Belfast Telegraph

Beware the pitfalls of virtual world

Editor's Viewpoint

Daring friends to do something outrageous, or even dangerous, is nothing new, but before the advent of social media it was something just practised among groups of mates on a night out. Now anyone, anywhere, can feel pressured into taking part in a potentially lethal online drinking craze.

Some, like the young Newry woman who plunged a goldfish into a glass of alcohol and then swallowed it live, are just silly. But there are suspicions that at least two young men have lost their lives after taking part in a dare.

Peer pressure can be as insidious as bullying, and while it is simple to say that anyone who doesn't want to take part in this craze can just switch off their online devices, it often doesn't work out that way. With young people routinely spending four or five hours a day online, the virtual world can seem as real as the real world and it is easy to lose a sense of perspective. How often have we read of young people posting messages online which could harm their future careers – or in extreme cases of bullying even cause someone else to harm themselves physically?

Like the girl who swallowed the goldfish, it is only later in the cold light of day that they suddenly realise the full import of what they have got involved in.

Those who set up a Northern Ireland-centred Facebook page on the drinking craze have done the proper thing by closing it down.

It is a craze which has got out of hand with young people taking large amounts of highly alcoholic cocktails and it is almost inevitable that it would end in tragedy.

But it is more difficult to stop all forms of online pressure or bullying. For young people, social media is an escape from their everyday existence.

Yet they have to learn how to use this tool safely and to report any abuse. Most of all they need to spend more time in the real world.

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