Did social media kill Rehtaeh Parsons? - Macleans.ca

Did social media kill Rehtaeh Parsons?

Jesse Brown on life, death and online pressure


Rehtaeh Parson's Facebook memorial page

Is social media a hero or villain in the case of Rehtaeh Parsons?

Without it, she may never have committed suicide. Had it not been for the humiliation she felt when photos of her alleged gang rape circulated online, and had it not been for the harassing text messages those photos inspired, it’s possible she wouldn’t have taken her life.

Yet without social media, the alleged rape would still have been committed — there just wouldn’t be any proof of it to aid the four government departments now reviewing the case (and the Nova Scotia RCMP’s fruitless investigation of it). Online pressure inspired this thorough and highly politicized review. It would not be happening if not for the cries of outrage on Rehtaeh’s Facebook memorial page, or the 100,000+ names on an online petition demanding an independent inquiry into the police investigation.

But the online outcry threatens to compound the tragedy. Members of Anonymous claim say they’ve verified the identities of the four alleged rapists. The group has issued an ultimatum: bring these individuals to justice, or their names will be released online.

Consider this horrifying prospect: Anyone can be a member of Anonymous, simply be saying so.  At any moment, “Anonymous” could name any four teenage boys as the culprits. You can bet these names will circulate wildly, forever linked to gang rape.

I shudder to think what would happen next to the accused — online and off.

Social media is neither hero nor villain in the case of Rehtaeh Parsons.  For those of us seeking to understand, social media is a red herring. The crimes, cruelties and campaigns connected to the case are not “the impact of social media” — they are the conscious actions of human beings, amplified.

Follow Jesse Brown on Twitter @JesseBrown


Filed under:

Did social media kill Rehtaeh Parsons?

  1. A note: The RCMP is a federal police force, not provincial.

    • A federal police force that is organized into provincial detachments. Splitting hairs.

  2. The danger of social media, it seems to me, is that it’s always and everywhere about the hype. The content is immaterial – it might be a funny dance, or a cute puppy, or an awesome injury, or in this case, a tragic death.

    Social media is always amoral and always exploitive. If you can get the views, or the likes, or the retweets by weeping, then it’s a race to see who can weep the loudest. If you get more attention by outraged reaction, then outraged reactions are all the rage, Of course, all the faux compassion and moral outrage will be swiftly forgotten when the next wardrobe malfunction, or the next Psy video, or the next basketball injury comes along. I mean, sure we all still care deeply, but there is just so much more new “content” to share.

  3. Social media is an amplifier. Whatever signals are fed into it–good or ill–grow exponentially larger. It also amplifies the noise, naturally, which is most of what you see on social media.

    In some sense, I think the fact that social media is such a strong amplifier is why we–as adults, parents, educators, caregivers–need to be more thoughtful about how we teach our children about social media, and to understand that social media devices are tools, tools that are potentially very harmful and need be treated with respect. If I may be allowed a bit of hyperbole: A gun is an amplifier as well, though in a different way. It’s a force amplifier. There are a variety of legitimate uses for guns, and there are a variety of ways that guns, used improperly especially, can effect great harm. Were parents giving their children guns and letting them run around with them without proper training or supervision, it would be entirely appropriate for us to consider them derelict in their duties. Yet, we allow our children access to computers, smartphones, tablets, all of which also have the capacity for harm–granted, not in such an obviously violent way–and never bother to think that perhaps we should be providing them safe training for such things as well.

  4. Social media along with the examples that we set for youth about how to behave. The Housewives of Whatever, Big Brother, Survivor are perfect examples of how to bully and harass others to get what you want. We have public sector unions and newspapers (Toronto Star anyone) who take it upon themselves to harass politicians that won the last election because they disagree with the results of the election (but they dress it up nicely that they are ‘concerned’ about the direction of our country, about the values of democracy etc. etc.etc, and there is probably something about it ‘being for the children’ as well).

    And where are the parents of any of these children (and they are children) – what parent lets a 15 year old go to a party where she gets stinking drunk, where were the parents of the accused boys, where were the parents of all the children who participated in the harassment? Probably off watching an episode of housewives!!! As soon as you become a parent your number one job is to keep them safe and that involves knowing where they are and what they are doing and if they are stepping out of bounds – stopping it!!! And that might mean little Sally or Johnny doesn’t ‘like’ you and isn’t your ‘best friend’ anymore (and I’m always highly suspect of parents who consider their children to be their best friends – what are you? A 10 year old!) but your job as a parent is not to be liked but to raise adults that have a decent chance of being successful.

    I am sickened by this whole episode, but I’m more sickened by the response of people that are laying all the blame on the boys – they are not blameless, but there are many, many adults who need a slap up the side of the head to get them to do their jobs and we can start with the parents of the girl who somehow didn’t think it was a bad idea to let their underage daughter head off to a party!

    • RIght, so lets lock up the girls. They are to blame. When Golda Meir, past president of Israel, was asked to place a curfew on women to help end a series of rapes, Meir replied by stating, “But it is the men who are attacking the women. If there is to be a curfew, let the men stay at home.”

      • Did I say that – no I didn’t you idiot. I pointed out that there is lots of responsibility in this case and it starts with the parents who need to have some boundaries on what and where their children go (because kids do stupid things and because they are kids they don’t have the wisdom to know better BECAUSE THEY ARE KIDS). We teach our kids to not talk to strangers, but we somehow miss the conversation that we need to have with our daughters about it is probably not wise to go to a house party where you don’t know people and we don’t know that you are there; it is probably not wise to drink a lot at said house party etc. etc. etc.

        The meme that is being presented (and in complete alignment with feminist thought) is the females can do anything they wish and have no responsibility for anything in their lives because it is all the fault of those evil males. Do you flash $100 bills around and then walk down a dark alley in a bad part of town? Didn’t think so, because you have enough wisdom to know that will probably lead to bad things. Kids don’t have that because they rely on their parents to guide them, but when their parents decide to be their kids’ best friend, the parent is abdicating their primary job. And yes, girls need to be a little more cautious because as a rule they are weaker and they get drunk faster.

        I’m not condoning anything that the boys did, but there is more than enough blame to go around in this situation and IT STARTS WITH THE ADULTS.

        The following blogger has it right – it is harsh, but something that parents, adults and society needs to hear.


        • …you idiot? Wow.

          • But you are since you have no argument to present

          • Opening with an insult does little to enhance your credibility. I’d say you’re the idiot here.

          • I’m so scared – maybe you would like me to be a nice little girl. But again do you have an argument to make since pokerface19 doesn’t seem to? Do you have another viewpoint that counters what I’m saying?

          • You hit the nail on the head Diogenes. Some people just don’t get it.

          • lol…Maureen, when you learn to have an adult discussion, that would mean dropping the name calling and yelling (use of CAPS), then maybe I’ll bother. But that is twice now you’ve called me an idiot, which I dare say, says more about you than me.

          • Nice excuse that lets you off the hook for having no counter argument! I’m sorry that you are so offended – you must live a very difficult life if you are offended at being called out on a comment board! How do you manage to get through the day?

          • Way to miss the point Maureen, Is this how you conduct a conversation with your children? How is that going?

          • I think you are missing the point – this is a debate that clearly you don’t want to or are not prepared to enter into. I assume that these are adults on these comment boards (but apparently not) who should be able to present an argument and take some slings and arrows pointed at their non-agruments.

            As for how I talk to my children – I speak to them in terms that they understand – that of a parent not a friend. And again what is your point? That we need to speak in ‘nice’ voices so that others are not offended. That is maybe why there is a problem with this situation – maybe her parents were trying to be her nice friend when she needed a parent who said NO.

            BTW, I speak to my staff as their boss, I speak to my neighbours as a neighbour, I speak to my friends as a friend, I speak to my children as a parent. I speak to people on comment boards in a blunt and straightforward way and expect that if they have a position to make, they make it rather than diverting attention to the ‘tone’ of my writing, or that some people may be ‘offended’ at being called an idiot (I wasn’t offended when I was called an idiot – I countered back with an position/argument – BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT ADULTS DO WHEN ENGAGING IN A DEBATE!)

            So be offended – I don’t care – that will not solve any of the issues that this situation has brought forward. It just continues the ‘we must all be nice’ which while comforting to some, really doesn’t solve anything.

            Now, as an adult, I heading out to work so I suggest you carry on your niceness with someone else.

          • I’m not offended, I’m amused. And I’m grateful I don’t work for you. Have a great day telling others what to do.

          • You can be amused all you want – you still don’t have an argument.

            As for my staff, I’ve had the same staff for over 10 years – they are paid well (and they know it) and I have high expectations of them and guess what? they step up to those expectations in part because I’m clear with what I want and those that perform (another horrid word for the sensitive at heart) get rewarded (which is why they stay with me). And given the competition for staff in my sector, they all could have left at any time to go to a competitor. So gee whiz I guess I’m doing something right – how could that be with my ‘tone’ of words. Because they are adults!!!

          • obviously, you are not a parent

  5. The danger of social media is that gives fringe attitudes and behaviors equal access, and can give the false impression that such things are “normal”. Drinking underage is nothing new, but the idea that it is “cool” to then rape someone and pass around pictures speaks to something fundamentally wrong that goes beyond parental responsibility.

  6. I belive social media is a major problem do to the cyber bulling and how easy it is to disrupt peoples lives. If used for what it was intended for would of been somewhat good but teenagers that arent supost to be on it because you are supost to be 18 to be a member now use it to start, find out and recive rumors.. Personaly i have removed the internet out of my house and disactivated my fb acount because of problems that started because of it, i feel so bad for Angels perants and for her aswell, even since i didnt know them and i live across the countrey i feel for them, i see this with my own children and belive something should be done

  7. …..Our society that is presently steeped, smothered, and drowning in sexual violence and promiscuity inflames the corrupt, sinful nature of man, and ultimately manisfests itself in rampant sexual sin, and perversion……while God is mocked and His Word ridiculed….

    …..Ecclesiastes 8:11………………

    Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.

  8. If the cops had done a proper investigation there wouldn’t be threats of vigilantism.

    If the alleged perpetrators fear for their safety they had better go to the police and admit to what happened.

    If they don’t, consequences of violence will be their own faults.

    • I don’t think the police are competent enough to investigate new technologies, like camera phones and social media, this was clearly criminal harassment yet they did nothing to a point of her suicide and beyond until “new’ evidence came forward in the form of a person. All that media online on phones meant nothing to them It didn’t exist to them, to bad it didn’t exist for Rehtaeh.

      Likewise I don’t think the RCMP have a data analyst or accountant amongst them to review FINTRAC data or realestate purchases. Have you heard of one arrest for terrorism or money laundering mad from data provided by FINTRAC?

      If you look at the psychopaths and serial murders they failed miserably and even routed one of their own, the media spokesperson, with ‘Dick Think’, that is thinking with their dicks.

      Basically the RCMP have a mold of what they hire and train and they simply are not the FBI of Canada, more like the state patrol of Canada.

  9. When hiding behind a screen, people feel more power, as opposed being face to face, one on one with someone, makes one coward

    • I wouldn’t say they feel they have more power. They unconsciously don’t have as much inhibition at a point where they have more reach; a powerful combination that I don’t think people realise they have.

  10. Corporations are not evil, people are; guns don’t kill people, people do, same here it is people that chose to torment and criminally harass her through social media.

    Notice though that it’s not only teenagers, how many people are so visceral in the comment pages but post under a pseudonym?