supposed values of ‘courage and integrity. Rather, institutions must grapple with the reality of their internal culture that feeds into the dangers of toxic masculinity on young impressionable minds.
It is time for such institutes to put aside their ignorance and actively confront these prevalent issues. We must foster a positive and inclusive school environment that arouses an uncoloured lens to eliminate further dangerous views and acts. It is also necessary to imbue regulatory measures, and better educate our youth, especially young men, on their engagement and behaviour on online platforms, as well as bring awareness to broader socio-cultural discourses to dismember any further oppressive sentiments imbued within our collective consciousness.
Yet, these revelations also reignite discussion surrounding parents’ responsibility for their teenagers’ online behaviour.
The incident has prompted some cyber safety experts to urge parents to limit their children’s online usage, such as prohibiting phone usage in the bedroom. Whilst, to some extent, I can understand this response, I believe that such reactive acts can cause more harm than good. Seemingly, our youth needs access to these technologies that allow them to participate in their social world, but only when conducted safely and without harming themselves or others.
Instead, by taking a more proactive approach, parents must be more aware of what their teenagers are doing online, as ‘not understanding technology’ is no longer an excuse. To achieve a cohesive awareness of how to prevent and respond to the possible dangers of social media, we all need to be on the same page and working as a supportive team instead of functioning from different generational corners of the same arena.
Be that as it may, this case has revealed that, unfortunately, becoming aware of ‘social media policies and guidelines is not enough to eliminate such sadistic and repellent behaviour that remains ever-present on social media. In such cases, to make a difference, we must ensure that parents engage in a progressive and uplifting home environment and educate our youth on fostering respectful and equal relationships to avoid further utterance of such pernicious and dangerous narratives.
You see, online platforms don’t fuel themselves with such depravity. We hold the match and weaponise it as a vehicle to incite violence and dehumanise individuals and groups.
I am currently in Year 12, completing my HSC at school in Sydney. I hope to attend University where I aspire to study for a double degree in Property Economics and Business Law.
I wanted to participate in the committee to contribute a contemporary perspective on the safety of social media engagement and effective for young people.