By all accounts, Jessica was honestly “telling it like it is” – in a school assignment – from her perspective. Of course she shouldn’t be punished for that, and that part of the story had a happy ending. She was allowed back to school and the suspension was erased from her school record.
But her perspective illustrated the most important takeaway from this experience: how it parroted back the misinformation, hyperbole, and fear her generation has been fed by (probably mostly well-meaning but) misinformed reporters, policymakers, school officials, and Internet-safety advocates. Very unfortunately, I’m hearing more and more kids echoing the misinformation they and their parents have been getting.
Echo chamber of dangerous messaging
For example, Jessica’s video suggests she learned somewhere that suicide naturally follows bullying, which is dangerously simplistic – not a message that should be spread. I doubt she’d take much comfort in this, but her video has something in common with the recently released film "Bully," supposedly one of the more “sensitive” accounts of this age-old problem.
Here’s how the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention put it: "Bully" is an example of “an increasingly pervasive media narrative that portrays youth suicide as a normative and rational response to being bullied. In addition to misinforming the public, there is considerable evidence that such narratives can spark imitative behavior in vulnerable individuals, a phenomenon referred to as suicide contagion.”
As a society, we must not create an echo chamber of dangerous messaging, especially where suicide is concerned. Jessica’s video represents the echo.
Adults need a ‘filter,’ too
Another important takeaway from this story is how much more intelligently we’ll be able to work with young people if we don’t take what we see in their online communication and expression at face value or in a vacuum. There’s usually offline context to what happens online – it’s embedded in everyday life, and for young people, school life, sociality, and relationships.