Jessica Cleland was nineteen when she took her own life on Easter Saturday last year, after receiving Facebook messages from two teenage boys she considered friends saying that they hated her, and that she was a “f***ing sook.”
Were the intentions of those who attacked Jessica Cleland for her to commit suicide? There is no question that when we are online we do not always act admirably and, more shocking, we may be at our worst when we are using social networking technologies. In a recent Pew Research study, 92 percent of the people reported that being online allowed them to be more critical (Pew Research Center, 2014). Also, ironic but true, the more we increase our use of social media to connect with others, the more depressed and isolated we are likely to become. Research done by the University Of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, for example, demonstrated a connection between the use of social media and depression (Chowdhry, 2016).
As the ills of cyberspace become more obvious, we are redoubling our efforts to legislate against them. Private companies are under increasing pressure to monitor their online forums for abusive behavior and there is even a new trend of holding companies legally liable. Facebook, Google, and Twitter, for instance, have been named in a lawsuit by the family members of the victims in the Orlando nightclub shootings in 2016 because terrorist recruiting videos were posted on their sites. At both the state and federal level, there are legislative efforts under way to address cyber bullying, online harassment, and revenge porn, while educational efforts for our school- age children are designed to nip the behavior in the bud. Despite all of the attention paid to how to regulate our use of social media, however, scant attention is paid to the question of whether we are doing what we do because of our use of social networking technologies.
The position taken here is that our choices and actions are influenced by the phenomenological effects of social networking technologies. The purpose, however, is not to argue human behavior is determined by social networking technologies. Instead, the intent is to consider the embodiment and hermeneutical influence of technology on the normative basis for our human agency when we are online so as to better understand the potential effects when it comes to our offline lives.