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Second Place Winner: Fintan Óg Guilfoyle

At first glance, Mr. Zuckerberg’s optimistic words seem entirely positive, even laudable. After all, what he is describing is no less than a democracy in its purest, conceptual form. A system where enacting the will of the people is not entrusted to unscrupulous, but where the people have their own voice and the ability to run the system as they see fit. Unfortunately, Mr. Zuckerberg forgot one glaring detail when he envisaged his cyber-utopia; that if social networking is to be an honest reflection of the desires of its users, it will reflect their dark sides too. Unfortunately, the unsavoury aspects of social interactions have been reproduced online in the form of cyber-bullying.

Thankfully, the old-fashioned, physical style of bullying has, at least in Ireland, begun to decline. In an age of better pastoral care in schools and ubiquitous security cameras providing evidence of violence, it is far easier to catch a physical bully today, and the penalties are much more severe. While this is a positive step, bullying has proven to be a protean adversary. Bullies today have different ways to make their victims’ lives difficult, and have adopted social media as their new means of doing so.

The opportunities that social media provide to bullies are endless. Today a person can live in a state of bullying that is truly unending and inescapable. There is no place to hide from cyber-bullying. It’s not like avoiding a schoolyard bully, bolstered by the knowledge that you just have to stay out of their way until the end of the day. Cyber-bullying can take place at any time of the day or night, leaving the victims in a constant state of terror.

Cyber-bullying is a curious form of bullying, because it seems in many ways to be almost the victim’s own fault if it is allowed to occur. If a nasty comment or malicious post is made, surely the victim has proof of the incident and can easily show it to an authority figure? They have, after all, been given their own power and voice. Why do they not use it to defend themselves, if they really are being bullied? The answer is simple; shame. Bullying happens to those socially weaker than the bullies, and it is human nature to want to be popular. In many cases, the victim simply does not want to admit that they are being bullied, as this would mean admitting that they are not as liked as they wish they were. Even if a victim has come to terms with what is happening, they may not want to confront their tormentors. There is the serious risk of social stigma if a person complains of bullying, and if someone has low enough social standing to be bullied, they will not risk any further loss in popularity. This ties into another often asked question about the behaviour of cyber-bullying victims; why do they not simply turn off their phones and ignore it? The answer is that life is not that simple. In today’s culture, person’s phone and laptop are almost extensions of their body. While cutting yourself off from the abuse seems like the logical solution, this merely creates a fear of the unknown. Just because you cannot see the abuse does not mean it is not happening, and most people would rather at least know what is being said about them than live in ignorant dread.

It’s not a hopeless situation. Cyber-bullying can be stopped if people actively stand up to it rather than apathetically let it happen. The power of action can be seen in how people dealt with the Spillit debacle on Facebook. What was originally intended to be a way to give an honest, anonymous opinion of a friend inevitably turned into a insult competition, with personal abuse running rampant due to the fact that there was simply no consequence to people’s actions. While some set up accounts to masochistically take all the good-natured jibes they could be given, others were shocked and hurt by the bile they received from anonymous posters, the common consensus of Facebook users being that there was a risk that someone somewhere might commit suicide over the insults. Spillit did not last long before it was taken down, however, it made a return a week afterward, with a key difference; Spillit now registered the I.P. (Internet Protocol) addresses of the posters, and could make them public if their post was flagged as being abusive or malicious. Unsurprisingly, Spillit Version 2.0 did not become the hub of cyberbullying that its predecessor had.

Cyber bullying is not confined to cruelty among peers. Social networks give people a chance to use their voice to communicate directly with public figures. Some people have chosen to use this power to anonymously insult celebrities. Even more worrying was footballer James McClean’s experience on Twitter. When the player, who had previously played for Northern Ireland’s under-twenty-one team, posted that he had been named in the Republic of Ireland squad for Euro 2012, he was met with a torrent of abuse from followers from the Northern Ireland. Disgruntled fans called him ‘Judas’ and a ‘traitor’ and one man said that he deserved to be shot. Although he initially tried to refute these criticisms by pointing out that Northern Ireland had not qualified for the Euros, McClean later closed his account

Mr. Zuckerberg’s statement has potential. However, as Edmund Burke said, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Everyone who uses social media has been given power and a voice. But the fact that some have chosen to harm others does not mean that that power should be taken from everyone. Instead, we must all use this power that we have, and take a stand against bullying. If we can do that, then we will have put the system in a really good place.

Validity of the argument:

The argument is valid because each of the premises leads to Fintan’s conclusion:  (1.) not everyone uses their voice and power to the benefit of all; (2.) cyber-bullying exemplifies that first claim; (3., 4. and 5.) bullying is stealthy and sinister; (6.) cyber-bulling, like physical bullying, can be checked by intelligent uses of technology and unified approaches; (7.) the worst thing that people could do is to do nothing; (8.) the answer is not to shut off the voices of everyone in order to stop the voices and power of the ill-intentioned, but to (conclusion) take a stand against those ill-intentioned through the use of our voices and power, the result of which will be a system that is in a really good place.

Soundness of the argument:

Though a few claims, such as Zuckerberg’s claim that the social media gives everyone a voice and power or that there is a social stigma on those who report their abusers, were not tested, for the most part, we can say that there is credibility to each of the claims. The argument is sound if the argument is valid and the premises on which the conclusion is founded are true.

Final assessment:

This was a well-reasoned argument that, like the first-place winner’s argument, appeals to our nobler principles in an appeal for community action and self-empowerment through that action.

If there is a weakness in the argument, it might be in the amount of space that was devoted to understanding bullying and its eradication online and the amount of space devoted to tackling the veracity of Zuckerberg's claim. The focus of the argument is not always easy to detect. It seemed that the argument for or against Zuckerberg's statement got lost a bit in the shuffle. Still, this was a very good argument for social action in an atmosphere where it seems that the system is left to care for itself and argues well against those that would dismiss the plight of the bullied.